My clients often ask me, “What should I wear?” They could be preparing for a keynote, a presentation, job interview or an important meeting. It almost doesn’t matter the occasion – it’s common to fret about selecting the “right” clothing.
Before I address this question, I want to get something out of the way…
Yes, your message is more important than your outfit.
Yes, people should look beyond your clothing choice.
Yes, it’s superficial and unfair for your audience to make assumptions based upon your “costume” – another way to describe what you choose to wear.
However, your costume does matter ... a lot.
It’s human nature to form quick opinions and make hasty judgments based upon first impressions. What you choose to wear has a huge influence on how your audience will perceive you.
Consider Meryl Streep in her latest movie, The Post. Streep plays the role of Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post. In much of the film she is wearing the conservative business attire typical for 1971— the female version of power suits that reflect the almost exclusively male world that surrounds her. As we watch her perform, her clothing provides context and shapes how we understand her character.
Now imagine Meryl on the red carpet in a glamorous gown. Is this the “real” Meryl Streep? Truth is, the red carpet is also about creating a character. Change the costume, hair and make-up and she is transformed into “Meryl Streep the star” – a new and different character.
And we would see yet another character if we ran into Meryl Streep in the grocery store, wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
Your costume speaks volumes, but it never tells the whole story of who you are and what you can be.
To decide what to wear – think like a costume designer.
What costume will enhance your credibility? What outfit will send the right non-verbal cues about your competence and confidence? What costume supports the messages you want to send about who you are and what you know?
Remember, your answers will vary depending on the age, experience, and the sensibilities of your audience.
This my friends, is how to decide what to wear.