Monday, September 6, 2010

Global 2010: Modern Etiquette: What they see is what you get

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 01:  Model Liya Kebede and...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
SEATTLE, Sept 6 (Reuters Life!) - "What they see is what you get," fashion consultant Georgia Donovan told the Sotheby's staff in her talk entitled "Appearance Matters."

She expanded on the point with examples of how differences in geographic location, age, generation, and body language can be factors in how others treat us.

Try getting attentive service at Gucci wearing grungy cut-off shorts, a tank top, and flip-flops; you'll see what she meant. The power of her words hit home on a recent business trip to Washington, D.C.

During check-in, a handful of airline personnel and fellow travelers complimented me on wearing a suit. Everybody treated me especially well. (It's fair to tell you that given the travails of flying, I really wanted to wear jeans and a T-shirt, but I was traveling on business, as the face of my company, and I wanted my appearance and mindset to reflect that. My treatment, as it turned out, was a fringe benefit of that decision process.)

Fast forward to Washington, where I gave a speech on professionalism to a conference of women doctors. After my program, I strolled the grounds of the hotel to unwind. One woman caught my eye because she looked so jaunty and professional. Then I realized that I owned the same dress she was wearing.

I wondered if, had she been wearing flip-flops, a baggy shirt, and jeans, I would have felt so drawn to her energy and demeanor. I doubt it. Not fair yet very true.

As shallow as this might sound, it was the clothes that brought us together. Both of us were in work mode, and made judgments about each other based on what we saw. What's the practical lesson here?

For me, the experiences were a reminder to ask myself the same questions actors ask when they prepare to inhabit a role: Who Am I? Where Am I? Who Is My Audience? What Do I Want Them to Feel?

The bottom line? Wherever we are, everything we put on represents a choice we've made about how we want others to perceive us, and treat us. And if we know what's good for us, we'll do some homework and choose carefully. But stay true to yourself. You never know "what you'll get."

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