Making the Most Out of First Impressions

By: George Verdolaga Personal Style 6 Comments Oct 07, 2011

I’ve lived on the Pacific Northwest for over a decade and I’ve noticed that people here tend to be more relaxed in terms of their attitude and their manner of dress. Vancouverites (and people from Seattle) are among the most casually attired people on the planet. This can be jarring for Asian and European newcomers who are typically used to being dressed up for work and especially evenings out.

Since West Coast people generally lead active lifestyles, they often tend to forget to leave their polar fleece and GoreTex jackets at home even during celebrations or special events like art gallery openings. If you try to do this in New York or London, you’d probably get eyed suspiciously as people in these places have a more finely tuned sense of occasion. People like to dress up in these places, especially for dinner.

Having lived in big cities, I find it hard to shake off the habit of dressing up a notch or two whenever I’m out and about. Since few people bother to make the effort, it’s easier to stand apart from everybody else and get better service and all sorts of freebies by paying special attention to what you’re wearing.

I’m do like to look my best whenever I walk out the door. I do this out of respect for other people (as well as myself). Apart from coming to meetings on time, I generally want to send people the message that “I made the effort to be prompt and look professional for you” and “I’m the type of person who can deliver”.

Nothing says this more powerfully than someone who wears a jacket and tie (although I will wear this ensemble with blue jeans and even go sockless and tieless sometimes). I believe that a lot of people will still judge you based on first impressions and clothing plays a huge part of this. Watch any makeover show like TLC’s “What Not to Wear” and you’ll see how confidently people walk and carry themselves once they’ve been properly groomed and made to look their best. And that makes a huge impact, especially if you’re hoping to make a good first impression on a new friendly or romantic acquaintance and especially a potential client or employer.

6 Responses to “Making the Most Out of First Impressions”

  1. Christopher Essex says:

    I wholeheartedly agree.

    Someone told me once that people in Vancouver don’t make any effort to adhere to what are minimum standards for dress in other metropolitan cities because others allow them to get away with it.

    While I understand businesses not wanting to turn away revenue if people decide not to patronize establishments with dress codes (and truthfully, there are few restaurants anywhere with a jacket and tie policy), I think the onus is on us as individuals to call others out when they’re not appropriately dressed.

    I recall a time where I saw several people at the opera or symphony wearing fleece – I think the reactions of others in a place like New York would embarrass them into not letting it happen again.

    Likewise, it’s up to the owners and others running companies to enforce a minimum standard of dress, especially when their employees will be interacting with people from other places where proper dress codes are de rigeur. As you say, first impressions are often critical in business.

  2. George Verdolaga says:

    Very thought-provoking comment, Chris. Thank you for sharing…

    It’s funny that after the burst of the 2000 tech bubble, casual Fridays were quickly abolished as the mood became sombre throughout Silicon Valley. A mere 8 years later, the recession would prompt a return to a “simpler” (i.e. old school) time where men are now encouraged to wear double breasted jackets, wing tip shoes and even beards. In the midst of all the current doom and gloom, the dominant message is that old fashioned values and “authenticity” (a word I keep on hearing from various authors these days) are back in style, at least sartorially. As if to affirm that we’re living in a new age of nostalgia, shows like “Mad Men”, “Pan Am” and “The Playboy Club” (recently cancelled) are all the rage.

    While I don’t believe that the general public is going back to wearing suits and dresses in Church (or even going there in the first place), I think that there’s now a bigger awareness that comfort shouldn’t be the overriding concern when it comes to presenting oneself in public. There’s also appropriateness and elegance to consider. And many folks mistakenly equate looseness with comfort, which is not necessarily the case. Many people have discussed – and even demonstrated – that one can be as comfortable in a slim cut suit as they can be in a track suit.

    I personally don’t believe in fashion for fashion’s sake. I believe that our choice of outfits is simply another means that we can communicate with others, and most of us could do better. Most people wear clothing as if to say “I don’t care enough about me (or you) to make the effort to look my best”. So, in several instances, we lose the chance to make valuable connections with people in business who’ve unfortunately made snap judgments about us stemming from the thoughtless way that we sometimes present ourselves.

  3. Fred says:

    Very interesting thoughts about a subject I read rarely about, George.

    And yet, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
    I have no doubt that you are judged here on the way you look, but not in the traditional/European way. But I believe that the suit and tie is still an armour against misconceptions and hasty judgements

  4. george verdolaga says:

    Yes, thank you for pointing that out Fred… As they say, you only get once chance to make a first impression. And dressing up a little goes a long way in preventing others from quickly writing us off as someone “probably not worth knowing”. I’ll talk more about this in my post this week when I talk about “thin slicing”, a term popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “Blink”.

  5. Matt says:

    Some very good points here George! I am one of those young Gen Y people who love to dress up, especially for nights out on the town. I actually do find it a big disappointing that most people don’t take the opportunity to add a bit more confidence to their look by dressing up. On most work days, I will wear a suit or at least a blazer and dress pants. I find that I’ve created a unique brand for myself by always “looking the part”, however, as you mentioned this is usually the norm in most big cities. As for my other Gen Y counterparts, I hope that the trend to dress up for the occasion increases as time goes on as I think it’s important to have confidence in the way you carry yourself and the clothes that you wear.

  6. George Verdolaga says:

    Glad to hear it, Matt. People seem to be dressing up less and less these days and are prioritizing “comfort” and “convenience” over presentation. I totally agree with you that personal style factors into one’s personal brand. Clothing is still part of an overall message that says “I care about me (and also you, since I made the effort to dress the part)”. And how well you dress does truly affect the way you look and especially the way you feel (just look at contestants at the end of any makeover reality show). And in this economic climate where there’s more supply of labor than work available, first impressions count even more than usual.

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