“Clothes make the man” wrote American author, humorist, and practical philosopher “Mark Twain,” the pen name of Samuel L. Clemens. He recognized, as we all do, that first appearances are important and that a man’s clothing influences our initial assessment of him. Twain added that naked people had little impact on the world, but he wrote before Playboy arose.
A short piece in Psychology Today magazine [cited below] discussed the results of a study involving several different sets of clothing for men on women’s evaluation of the men and, similarly, on men’s evaluation of women in different garbs. Higher status clothes made the women more interested. Prettier clothes made the men more interested. Interested in what? The usual – relationships for women, sex for men.
The women readers of asiancemagazine.com could have guessed these results correctly. How to respond? For work situations, “dress like the boss,” if your boss is a woman, that is. Otherwise, look at high-ranking women in your organization and take a cue from them. Use make-up, but in moderation. “Moderation in all things” is a good guide here. Concerning fashion, follow the advice of English Renaissance poet Alexander Pope, “Be not the first by whom the new are tried / Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.” Pope’s centuries-old advice will keep you from buying too early items that quickly go out of style, yet not wearing clothes that remind you of your grandmother.
Your private life, rather than your professional life, is another matter entirely, if you can keep the two separate. Here, dress as you please, but recognize that your choices will influence the kind of friends, men and women, you attract. When my wife, Tina Su Cooper, was in college, which is somewhere between work and play, she was noted for dressing conservatively in well-made clothes, without a lot of different outfits. She was appropriate, attractive, but not a “clothes horse,” not someone obsessed with fashion, not someone who seemed shallow in that way. When you put your photo on Facebook, should you do such a wild and crazy thing, pay attention to the message your choice of clothing sends. You will attract what you set your bait for.
Unfortunately, perhaps, looks matter. We all wish we were better looking, except those of us getting too much attention for being handsome or beautiful, not a problem I have had personally. [I have a much younger brother who literally turns women’s heads as he walks by.] A smart woman recently told me that while her beautiful daughters were young, she downplayed their looks when they were complimented about them, and she emphasized their talents. When they reached a marriageable age, those same compliments about their good looks were welcomed and accepted. There’s a time for everything, it is said.
Greek philosopher Socrates advised, “know thyself.” This should be one of our highest goals. If we can play the world’s games without fooling ourselves, understanding what we are doing, we can achieve worldly goals without sacrificing what is most important about ourselves.
Shakespeare’s character Polonius advised his son, “To thine own self be true / And thus it must follow as night the day / Thou canst not be false to any man.” One must balance playing the world’s game with being true to oneself. Good luck with that.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., is a freelance writer, writing coach, and retired physicist, author of Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion, available from Outskirts Press, amazon.com, bn.com, or from the web site, tingandi.com.