Appearances Matter

Despite the “we’re all equal” trope that seems to be all the rage today, !Science! tells us that it just ain’t so (emphasis added):

People perceive a person’s competence partly based on subtle economic cues emanating from the person’s clothing, according to a study published in Nature Human Behaviour by Princeton University. These judgments are made in a matter of milliseconds, and are very hard to avoid.
In nine studies conducted by the researchers, people rated the competence of faces wearing different upper-body clothing. Clothing perceived as “richer” by an observer—whether it was a T-shirt, sweater, or other top—led to higher competence ratings of the person pictured than similar clothes judged as “poorer,” the researchers found.
Given that competence is often associated with social status, the findings suggest that low-income individuals may face hurdles in relation to how others perceive their abilities—simply from looking at their clothing.

I’ve banged on about this topic several times before, but now that I have !Science! to back me up, I’m going to say it again, with feeling:

Appearances matter.

Dress like a slob, get treated like one.  Even worse, if the above study is to be believed, is that if you dress like a slob your competence  is going to be dismissed, especially when compared with someone who doesn’t look (as I’ve said before) as though he’s just come from a beach party by way of working on his friend’s car.

It doesn’t matter, by the way, how unfair  you think this prejudice is;  it’s simply the way of the world, and bleating about the unfairness of it won’t change a thing.


  1. Interesting article, Kim, but really doesn’t tell us much more than a truism any thinking man knows.

    Dressing well and appropriately for the occasion is just a reinforcement of the old saying “Clothes maketh the Man”.

    “Don’t judge a book by the cover” is bullshit. Of course we judge people by appearance.

    Would you trust a supposed/alleged Supreme Court judge if he had facial tattoos, ten pounds of metal bling hanging off his face, wearing bakkaball sneakers, a wife beater shirt and baggy pants round his knees?

    I rest my case Yer Honner.

    1. Bluey, the problem with truisms like the above is that nowadays one has to actually remind people of them, because they’ve either been forgotten or else undermined by the so-called “progressives” that infest society like ticks.

  2. Sometimes it is a tactical advantage to be underestimated. After you have burned adversities a few times, their opinion will be revised.

  3. Thought experiment: How does the field of the perceived competence change just what appearance is considered indicative of competence? So someone with unruly hair, mismatched and poorly fitting clothes, and needing a shave might not be considered a competent politician, but might be considered a competent scientist (Albert Einstein, call your office). And how much of THAT perception is based on previous experience, did Einstein start the “fashion” of what brilliant scientists look like?

    OR, at what point does extreme competence give rise to I-don’t-give-a-shit-ism, and how many people like the example above are imitating THAT?

    1. Regarding the real sciences, those inclined to both the needed talents and dedication to the work involved tend to be oddballs by nature; they’re often “on the spectrum” as we now might say. This is one more reason males are more represented there, as that is another bell curve that differs significantly between the sexes.

      As for other contexts, the appearance that matters certainly does change. From experience I wouldn’t trust a mechanic whose shop is spotless; all the good and straight-shooting ones I’ve run across have had shops that ranged from perpetually dirty to looking like miniature wrecking yards.

      And if a guy in a suit and tie, with spotless fingernails, offered me advice on operating a tractor? Unless I caught sight of a lot of old scars on his hands I’d only wonder just what experience he thought to be speaking from.

  4. Once again, shocking news from the world of SCIENCE!

    If a man is willing to put time and effort into his clothing, then he will most likely put time and effort into other aspects of his life, such as his employment, or his relationships. I don’t have time to spend hours getting to know the 99.99999% of people I deal with on a daily basis. I have to judge a person based on what I can see.

  5. If I had to guess, Kim, I’d say the picture you chose to accompany this article is of the same man. Jon Hamm as Don Draper and Jon Hamm just off the studio lot.

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