I often wonder who people see when they look at me. I’m curious about the image I project. It’s not that I think everyone’s watching me. (I’m sure they have much better things to do with their time and attention.) I’m just very aware that we humans make certain assumptions when we see how a person is dressed, how they hold themselves, and how they present themselves to the world. I’m also aware that few (if any) of us is perceived exactly as we think we are.
I became interested in image many years ago when I was at a business conference. Over the years that interest has grown a bit. No, I’m not obsessed with how I look. I just try to make sure that what people see is what I really want to say about myself.
When I get dressed I think about what I’ll be doing that day. If I’m just running errands I’ll dress differently than if I know I’m meeting with people about a business project. If I’m headed to Indianapolis I’ll probably dress differently than if I’m headed into Mexico (the tiny little town in Indiana, not our international neighbor to the south).
If you know me, you know that I’m the same person no matter where I go. Then again, you know me. You know that I’m a businesswoman. You know that I’m a mature, accomplished woman who’s just a little different than most. That’s what I want others to see when they glimpse me for the first time.
I’ve talked with young people who feel that the way they’re dressed shouldn’t matter. They’re right—to a point. What matters most is the person. But, someone meeting you for the first time doesn’t know you the person. That first impression can color your whole interaction.
A man in a suit and tie is projecting something different than a man in sweats and a t-shirt. A woman in a short, skin-tight skirt and stilettos is projecting something different than a woman in a pair of capris and ballet flats. What they’re projecting might not be what they mean for the world to see, but you know that as you pictured those people I described certain assumptions leapt to mind.
There’s nothing wrong with the earth-mother, granola-crunching, tree-hugging woman in the long, hemp skirt and Birkenstocks. Nothing, that is, unless what she wants people to see her as a sharp businesswoman.
There are lots of resources out there to help you project the image you’d like to offer the world. The first step, though, is deciding who you want people to see.