How you dress changes the way people treat you

Fashion shapes our interpersonal experiences whether you like it or not

During most of my college life, I have put comfort before style. Only recently have I realized it might be scientifically plausible to combine the two. My go-to outfit for class was usually sweat pants, a marshmallow jacket and an oversized t-shirt.

I had a minor reality check a few weeks ago while I was waiting for the elevator in my apartment complex. A fellow student waiting beside me decided to make a bold observation: “You look pretty worn down,” he said.

“Excuse me?” I looked over my shoulder to see if he was addressing someone else. Nope, it was just him and me alone in the waiting area.

“You’re wearing sweatpants at 1pm. I’m just saying. You look like you’ve had a rough day.” He was smiling kindly as he spoke, so I knew his goal wasn’t to insult me. Maybe it was just his attempt at small talk, but I was still a little offended.

Part of me also knew he was right. I did look worn down. Then I started to wonder, if I was presenting myself to the world as run-down, unkempt and disheveled, how might that affect how people viewed and treated me?

Recently, I decided to adopt the age-old ‘dress well, test well’ ideology to see where it took me. I started to wear blazers, real pants (not yoga pants — big step for me), and ‘trendy’ shoes (not slippers this time around).

From my own anecdotal experience, I can say it has made a noteworthy difference in my social interactions. Here are some off-hand observations I’ve made since putting more effort into my attire.

First, teachers seem to take me more seriously. They make eye contact with me more often, call on me more frequently — this could be a good or bad thing — and seem to have more faith in me overall as a student.

Second, strangers are friendlier to me. This could be coincidental, but I believe that by dressing better, I appear to be more approachable. People smile at me more, talk to me more and peers in my class converse with me more. Because I love meeting and getting to know people, this increased social interaction is a very positive outcome for me.

Third, people remember my name after the first time I introduce myself. In the past it usually has taken a few tries of calling me ‘Megan’ or ‘Madeline’ before ‘Maggie’ is finally remembered.

Lastly, people ask me for advice more often. Not only have a few girls in my classes very nicely commented on my outfits and asked for style tips, but others have requested my opinion on separate life matters unrelated to fashion more often than I am used to. I am wondering if, by appearing more put-together in my external ensemble, there is an assumption from others that I am more organized internally as well?

You may be thinking that these positive social experiences could be a result of a self-fulfilling, placebo effect. I could just be expecting people to perceive me in a more positive light because I am dressing better and therefore am acting more self-assured without realizing it. My response, if you are thinking this, is that you are probably right!

My theory? It’s a combination of both feeling more confident in fitted clothes, as well as appearing to be more put-together. Either way they’re helping to improve interpersonal experiences.

So, friends, here marks the beginning of my new venture into the fashion and style world. I’ll keep you posted on how it progresses.

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