Just let the wardrobe do the talking.
–Jack Nicholson, speaking to Michael Keaton on the set ofBatman.
OK, so you probably won’t turn up at your next meeting or interview in a rubber bat suit and black cape, but your wardrobe can help you psychologically prepare for the part you’re about to play.
There’s an outfit for every sport, right? Jogging, tennis, golf, hockey, basketball, swimming, snowboarding, mountain biking, and soccer all have their special get-ups. Your specific sport clothes enhance your performance, but they also psychologically prepare you for the game.
Your image is communicated most clearly through confident business dress.
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’ve just finished watching a movie about Tiger Woods. Unfortunately, the wardrobe stylist for the film knew nothing about golf and didn’t bother to conduct any research. The stylist decided to dress the actor in a hockey uniform. Would hockey clothes help the actor play the part of Tiger Woods? What would you think about the character if you watched him play golf dressed in a hockey jersey? It would probably feel strange and look absurd. Why?
- Tiger Woods’ signature style is a golf shirt and pressed khakis.
- Wearing a hockey outfit would most likely impede the actors swing.
- Hockey clothes are designed for warmth and to minimize forceful impact.
Meanwhile, this misguided fashion choice says one of the following things to the audience:
- We don’t understand golf,
- We practice a bizarre form of golf,
- We don’t care enough about the sport to dress appropriately, or
- We are totally out of touch with reality.
This is an exaggerated metaphor, but I want to drive home the importance of building a work wardrobe that enhances, rather than impedes, top performance. When you go to work in beach, sports, or weekend clothes, you communicate that you’re passionate about your free time, not your work. Is this the message you want to send?
Preparing for the Role
Long before a movie begins shooting, the director and the wardrobe stylist carefully analyze the script in order to find clothes that clearly and concisely define and reflect the character’s personality. Wardrobe adds an important visual dimension, emphasizing the personality of the character for both actor and audience.
Since there’s no script or wardrobe stylist for the movie about your life, I’ll prompt you with questions that will help reveal your sense of style. Write the names of three to four people you admire. Choose anyone who comes to mind–teacher, mentor, politician, relative, or celebrity. Now, under each name write down descriptive words that reflect how you feel about the person. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus nearby. Here’s an example:
- Katie Couric
Stylish with flair, sophisticated, courageous, intelligent, stylish, caring, giving, humble, family first, cute haircut…
- Nolan Ryan
Rugged, confident, competitive, determined, strong, independent, married, Texan, ageless…
Ask yourself the following questions and write your answers on a separate sheet of paper: How do you perceive yourself? How do others perceive you? How would you like to be perceived?
Once you’ve finished, compare your list with the list you made of those you admire. As you begin to describe the qualities in others and yourself that you admire, your character and style will begin to emerge. This exercise is important to repeat every few years or when there has been a dramatic life change: job transition, relocation, receiving a promotion, or building a new business.
Dressing the Part
Once you’ve established a concrete list of words to describe the character traits you possess–and those you’d like to develop–you’ll have a clearer picture of yourself and how you’d like to be perceived the next time you go shopping for clothes. Understanding personal traits prevents you from falling victim to fly-by-night trends or taking a sales clerk, significant other, friend, or family member at face value.
When you shop, shop alone. Listen to your inner voice. You might discover that the business clothes you used to like no longer reflect your definition of yourself. Encourage yourself to change and grow. You’ll feel and look more self-assured because you know yourself. Your image is communicated most clearly through confident business dress.