If an image is worth a thousand words, so is your appearance. what are you telling the world?
Imagine you are at the grocery store and you put an apple, some crackers, a gallon of milk, and a loaf of bread in your cart. When you get home you expect that when you open them, that is what you will get.
But what if you go home and slice that apple and it is actually a cucumber, the box of crackers reveals dog treats, your glass is filled with tomato juice instead of milk, and your loaf of bread is actually bananas? If the packaging doesn’t match the contents, grocery shopping becomes a lottery of sorts.
Our brains are finely tuned to pick up on things we don’t consciously notice. We get so much data input we can only register so much. What is often chalked up to as intuition or a 6th sense is our brains taking all of this data and giving us a response or gut check without giving us the details behind it. A slight sound, a smell, a shift in the breeze that tells us something is up.
What Style Can Tell Us About Others
When we encounter new people, the only information they have to gauge what kind of person we are is by our packaging, our appearance. And if it matches the kind of person they want to engage with, then they begin to unbox the contents as they get to know us.
If you are looking for help, whether it’s directions of assistance, you will look for someone authoritative, but open to being approached. If you are in distress and need comfort you will look for someone who appears compassionate and open to listening and maybe comforting you.
Our survival instincts are trained to make snap judgments about everything around us to protect us and provide for our safety, and it is especially true when it comes to the people we encounter. We don’t have time to get to know every single person we meet, and we have to make split-second judgments on who we will devote time to getting to know.
When the Packaging Is All Wrong
When you envision an ideal mom, the image is always someone soft, gentle, endlessly patient, giving, nurturing, selfless, and…a martyr. It’s not true, but that’s the image we see in movies and television, even in books. Remember The Giving Tree? Even as a kid I hated that book. There are 1 billion types of great moms out there, but in my pending mom status, I though I needed to match the images I had been fed, and those aren’t the words anyone would use to describe me.
When I became a mom, I thought I had to be someone else, and the only way I knew to be that other person was to change how I dressed, so I did. The short story is, it didn’t work. I was still the same person, but now I was in the wrong packaging.
All I did was confuse the people who met me, and no one was treating me the way I wanted to be treated. They were expecting soft words, a soft shoulder to cry on, and an easy-going person who would go with the flow. And when they got bold words, a stiff return to a hug, and a regimented, structured person, it was confusing. I heard things like, “I can’t believe you just said that.” Or stunned silence because my words didn’t match my appearance.
When I was still dressing this way, a woman I was acquainted with said to me, “You flinch whenever anyone touches you or gets too close to your personal space. Why is that?” I immediately denied it, but my husband was there and agreed with her. And after some thought, I realized she was right. But the way I dressed didn’t reflect that.
And later when I was struggling with depression, I dressed to disappear and not be seen at all, which also didn’t work.
These family pictures shortly after my youngest was born absolutely horrified me, and were the catalyst to me realizing I had completely lost myself and my style. I didn’t even recognize myself.
What was I saying with my style? I was saying, “I’m June Cleaver, the ultimate mom and wife. I’m soft, sweet, muted, quiet, I don’t want to be seen, I don’t have an opinion, I keep a perfect house, dinner is on the table at 5:30, and I always know the answers. But I’ll only share if asked.”
And guess what? All of that was a lie.
What Your Style Says About You
In the Movie Perfectly Blonde, Elle Woods tried to be a serious law student to impress her ex-boyfriend by dressing very conservatively. She is overlooked and not treated the way she wants to be treated, when being her exuberant, fun, hard-working, determined, confident natural leader self is what got her into Harvard Law School. At the end of the movie she goes back to who she really is.
There is a girl I knew of in school. We had classes together for years, and because of her appearance, I made certain assumptions about her, as did everyone else. It’s what our brains are trained to do. The sum total was: we would not be compatible as friends and not a serious student. Not someone I wanted to do group projects with or study with.
When we were finally thrown together for a class project and I got to know her, I discovered her packaging didn’t match her contents, and we became life-long friends.
