Round and round, Dundee, a small grey mare, followed Tuffy, a large, brown gelding.
Or so it seemed.
As a crowd of EAL participants watched, a question was presented: which horse was the leader? The participants were quick to pin point Tuffy, the brown gelding, as dominant. After all, he was trotting at the front of the twosome.
However, as time passed, with closer observation, someone exclaimed:
“Hey, wait a minute. She’s not following him. She’s pushing him around!”
Do appearances matter? It appears they do, when making first impressions.
There are obviously certain things that we as individuals cannot control when presenting ourselves visually: our race, gender, and height, for instance.
After the EAL session, participants were asked why they initially assumed that Tuffy was leading. Aside from his obvious position in front of Dundee, participants pointed out that his large size, his dark colour, and his gender (male), initially lead them to believe that he was the more powerful out of the two. Obviously, Dundee being small, white and female didn’t affect her ability to boss Tuffy around (you go girl). But, nevertheless, a certain judgement was made about her based on these things.
In 2016, Allure conducted a national survey of 2,500 people to uncover truths about the importance of appearances. In one startling finding, 64 percent of people admitted that the first thing they noticed about a person when first meeting them is how attractive they are. And half of the participants thought that appearances define us significantly or completely. These facts might seem obvious, or disheartening, or perhaps boring, but they nevertheless confirm an unignorable truth: we live in a judge-and-be-judged world.
Thankfully, some autonomy still remains on our side of the court, when shooting to make a good professional impression, even if there are things about our appearance that we cannot change.
Whether we’re applying for a corporate position at a prestigious law firm, or a hip, new writing job at an up and coming magazine, the key to making a positive visual impression isn’t necessarily to try to force ourselves into one mode of presenting yourself. It is to pick up on what certain modes of dress mean in different environments, and to discern which is appropriate to adopt for a position you are vying for.
“If you know that you’re applying at a traditional firm meaning any law firm, accounting firm, government agency, healthcare or financial services firm, dress the part, all the way!” says Liz Ryan, CEO/ founder of Human Workplace, in an article for Forbes .
Conversely, Ryan notes that “many creative firms and some start-ups turn up their noses at people who dress traditionally on their interviews.”
“They say ‘It’s not our culture to wear suits and ties, and anyone who wants to work at our little, funky firm should understand that.'” she says.
Ultimately, work attire is like a costume at a theatre performance. It is simply a tool that can be used to convey certain connotations to our peers. How we choose our attire is up to us, and the specific environment that we work in.
Two participants in this particular round penning exercise were from the HR department of the same company; and they spoke about how this small part of the workshop affected their perception of their specific jobs. One thing they were responsible for was preparing up and coming managers for their first management roles. And counselling them on how to achieve that position.
They decided they were going to spend time with potential managers talking to them about the importance of dressing as if they already had the role they want. Because we all have preconceived notions of what a leader looks like.
The horses taught a lesson that hit home harder than articles often can.
Dressing for the job that we want to land may seem arbitrary, be we at the interview stage or in the office, applying for a promotion. But, appearances do matter, whether we are conscious of judgements or not.