You may disagree if I say “Your appearance is everything,” but other people can never know your real character inside and can only infer what it is like only from your appearance. Therefore, what you look like in the eyes of others is very important. The first impression is, as is often said, particularly important and the impression from your appearance that is given to others when you first meet them will greatly affect your future relationship with them. Other people tend to decide how to treat you based on the impression of you that they have received.
Let me show you some examples. According to an experiment conducted by an overseas researcher, when female servers at a restaurant wore a flower in their hair, their gratuity increased by 0.26 dollars on average compared with when they did not wear a flower in their hair. In another experiment, a female college student asked people she had never met before to lend her a dime, and the results were compared between when she was formally dressed with a skirt and stockings and when she was casually wearing jeans. The difference in the results was significant as, in the former case, 81% of the people lent her a dime while, in the latter case, only 32% did so.
Attire makes a great difference in the impression conveyed. The way people are treated differs strikingly depending on what they are wearing. As the experiments mentioned above show, when people are dressed properly, there is clearly a greater chance—particularly in foreign countries—that they will be helped by others, compared with when they are dressed otherwise. Appearance is thus an important factor that determines people’s judgement.
People tend to judge you from information received from your appearance, such as attire, makeup, way of talking, posture, and facial expressions, regardless of whether you wish to be judged or not. If you are aware of this and able to control your appearance, your communication skills will be enhanced dramatically.
Fashion is worthless. Substance is what matters to me—If this is your belief, have you ever thought that there are some cases that you may offend others depending on what you wear? While attire is a means of expressing your personality, it is also an expression of your respect or consideration for others.
If you wear disrespectful attire at a funeral, you can easily imagine what other people will feel. How about when you go on a date with someone? Don’t you feel disappointed when she or he wears something that looks like she or he does not care about you? If you are careless about what you wear, it is an expression that you do not care at all how your partner feels. And if you do not care how the partner feels, you are, in effect, expressing through your attire that you have no goodwill or respect for the partner. This is inevitably unpleasant for the partner.
For women, fashion also encompasses makeup. The figure below shows how makeup is valued by others. From this study it was found that no makeup is not seen so favorably in the eyes of others. Natural makeup is favored most and the valuation becomes negative as makeup appears heavier. There may not seem to be a big difference between no makeup and natural makeup for makeup wearers, but, as in the case of attire, people around them tend to naturally sense from the way they apply makeup whether or not they are considerate to others. How heavy makeup is perceived by others may often depend on the place and occasion.
The same can be said of your workplace. Wearing whatever you like is good for your mental health, but if your attire is too individualistic or not suitable for the place or occasion, it may be considered as a lack of consideration for your customers, supervisor, or colleagues. Wearing proper attire and makeup is a sign of your respect for others. To build a desirable relationship with others, it is indispensable to pay attention to your appearance.
Fashion is not just a way to help you to be perceived favorably but is also effective to change your mood. You can choose clothes and accessories or at times even select special underwear—although invisible to others—to raise your spirits higher for the day, spend the day with peace of mind, or in any other way control your mood.
In field work that I conducted with Aoyama Gakuin’s female students, I lent a necklace to each of the students, saying that the price of the necklace is 70,000 yen. Female college students usually prefer possessing many accessories priced between the range of 2,000 to 5,000 yen each to allow them to change accessories according to their clothes. In my field work, however, the students were asked to wear a 70,000-yen necklace, and it was found that the necklace changed their mood. The necklace made the students feel proud and confident, elevated their mood, gave positive motivation, and helped them have positive self-acknowledgement.
It was found from an experiment that makeup has the same effects as accessories. Those who believe that they can be their “official” self only when made up feel as if they were naked—and may even think that they are degraded—when they have no makeup, and this feeling mentally alienates themselves from others. In another research, women who wear makeup daily answer that they can feel more positive to others when made up, and from this it is evident that they are aware of the effects of makeup. Fashion has the effect that allows you to customize yourself to move closer to what you want to become, and you can make the most of such an effect consciously.
Those who only care about substance and make light of fashion do not know—and may be even not interested in knowing—the effects of fashion. Those who insist “My best appeal is my substance” may just have a prejudice against fashion or may only have a narrow acceptable range. They are not aware that such an attitude is simply exposing their inner selves that are shallower than they think. Similarly, those who complain “Everyone is wearing the same fashion and has no individuality” may be just overlooking subtle creativity added by each person to their fashion. If you understand fashion well, it often means that you have a deeper understanding of yourself and others.
We judge people not only from their words but also from unspoken signals. This is what we call “non-verbal communication.” The signals include body language, hand gestures, posture, and bodily movements, but I want to focus on facial expressions here as an important means of non-verbal communication. For instance, in the experiment mentioned earlier about gratuity in a restaurant, the factor that made the difference in the amount of gratuity paid was not just fashion but female servers’ facial expressions as well. Smiling servers naturally received a higher amount of gratuity than grouchy servers.
Smiling is very important in job interviews as well. Many how-to books on job interviews advise that you should make eye contact with the interviewer, but making eye contact alone might make the interviewer feel nervous. Making eye contact as well as showing a smiling face from time to time can give a good impression. Smiling is an expression of goodwill. When people receive a smile, they tend to return a smile. This is called “reciprocity of liking.” If you can exchange smiles in a job interview, you can give a favorable impression without a doubt. Smiling is also an expression of your mental strength and capacity. If you respond with a smile in any situation at work, you can give the impression that you are capable.
The second most important factor in communication next to smiling is facial expressions when apologizing. If you show a dissatisfied face to the person who has made a complaint, you will never be forgiven by the angry person. In the case of a serious complaint about your job, your supervisor may sometimes accompany you to the complaining customer to apologize. An apology by the supervisor is believed to be a polite way of expressing the company’s regret—although it is not rare and it is also considered a duty of the supervisor anyway—but even when an apology is made in this way, if you, who are the cause of the complaint, keep showing a dissatisfied face, it will only amplify the customer’s anger.
The ability to control these two kinds of facial expressions, smiling and apologizing, in any way you like will allow you to achieve the basics of communication: self-expression and adjustment of relationships with others. Since there are various ways of developing this ability, such as exercising the muscles controlling facial expressions while looking in a mirror, you can try out some of them.
Communication is like tossing a ball back and forth with someone. If one player throws a ball in such a way that allows the other player to catch it easily, and if the other player tries eagerly to catch the ball even when it veers off course slightly by extending his/her arm as far as possible, they can keep playing for a long time. The longer the play lasts, the more they can enjoy it. The ball is our appearance, which is an expression of our consideration for others. If you try hard to optimize your appearance while the other person gives you adequate thought, and if you two use every exertion to continue such interaction, your communication will deepen and become increasingly exciting.
(This column is as of 2015.)