Her appearance did not reflect how incredibly intelligent she is, a straight-A student on an academic scholarship, not to mention driven, confident, determined, talented, well-spoken, funny, and loyal. And when I look back, I’m sad about all the years we could have been friends and weren’t. I missed out on an incredible person because the packaging was wrong.
It’s easy to say I shouldn’t have judged her, but it’s what we have to do. We can’t meet every single person. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” is a great concept, but there are just too many books! We can’t read them all.
Over the last month we’ve talked about trends and how our style can be dictated to us by the fashion industry if we don’t figure it out for ourselves and have the confidence to wear what we love. You are a walking billboard, and you have this enormous opportunity to introduce yourself to everyone you meet without opening your mouth. I call it truth in advertising.
Tell Your Style Story
You are most likely to feel your best in a style that reflects who you are on the inside. What does your billboard say about who you are? If you aren’t happy with how you are being perceived and received, your message might be off like mine was.
What does your style say about your sense of humor? Are you the life of the party or a party of one? Does your style reflect your reliability? Are you the type to be 10 minutes early, or do you fly by the seat of your pants and time is more fluid?
Are you the person who is a great support person for a project or are you the one who wants to lead it? What are your personal space requirements? Do you welcome hugs and dose them liberally, or do you save that for those in your inner circle?
What are you telling people about how you want to be treated? There are no right and wrong answers; there is no better or worse. It’s more a matter of what is going to be most compatible with the situation and person. If you are looking for someone to support you as you lead a project, then collecting more people who want to lead will cause problems. Both types of people are important to the project, and lead to success.
When you see me, it’s very clear what you are getting. It’s rare that someone who doesn’t know me well invades my personal space now, but when I was dressing softer, I got unsolicited hugs on a regular basis. Do the people around you know what they are getting and what to expect?
Reflecting who you are helps in every aspect of your life, from friendships to encounters with strangers to work will allow people to treat you the way you want to be treated. You can dress any way you want to, but you do yourself and those around you a disservice when you are portraying false advertising.
Now when I look in the mirror I see someone who speaks her mind, has definite opinions, is private, has boundaries both physically and personally, demands respect, thinks things through then takes confident action, isn’t the first person to offer a hug, honest, I can take charge, but I don’t want to lead every charge.
What Does Your Style Say About You?
Walk over to the mirror and take an honest look. What does your billboard say? What does your style say about you? If a stranger saw you, what would they say about who you are?
What do you want people to know about you at a glance? Do you love to socialize and meet new people? Are you the friend who makes contact every day? Do you have a great sense of humor and love to laugh? Or maybe you like to meet new people and socialize when you are in the right mood, or maybe you keep a tight circle of intimates and everyone else is an acquaintance.
Are you the one who loves to lead and take charge of a project? Do you like to be in charge of a piece of a project? Are you the one who loves to support others but would rather not manage other people?
Are you direct and to the point or do you like to lead up to your point? Or something in between? Do you like the spotlight, like to share the spotlight or hold the spotlight on others?
Do you move from one thing to the next as quickly as possible or take your time and the scenic route?
Even your hobbies and interests can show in your appearance. Are you outdoorsy or do you love to read? Do you love going to concerts or Broadway shows? Is your idea of the perfect day spending time getting to know new people, a quiet day at home, discovering a new trail, hitting the mall, one-on-one time with a special person, a day at the beach, or lunch with friends?
Are you dying to make friends, and it’s not happening? Does your appearance suggest you are a social person who likes to be included and approached? Or do you prefer more privacy and distance but people are invading your boundaries? Are they assuming that’s what you like because of your appearance?
Get a Head Start
I have a free masterclass to get you started with figuring out what you do and don’t like called “5 Steps to Find the Right Clothes for You.” You’ll get a free workbook to take you through the steps at your own pace. Once you know your style, it’s so easy to define what you love and don’t! When you can see WHY you do and don’t wear and love certain things, you can write your own style rules and give yourself permission to follow them.