Can you make a good first impression in 3 seconds? Studies show people start forming impressions of others within a mere 3 seconds of seeing them. It’s not judging. It’s simply human nature! Our eyes take in the information and our brains go to work. We’re truly not even making these decisions consciously.
As a Denver image and wardrobe consultant, I was astounded the other day when I saw this article on Linked In. The accompanying picture was of a man in a business suit wearing a backpack and was titled “Backpacks are for Boys, Not Businessmen.” It had almost 7400 comments!
Most of the commenters vehemently disagreed with the author’s statement. (I’m guessing not many of them went on to read the article with the reasoning.) I was surprised at how many felt as though making a professional, first impression had nothing to do with professionalism. And not to dis others, I was shocked at how so many rationalized comfort and “cool” being more important than looking the part of a confident professional.
Like many of the commenters, I will agree that you don’t have to look professional to be professional; however, in a quick glance…in 3 seconds, the observer only has a visual to go on and no matter how hard we try to deny it, first impressions count. And a bad first impression takes a lot of effort to turn around!
Here are a few of my top wardrobe consulting tips for creating a good first impression:
Be aware of industry dress code norms.
While the article I cited was referring to men in a traditional business suit, many of the commenters were bringing up the tech industry, where a backpack with more business casual clothing would be the norm and would seem a more appropriate choice. And even though my original example had to do with men (and I work mostly with women,) the same argument could be made for women. Techy gear (i.e. the backpack) can match up with more casual tech industry attire for women as well, but not for an attorney, CPA or Financial Planner…even though Denver is a very “casual” city.
Match the formality of your accessories to the formality of your clothing.
In other words, wear dressy accessories with dressy clothing. Let’s use the same analogy of a business suit (even though I know business suits are pretty rare in Denver.) A business suit calls for a leather bag and dressy, leather/leather-like shoes. And even though I know changing your handbag and shoes with every outfit can be a hassle, the end effect sends out the non-verbal message that you take care of all of the details and that you didn’t just roll out of bed, grabbing the accessories that were easiest whether they coordinated or not.
Less is more!
To quote a colleague and good friend from the Bay area, “It’s better to look GOOD every day than to look different every day.” I couldn’t agree with her more! Wearing high quality, stylish clothes that fit you well will take you so much further than having a closet full of low quality clothes. I can absolutely tell you that you’ll not only look more polished in the good clothes, but you’ll feel like a million bucks!
When I work with my clients, I keep their budgets in mind, but I move them into higher quality clothing that has endless mix and match possibilities. None of them ever want to go back to looking completely different every day in low quality clothes.
Remember, those who know you and your work aren’t judging you on how professional you look on any given Tuesday, but new clients, partners taking a tour of your office, or potential referral partners are. These individuals are forming first impressions of you in the first three seconds they lay eyes on you. If situations like these are important to your success, it’s worth taking the time and energy. Making your appearance a priority in order to make a good first impression will give you a strong return on investment!