What Costume Do You Wear?
Most self-help teaches that change begins within. But that does not mean that the inner world is the only, or even the primary, field on which we function. A subtle interplay exists between inner and outer. If you want to boost your self-confidence and attract positive attention, working on your outer appearance will make a significant difference.
That is why I want to explore the psychology of clothing.
Part of discovering your primal self involves cultivating the right outer appearance — one that you are comfortable with and that speaks to who you really are, or wish to be. Shortly before this writing, I “took a meeting” (as Hollywood people say) at a media hotspot in New York City. I was worried that I’d be underdressed. But when I arrived, I discovered that all the men there were dressed more or less like fifteen-year-olds. I fit right in. In fact, I seemed mature by comparison. I wear T-shirts, jeans, and leather boots and jackets. I’m covered in tattoos. It’s just what makes me comfortable.
Past generations were taught to “dress for success” — which generally meant suits and shined shoes for men, and professional dresses or pantsuits for women. But today’s secret to dressing for success means adopting a daily “uniform” which makes you feel self-possessed or at home wherever you are.
Pioneering success author Napoleon Hill emphasized this point in 1928 in The Law of Success: “An appearance of prosperity attracts attention, with no exceptions whatsoever. Moreover, a look of prosperity attracts ‘favorable attention,’ because the one dominating desire in every human heart is to be prosperous.” I would update Hill’s advice by substituting the word “independence” for “prosperity.” Today’s dominating desire is to be self-directed, independent, and — yes — prosperous.
Remember what Steve Jobs chose as Apple’s slogan? “Think Different.” The digital pioneer wore a studied daily uniform of black turtlenecks, jeans, and New Balance sneakers. (According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Jobs owned hundreds of the same articles of clothing for his uniform.) His appearance said: I make my own rules; I think different.
In The Simpsons episode “The Girl Code” a teacher tells Lisa: “Being tough comes from the inside. First step — change your outside.” Like all good jokes, the satirical advice conceals a truth: the outside reinforces who you are within.
As you adopt the clothing or look that makes you comfortable, or brings out traits you wish to cultivate, you’ll find that your tone and voice grow easier and more commanding; your gait and posture become more relaxed and confident; you catch second looks from people; and your expressiveness grows more natural and persuasive whether you’re an artist, writer, or salesperson. An enticing testimony to this power appears in a memoir by KISS drummer Peter Criss and his cowriter Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Makeup to Breakup: My Life in and Out of KISS. Criss and Sloman recall the transformative effect that stage makeup had on band members when they were creating their look and sound in the early 1970s:
What’s scary is that the more we got into roles and the makeup, the more we actually became our alter egos. Once we ditched the female eye shadow and eyeliner and lipstick and actually created these four characters with full-on theatrical makeup, we transformed into different entities. Gene [Simmons] morphed right into a demon. That little Hasidic boy was nowhere to be found when the Demon took over Gene’s brain. He would spit right into our roadies’ faces. Just plodding around on those platform shoes, which added to his natural height, he exuded menace. People would literally cringe in fear when he came near … Gene once told me that if he could leave his makeup on all the time and never leave that persona, he would do it.
That may sound a bit gruesome but it greatly heightened Simmons’ sense of character and theatricality. Other members of the band had similar, if interpersonally milder, experiences: each came to occupy his character and felt elevated confidence, stage presence, and a sense of personal identity. In varying ways, this can happen to you, whether on or off stage, when you are mindful of the intimate connection between outer appearance and psyche.
As a friend of mine puts it: “Everything tells a story.” What story do you want to tell about yourself?
(This article is adapted from the author’s forthcoming book Secrets of Self-Mastery.)