Despite how much of our personal and professional lives have moved online, for most things that matter we meet people.
And, during those interactions, most of us want to be perceived as “successful” on some metric is meaningful to us.
Now, 2018 is still fresh and perhaps you’ve already created momentum towards upgrading how you show up in your life. I would like to empower you to leverage a daily uniform in pursuit of your goals.
Here’s why: Everyone you meet and interact with is subconsciously picking up cues about who you are.
More-so if you’ve just met, less so if there’s already a lot of context to the relationship. Either way, you can deliberately craft that message to your advantage. And the advantages are significant.
A deliberate and considered daily uniform has two main functions that you can leverage: external signalling and internal signalling. While I’d argue that internal signalling is the most impactful, it requires the context of the external world so let’s start there.
Part 1: External signalling
Signal that you are successful and an authority in your field, be memorable, and showcase yourself in the best possible light.
Signal that you are successful and an authority in your field
As a former stylist for the television series Suits, I’ll use an example I know very well. The lead character, Harvey Specter, is a high-powered lawyer. His wide piqued Tom Ford suit lapels are oversized and indulgent. They communicate power. Even his tie knot, a Windsor knot, is double the size of a regular one. His stylishness signals confidence high enough not to conform and not to be questioned yet still lands within the parameters of legal norms. We use these signals to catch the audience up on who he is without having to tell you. But this isn’t just a TV hack — it’s how we assess people in real life, every day.
Right now, you’re making an impression whether you like it or not.
“That’s the difference between you and me. You wanna lose small, I wanna win big.” — Harvey Specter
We already know this. Why else would engineers have a piece of metal looped around their pinky fingers if not to tell the world about their coding abilities and membership in that tribe?
A recent study reported by the Wall Street Journal found that, in addition to strangers, your colleagues impressions of your abilities improve just by “dressing for the job.” The fear of “looking like you’re trying” is a false one. Because not trying is also communicating something and that is indifference.
For some reason, many of us think that it’s the job of others to see our infinite potential. But the truth is most people are focused on what they can bring to the world, not you or me.
When we present ourselves in an intriguing and memorable way, it signals to others that there is something remarkable inside.
And there is!
On the other hand, dressing exactly like everyone around us can come off as unoriginal (easy target: The Startup Uniform). It can even signal that our ideas are likely homogenous too. “One of us” is a double-edged sword and I want to shed light on the other side.
Instead of conforming, we can use external signalling as a tool to help our point of view and our work to be remembered.
Obvious case in point: Steve Jobs. To me Jobs’ outfit screams first principles. It communicates his scrappiness, relentless need to simplify, and affinity to American-made inventions — jeans, and sneakers as everyday wear. The black turtleneck hints at a knowing of design. The whole thing is so him and yet it’s built out of basic items. Simple. Original.
Author and marketer Seth Godin wears a uniform of simple suits, bright patterned ties and colourful glasses. It’s not because he is an over-the-top personality, but because it is on-brand. His work is about marketing that is remarkable (read: remarked about), and so he should present himself in a remarkable way. Additionally, the colour frames his fair features in the best way (more on showcasing yourself later).
The way we show up physically is a signal to the world about our personal brand. It’s an opportunity to shortcut to your core message that so many of us pass up.
A simple way to go about bringing remark-ability into your daily uniform is to choose a signature item or combination that brings you joy and expresses your unique personality or domain. It could be rolled jeans and cool socks, a nice watch, or architectural glasses… We all know someone with a subtly memorable look. They get remembered.
Frame yourself in the best possible way
As former film stylist, I have performed MIRACLES just by choosing the right fit for a given actor’s body type. Whether they had been hitting the gym or partying for the last 6 weeks straight, it was my job to make them look amazing. While I don’t anticipate any of my readers need quite that level of magic — the right choices can go a long way to making us look our best. Furthermore, sticking to that optimal uniform means more days we’re hitting a home run.
In a recent podcast, Kevin Rose and networking expert Jordan Harbinger (The Art of Charm) discussed the internal biases we all have when deciding whether or not to strike up a conversation. First impressions matter and presenting yourself in well-fitted clothes that are on the right side of casual communicates that you have your shit together. As I hinted earlier, trying signals that you care.
Need a playbook?
Think back to an outfit that made you feel confident, maybe got a few compliments. You know the one. It may seem like there are a million options out there, but even supermodels have that one silhouette that brings out the best in their unique features. Ask a friend if you need to.
Keep in mind the personal brand you’d like to convey: modern, simple, fun, etc, and check in that your choices reflect that. Oh, and make sure your pants fit properly.
Now, wear only permutations of that outfit. That’s it, your optimal uniform.
Additional benefits: consistency is memorable and simplifies your life. More on that in Part 2.
Part 2: Internal signalling
Use your daily uniform to reduce decision fatigue, help get into flow state, and bolster your confidence.
Reduce decision fatigue
President Barack Obama’s need to keep decisions to a minimum is well documented.
“You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Even his underwear drawer is full of virtually identical items (see Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee). When you have a daily uniform, your mornings are simplified. You don’t spend a moment considering pairings, it’s just done.
In fact, a lot of our decision fatigue comes from confusing decisions with choices. Once you decide and commit to presenting yourself in a way that serves you, you’ll never have to choose what to wear again.
Prime your optimal mental state
In “The Art of Learning,” Josh Waitzkin explains that the process of getting into the state of flow starts out formulaic and lengthy but, with practice, we can use external cues to help shortcut that process. Eventually, one simple cue like your morning routine, meditation, a specific song, or a cue word is enough to signal the onset of that optimal mindset.
Athletes use this technique all the time, often choreographing their pre-game routines to the minute in order to replicate what brings them optimal performance. Then when it’s go-time, they use the same words or cue to remind them of ALL the training they’ve done and to get in the zone. It gives them security under pressure.
Similarly, your daily uniform can serve as a repeated symbol of preparedness for the day. To remind you that you’ve done the work. Your lucky socks, so to speak.
Bolster your Confidence
Action leads to confidence.
As an introvert, I used to believe my point of view was a privilege I granted to people I had vetted and decided would respond at least somewhat favourably. Only then would I let my freak flag (cool pants/radical thoughts) fly.
I was hiding.
And fear is just as palpable as confidence. When we conform and stay silent, we show our fear of being ostracized from the group (perhaps we’re also in the wrong group). When we repeatedly stay silent, we signal to our peers that we have nothing new to contribute. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the other hand, when we put ourselves out there and our worst fears are not realized, we gain confidence. We start to do it more. And the more we put out into the world, the more feedback we get, the more we learn, and the more we improve.
Your daily uniform can be hacked to signal confidence — to yourself and to others — in what you bring to the world. Wearing a uniform that you’ve crafted specifically around your purpose can be a positive reinforcer for who you’re deliberately growing into. A daily reminder of where you’re going and why.
It can be a simple as feeling good because you’re looking good.
It can be as nuanced as signalling your professional expertise and thought leadership.
Both are meaningful and real.
We live the lives we accept for ourselves.
In life, we have to put ourselves out there, ask for things, try, speak up, and be visible. And how we show up has a huge potential to communicate our why.
So go. Get out there.
Signal your brilliance and your inner and outer worlds will conspire to make it so.
Resources: For a deep dive how-to on creating a daily uniform, see Esquire
This article is based on what we’ve learned at our product design company Watson, my work on the psychology of dress, and experience as a competitive athlete.
Originally published at medium.com