Style makes an impression without saying a word. What do you want to say? As uncomfortable as it may be, you are responsible for your appearance, how you’re perceived and what potential you want others to see in you. How you dress sends an instant message that conveys all of this. You could even call it your visual voice. And yet, it’s not something you’re taught to use to your advantage. In fact, there’s a lot of overwhelm, confusion and habitual behaviour, that inhibits you from presenting yourself in the best possible way.
Visual style that is done well, with purpose, really has the power to shape opinions and perceptions of how you’re coming across. We’re naturally drawn to things that look good. This isn’t an observation on beauty as such, but a consideration of design. Take a look at the cafés of your favourite urban neighbourhood – It’s not enough that they serve great food and have good service; they need to draw people in to stay in business. The design and aesthetics of a café or venue create a visually pleasing harmony & order of things that help us make connections in a positive way. Overall, this enhances the mood and feel of the total experience.
When it comes to applying these ideas around your own style, the same principles apply, except as an individual, you have greater scope to show personality and connect with emotion. Via a talk on 99U, a community website for design creatives, I recently discovered how “our unconscious bias uses the 1st impression of a person to then understand everything they do”. This was presented by Senior Scientist of the Neuro-leadership Institute, Heidi Grant Halvorson. Heidi is interested in studies that look at ‘Whether or not we come across the way we intend to’. She also brought to light how the unconscious mind employs clever tricks and educated guessing to fill in some blanks, but it does largely work on limited data (eg: stereotypes and first impressions) to inform that judgement. And surprisingly, she also went on to mention “you don’t have to agree with a stereotype to believe it.”
I don’t have experience in psychology, but I have worked in the fashion industry long enough to know the value of one great interaction or the importance of a strong first impression. It significantly impacts our perception of a person or business overall. Knowing this information shows why we need to make an effort to make our visual messages strong.
What you say and do will always be a true measure of who you are, but in order to be understood quickly, you need to take advantage of the non-verbal signals that are conveyed through first impression. Ask yourself… How are you dressing the message? Take my client Dani Valent for example. She is a Melbourne food writer, who has created her own Youtube cooking channel DaniValentCooking.com to inspire home cooks to create restaurant quality meals with a Thermomix. Dani was really keen to bring joy and inspiration to her subscribers, but do it in a way that’s also relatable and fun. The support elements of her brand help us make sense of who she is & what she does – quickly. Her logo, on-set kitchen props and her colourful outfits which I source and style, all convey this happy and inspired mood. Her visual message is strong and completely helps us have confidence in her offering.
So, how do you bring this together and apply it to yourself with what you wear. Here are 3 ideas you can focus on to kick start the discovery of your own style:
1. Uncover your Visual Voice
It’s no surprise that showing up in a style that best reflects you makes you feel good. It lets you forget about your outfit, so you can focus on what really matters. Choose 3 words that best describe what you want your outfit to say or how you want to be perceived and then start collecting inspiration that reflects this. Quite often there are shapes or styles you’ve been drawn to unknowingly and they’re already hanging in your wardrobe. This is the best way to take baby steps out of your comfort zone and discover your full potential.
2. Consider your Position
Let your own style be validating for you, yet identifiable for others too. You want to stand out, but not apart. Studies have revealed we do in fact have learned expectations around what we wear in the context of a given situation. A polished professional look, can certainly convey authority, while an informal look may appear more approachable and individual. Whichever context you’re in, there’s still a need to strike a deliberate balance between self-expression & looking appropriate for a particular occasion.
3. Pay Attention to Detail
Never underestimate the power of a good hair day or the perfect lipstick colour. Finishing details are what create the difference between good and great. Grooming is an essential part of this. Hair, make-up, nails, shoes, jewellery and bags; all of these minor details help us construct a more complete picture of a person’s character. Think of these items as the investment pieces for the long term. They are the ingredients that contribute to a consistent look overall, showing a level of respect and care.
Style is such an accessible tool to help you be seen, heard and understood. At the heart of style, is the use of design to create a cohesive visual story. Give yourself permission to develop your own visual voice and then own it.This is what will help build your self-confidence. It will convey empowering messages to yourself and others that suggest “I’m trustworthy and I’m capable”.
This article first appeared in Shine Magazine.