It is a well-known fact that at least 90% of our communication is through non-verbal means. As visual creatures we process visual information much faster than any other form of communication. This includes both the sending and receiving of messages. Yet we go through life ignoring the fact that we are constantly communicating with others in visual form.
We erroneously assume that if we do not utter any words, we are invisible to the world out there. Wrong! We are continuously sending messages through our body language, facial and eye expressions and powerfully, through the clothes we wear.
This flow of communication is not only constant, but mainly subconscious. We are always in the process of making judgements and drawing conclusions about situations, our surroundings and the people we encounter without being aware of it. Of importance is that we respond to others and our surroundings based on our subconscious sensemaking processes.
Organisations spend an inordinate amount of time and money, employing experts from designers to psychologists to help them create a brand that will communicate the message they are hoping to share with prospective customers and others in the industry. The complexity of branding is much more than the words used to convey their message and include the colours and images associated with their message.
I have no doubt that you have your own favourite brands and when you recall these the visual image of their brand pops up in your mind. For a second, consider the icons and Emojis that we take for granted as part of our everyday communication practices.
Brand experts know that the brand image has to be congruent with the brand itself. We are our own brands and when we dress for different settings, it is inconceivable that we would not give serious consideration to the messages we intend to convey and dress accordingly.
The adage that a picture tells a thousand words comes to mind. However, each one of us will select different images with which to communicate, reflecting our personal style and preferences.
Why therefore do we not stop to consider what we communicate with others through the clothes we wear? Visual images are very powerful tools in capturing attention and evoking emotions. By not using these tools consciously, we may very well be sending out the wrong messages.
Furthermore, the messages we send out through our appearance may contradict the verbal communications we then use subsequently. The result may very well be mixed messages that serves to confuse those we communicate with. An example would be if you want to convey a message of confidence, but your appearance sends a different message, chances are the visual message will prevail.
Clothing has the power to communicate so much more about you than your words. This includes your culture, moods, level of confidence, interests, authority, values and so much more. Our dress includes not only the clothes we wear, but our accessories as well.
Different items of clothing will communicate different messages in different settings, and it is worth reminding ourselves that dress codes have built-in rules about the messages they convey. When visiting different cultures on holiday or business, we are well advised to familiarise ourselves with the codes and rules of other cultures.
On the one hand we may want to reflect the unspoken rules and thereby conform and fit in. However, on the other hand, we may choose to consciously challenge the expectations for the purpose of communicating a specific message.
Either way, I hope I have persuaded you to recognise how important it is to consider your appearance when you want to communicate a specific message about your personal identity and persona. Clothes are not a frivolous waste of time and in the words of Gore Vidal, “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
It is up to each one of us to become proficient in the visual language of communication and use it consciously to our advantage.