Your Clothes Speak – But What Are They Saying?
I don’t watch TV but I love good documentaries. Recently I’ve been watching Season 1 of a docuseries on Netflix called The Mind of a Chef. Narrated by chef, TV personality and author Anthony Bourdain (famed for Kitchen Confidential and Parts Unknown among other things), it follows Chef David Chang, the chef and restaurateur behind the acclaimed Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Milk Bar. The show does what it says on the label: it really allows you to understand what goes on inside the mind of a chef when they dine at other restaurants, look for ingredients and create new recipes.
In one episode, David Chang travels to Kyoto, to what was formerly a Buddhist temple that’s now a revered restaurant with three Michelin stars. Throughout the previous episodes, we see Chef Chang go to restaurants and conferences in jeans, sweaters, t-shirts and his chef’s uniform, but to eat at this restaurant, for the first time we see him in a suit and tie. The guy dressed up to eat the food he loved the most, at the restaurant run by one of the chefs he respected most. Meanwhile, his friend Peter sat across him in a plaid shirt and jeans, his hair in a dishevelled ponytail.
And Chef Chang is unafraid to call him out:
“I can’t believe you’re here and you wore that and your white socks today.”
Peter tried to defend himself (probably more so to comfort himself), saying “I didn’t know we needed to dress up like the Blues Brothers,” to which Chef Chang responded, “We’re dining at a 3 Michelin star restaurant, I thought it was self-explanatory.”
As I watched, I was reeling with embarrassment for the guy – and I wasn’t even there! Throughout their meal, you could tell Chef Chang was himself embarrassed and slightly pissed off, and I totally get it. You see, I’m a big believer of showing up appropriately, and a key part of that is dressing up.
While I hold most of my coaching sessions at home, I always dress up for the session: clean and ironed shirt and trousers, hair tamed with a bit of product, watch on. And it’s not a vanity thing, it’s because I project myself differently when I take the time (and effort, because ironing is an effort, am I right?) to dress up. I feel more confident, put my best foot forward and show that I’ve got my shit together, and it shows my clients the respect that they deserve.
The way you dress sends a message about you, what you think of yourself, and even how much (or how little) you respect others.
We judge books by the cover
The saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” sounds good in theory, but there’s more to it than that. Perhaps the more accurate saying is that we shouldn’t issue a final and irreversible verdict on a book by its cover, because let’s be honest, we absolutely judge a book by its cover. My girlfriend, book nerd that she is, wrote her Masters dissertation on the impact of book cover design and production on consumers and readers. One of the key things that emerged is that 67.7% of her respondents said cover design is one of their main considerations when buying a print book, and most said book cover design is crucial or very important. And this is just with books; imagine how heavily we consider appearances when meeting people! (Believe me, no one is exempt from this kind of scrutiny. How many jokes have been made about Trump’s loose, 90’s-looking suit and too-long tie?)
Clothes are an extension of your personality
Caring about your clothes and appearance gets a bit of a bad reputation for being superficial and associated with materialism. That’s true in the extremes, because no one says you need 20 pairs of shoes or a £300 dress or jacket, but there’s no shortage of options that cater to a wide range of budgets. Clothes are an extension of your personality, values and ways of thinking. When you show up for a business meeting in baggy trousers, an unironed, ill-fitting shirt, and a pair of casual loafers, you probably don’t think about it, but what people you’re meeting with will see is that this way of dressing makes sense to you, you deem it presentable enough (when it shouldn’t be), and this is the “best foot forward” that you’re giving them. I don’t know about you, but I am personally getting uncomfortable just picturing myself in that situation.
You don’t need to be in a sharp four-piece suit every day. Part of dressing and showing up well is learning how to take cues from the environment you’ll be in (or the environment you want to be in), from the people you’ll be meeting and how you’d like to be perceived. It can get complicated, with all these spoken and unspoken rules about dress codes, what matches and what doesn’t, what’s right for your body build – the list goes on! At the end of the day, though, with all the resources available to us, there’s really no excuse; it can be learned. But what there’s no excuse for is showing up sloppy.
1) Think about your wardrobe and how you typically get ready. Do you find that you typically get frustrated about not being able to pull a decent outfit together? If your clothes turn out more misses than hits, it might be time to go shopping.
2) Think about where you’re aiming in life and how the people on that level dress. Be reasonable though. Yes, you need a shirt; no, it doesn’t need to be Gucci. Don’t break your credit card to buy a Rolex. Just consider the overall style and presentation you’re aiming for, and work with a budget.
3) Take out all your major pieces of clothing and try to match them up. If you find pieces that don’t go with anything, either get rid of them (do a good thing and donate them), or if you cannot part with them, go and buy something that will go well with it.
4) If you have a bad sense of fashion (I’m struggling there, too) reach out to a friend who has a good sense of style and ask for help. Or you can actually hire a stylist who will go shopping with you and will help you out.