People are judgy. Oh, sure, we were all taught not to gauge the merits of a book by its cover since it is the contents that are important. But is this really true? The real answer may shock you.
We make snap judgments about each other before even opening our mouths to speak. This is why we have another well-known expression: dress to impress.
It’s a fact that a well-heeled individual gets better treatment than someone who appears to be a homeless bum. This is not merely idle speculation: there have been many social experiments that have proven this theory.
Founded in 1946, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) operates in over 190 countries and territories “to save children’s lives, to defend their rights, and to help them fulfill their potential, from early childhood through adolescence,” according to their website.
UNICEF ran their own experiment to test how appearances alter human behavior. A 6-year-old girl actor named Anano was chosen to play the role of a small child with no adult escort. First, she stood alone on a big city street sidewalk after being dressed in nice clothing. Concerned passers-by stopped to ask her questions such as, “How old are you?” and “Are you lost?”
For part two of the test, makeup artists changed Anano’s appearance, smudging her face with a dark cosmetic and putting a dirty wool cap on her head to top off a raggy outfit. No one stopped to help the little girl. No one.
The same experiment was repeated in a restaurant. The well-dressed Anano entered and was engaged immediately by other patrons who welcomed her when she sat down at their tables. There was some chin-chucking and even cash donations from some kind-hearted people. But, dressed like a street urchin, the same girl was literally pushed away by diners. One guy asked the management to “take her out” of the restaurant.
The researchers stopped the experiment because Anano became so upset that she cried and fled from the scene of her social rejection. When asked why she thought people treated her so badly, this precious young girl observed afterward, “Because my face was covered in soot and my clothes were all dirty. This made me sad. They were all telling me to go away.”
Frankly, when I watched the UNICEF video, I began to cry. How can we treat each other this way, I wondered.
Yet, we are all guilty of judging each other, based merely on how we look, myself included.
In a similar social experiment, a man wearing a business suit approached strangers to ask if he could use their cell phones to make a call. This study participant used excellent English when he asked for help:
“Hey, can I ask a favor? My phone died and I’m stranded here. I’m out of gas. Can I use your phone just to call my mom?”
Although some people walked by, ignoring the well-attired male, others stopped at least to talk, and several willingly handed over their cell phones.
When the same scene was played with a different guy who wore blue jeans and a sweatshirt. Whether speaking with or without a detectable foreign accent, the reaction was quite different: all no’s.
A different researcher group concluded that the color of clothing actually influences how men and women rate each other’s attractiveness. Can you guess which color was the most popular?
“[R]ed clothes would tend to lead participants to rate subjects more favorably in terms of attractiveness compared to when they wore clothes of other colors,” reported the study authors.
In a related study, male restaurant patrons left bigger tips for female servers who wore red t-shirts. The amount of appreciative gratuities were the same from female customers, however.
This next experiment in social psychology might blow your mind a bit: study participants were given white lab coats. Some were told the garment was a doctor’s coat while others thought they were being given a painter’s smock. Can you guess what happened?
“All participants performed the same task, but those wearing the ‘doctor’s coat’ were more careful and attentive. Their actions were influenced by their clothing,” according to the researchers.
In her book called You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You, clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner observed:
“When you dress in a certain way, it helps shift your internal self.”
This idea explains why traditional American bridal attire features a beautiful, queenly white gown with a flowing train. Mr. Groom sports a crisp tuxedo. Both have a mindset to get married as their ideal selves.
What if we treated every day as our wedding day – in our minds? When we approach the world and the people in it with a strong positive attitude – even zest – things change for us, both internally and externally.
Embrace your inner gorgeousness and reflect it in your clothing, your posture, your words, and your deeds. Then let the magic happen.