The mastery of making an impression

Each day we see and are seen; it seems simple, and it is. We wake up, get dressed, and coexist with the other 7.9 billion people that make up the world’s population. Inevitably, of the small proportion of this population that we encounter, we make split-second observations and form perceptions, most often without even recognising this is what we’re doing. Judging a book by its cover is a habit that is inherently inhuman to break. But, if this is the case, then we must be the perceived as well as the perceiver, and the image we fashion each day is what decides the set of expectations and assumptions others have of us. What drives these decisions? Our emotions? How much autonomy do we even have over the way we present ourselves? Whether we are tactical about the impressions we make or our subconscious makes these choices for us, the bottom line is: appearances do matter. 

Here’s a scary thought – we don’t choose what to wear in the morning because our body makes the decision for us. In 2008, a study led by Kristina Durante, Norman Li, and Martie Haselton set out to investigate how a woman’s ovulatory cycle affected the way she dressed by inviting 88 women to the lab on two separate occasions, once while ovulating and once at a point of low fertility in their cycle, recording what they wore and then asking them to draw an outfit for a special occasion that evening. The results found that women in relationships would wear more revealing clothing to the lab session during ovulation, while single women illustrated a more provocative outfit for the evening. The conclusion Durante, Li and Haselton came to was that this reflected an increase in female-female competition closer to ovulation, suggesting it is instinctual for us to dress with the purpose of attracting a mate when the chances of repopulation are highest. So then, is the impression we make decided for us by our biology? As humans, we like to think ourselves above our primal instincts but the fact of the matter is, we are animals. Our priority is survival. Sex is usually a pretty important part of this, and just like the feathers of a peacock or the courtship call of a hummingbird, our body insists upon finding a way to signal readiness to mate. Seduction = survival. 

The authorising of your personal style seems a given, the careful curation of an individual image something akin to Michelangelo’s sculpting of David. But now that we know at least part of this has little to do with artistic vision and more to do with biological function, it’s not such a stretch to consider how our reception of such artistry is also not of our own volition. A survey titled ‘The Perception of Colour’ asked 1000 people, men and women, about the assumptions they make about people dependent on the colour they’re wearing in a number of different situations. One of the most interesting observations they made was that women found blue and black the most attractive colours on men, two of the highest ranked colours when asked what they associate with confidence. Are our brains so easily duped? Could something as trivial as a blue t-shirt really determine the relationships we form and the connections we make? It seems manipulating perception really is as easy as that. If you want to come across confident: wear blue. If you want to appear intelligent: wear black. If, for whatever reason, you want to severely repel whoever sits across the table from you on date night, apparently brown is the way to go. 

While it seems we have little control over our perceptions of colour, inversely this hands us the power to exploit the speculations people make based on our image, and colour isn’t the only way we can reclaim the capacity to tailor our portrayal in the world. David Kibbe originated the Kibbe system of image identity that offers a method of achieving harmony and balancing the yin (soft) and yang (angular) axis, in your body through the clothing you choose. By identifying where you lie on the scale, there are innumerable sources that can then offer advice about dressing to enhance and take full advantage of the shape of your body. Rather than looking at figures on a weighing scale, the Kibbe system focuses upon the natural lines and structure of your body, the classification you identify with having nothing to do with your weight, but how your body is built. Kibbe has then developed a method women can exploit to truly enrich their appearance by simply playing to their strengths, carving out and realising the natural grace and refinement of the female body. Once again, we are allowed the authority to sculpt our bearing and form to fit the figure we want to impress upon others, reclaiming our prerogative to decide who we are.

So, when it really comes down to it, vanity is a deep-set aspect of the human experience. Whether it’s biological or tactical, we all dress with intent and purpose, aiming for a look or presence that will have a desired effect on those around us. Style is so engrained into our lives that it goes majorly undetected how much we are affected by what we communicate in silence, whether this be a feeling, a philosophy or a fancy. Fashion really is something worth doing well. 

Featured image: Giorgio Trovato via Unsplash with license

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