Why Should I Care What I Look Like?

Renee Weisman

April 10, 2012

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By Renee Weisman
Owner of Winning at Work

You graduated at the top of your class; you write amazing copy; you have more patents than anyone else in your department; you can navigate spreadsheets faster than a CPA. So why should you care about your appearance? You are better than that, right? Wrong.

Appearance matters. It is a fact of life. Even after decades of women's liberation, we are still judged initially on how we look and the professional image we present. (And it is women who do this to each other much more than men. It's not fair, but it is fact.) Your professional image will affect you in business, in relationships, and in your ultimate success.

This is NOT about being beautiful (in fact, too much beauty can be distracting). It is about looking the part.

Just look at the evidence:

1. Excelle ran the article 25 things a professional woman should never wear. It has over 100,000 visits. An article about developing your professional skills typically has 600 to 6000 visits.

2. By always wearing the same type of clothes, Hillary Clinton's pantsuits became a distraction. By wearing designer outfits, Sarah Palin's attempt to be "just one of the plain people" failed.

3. Joshua Bell, the world famous violinist, played in a Washington DC subway wearing a baseball cap and t-shirt. People who would normally pay $100 a ticket to see him in a concert hall just walked right on by.

4. A talented young employee who always wore short tops, allowing her midriff to show, lamented to me that she wasn't being taken seriously by other members of her team. I suggested to her she start dressing more professionally. She was shocked by my comment but decided to try it. Three months later, she told me she couldn't believe the difference in how her coworkers listened to her.

One of the first women journalists, Pauline Frederick, said, "When a man gets up to speak, people listen, then look. When a woman gets up to speak, people look. Then if they like what they see, they listen." Fifty years have passed but the quote is still true. You will be judged. If your appearance is right, they will listen to you. If not, they will focus on what's wrong and regardless of what you say, it won't be taken as seriously.

The good news in all this is that having a professional appearance is one of the easiest things for you to control. Get it out of the way so people can concentrate on your grades, your patents, your writing, your spreadsheet competence, or whatever. I am not saying you have to be a perfect size four or a raving beauty �" far from it. But you do need to follow some basic rules to make appearance a non-issue.


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