One of the characters in my book, Addoc, loses some trust with his followers because of his clothing choices. In his case, he violated their military uniform. His dismissal of official rules creates an unnecessary hurdle for his followers as they get to know him.
But what about those of us not in the military? How do we choose the most appropriate attire? Do we simply follow the crowd and wear what everyone else is wearing to be safe? Or do we follow popular advice to ignore others and do whatever feels good?
I spent years of my life avoiding style decisions. Jeans and a shirt was my outfit almost every day. Casual days I wore t-shirts and fancy days I wore button up shirts. If I was teaching I would go so far as to wear dress shoes instead of sneakers. But with the help of two mentors, I came to realize that clothing communicates. And anything that communicates to others is an influence tool. And leaders cannot ignore an influence tool without paying a price.
So, how to choose what to wear? My current approach is to neither follow the crowd or ignore the crowd. First, learn how to follow the rules. Only then will you know which ones to break. Tweet This
Before deciding what you should wear, I recommend learning what the norms of your peers are. For some people, this is automatic and instinctive. You’re sensitive to what everyone else in your setting (your office, school, church, etc) is wearing. I had to put real effort into learning this. But until you have a solid grasp on what’s normal, you can’t make intelligent choices about what to wear.
With this information in hand, you can select how you will be different from the crowd. It’s the deviations from the norm that speak the loudest. This might result in you wearing radically different clothing from the norm, if that’s the message you want to send. Go for it. But there’s a world of difference between random differences and thoughtfully choosing. It’s like first learning to speak a language properly before choosing which words to use to represent yourself. The more fully you understand proper grammar the more powerfully you can communicate what you want. You don’t have to use proper grammar when crafting your message, but if you don’t know the norms you can’t know how create the right effect at the right time.
But there’s one more crucial piece. You need to know exactly what impression you want to make. If you don’t know the message you want to send, you don’t know what to wear. Steve Jobs took his clothing seriously and eventually created his own “uniform”—buying dozens of the exact same black turtleneck shirt and jeans and wearing them almost every single day. He knew the message he wanted to send.
If at this point, some part of you is violently rebelling at the thought of doing anything other than what you prefer, then let me remind you: If you’re not trying to become a better influencer, then don’t worry about this at all. Just pick what looks cool or feels comfy and move on. But if you want to be an influencer, then you have to face the hard truth: You influence best by serving others, not fulfilling your own desires. Tweet This