The Importance of Getting Your Appearance In Order
Putting more thought into your appearance is one of the easiest ways to improve your social prospects and the way people see you. It falls under the broader category of non-verbal communication. It's not that your social life will be a lost cause if you don't look perfect, but if you slack off with your appearance then you're making things harder than they have to be.
Most people are pretty superficial and mentally lazy when they size others up. If you look like you have your act together, they can't help but assume you really do. The opposite is true too, if you don't look all that great, people will be quicker to assume you have other negative traits. But clean up your look, and suddenly you don't seem so bad, and everyone's more willing to give you a chance, even though you're the same person deep down.
This article is referring to the kinds of good grooming and dressing that cuts across all social groups and identities. Sometimes certain ways of dressing or styling yourself are central to a niche you belong to. I'm not saying everyone has to adopt a standardized 'fashionable' uniform. I'm more talking about just looking decent, whatever your scene is, and not selling yourself short.
The two levels of improving your look
When I talk about looking better, there are two degrees of this. The first is to just get yourself looking half-decent and eliminate any blatant appearance-related mistakes. I'd have a hard time arguing that someone shouldn't at least do this. There aren't any downsides at all to it.
The second level would be to put the effort into becoming more fashionable than average. There are benefits to doing this, but it takes more work. You have to learn about clothes and style, devote time to shopping, and possibly spend more money.
You don't have to take this extra step to have a good social life. As long as you're reasonably well put together your clothes won't be a big influence on your social results. Outside of a few fashion-obsessed types, most people don't devote a lot of mental energy to their friends' clothing choices (unless their buddies are wearing something blatantly unstylish).
Getting outside feedback on your style and grooming
This article is about the importance of looking half-decent, but that doesn't automatically mean you need to change anything. It's possible your current style is absolutely fine, and any worries you have about it are just insecurities. It's also possible you think you look presentable, but you've got some blind spots in your grooming and fashion sense. The best way to know where you stand is to get an outside opinion on how you present yourself. You could ask a supportive friend or family member for feedback. There are also fashion-related forums where can post photos of yourself and get a critique.
A few basic tips for guys on looking better:
Below I'll list some basic tips and things to avoid (geared towards guys, since that's all I know), but really, this almost isn't necessary. Once you start devoting even a little thought to how you look, you'll very quickly notice and correct all these yourself:
It feels condescending to write these out, but I suppose I should anyway:
- Groom your facial hair: Avoid the patchy beard, long black mustache hairs, or chin pube goatee. Pluck your unibrow. Tame your eyebrows if they're really thick and bushy.
- Brush and floss your teeth regularly.
- Always be conscious of your breath. I find using a tongue scraper after brushing your teeth works well.
- Wash your hair regularly enough that if it doesn't look super greasy.
- Take care of your skin.
- Trim your fingernails and toenails on a regular basis, and clean the dirt out from under them.
- Always wear deodorant.
- Shower or bathe often enough that you aren't noticeably dirty or smelly.
- Pay attention to little details like keeping your ears clean, or your nose hair trimmed, or not having a mole with a single distracting long hair growing out of it.
Again, a list of stereotypical mistakes:
- Don't wear the same outfit two days or more in a row.
- Don't wear a similar, uninspired outfit every day (i.e., a dull black t-shirt with jeans.)
- Don't keep wearing your clothes after they've become ratty or faded.
- Don't wear clothes that are overly wrinkled.
- Don't keep wearing an item if you've dirtied or stained it.
- Don't wear shirts that are too big and baggy, or too small and tight.
- Don't wear white socks with dark shoes and vice versa.
- Don't wear socks with sandals.
- Find the best looking haircut for your face. That might involve growing it out or cutting it much shorter. Good looking hair can be the cornerstone of an attractive appearance.
- If you have glasses, consider getting contacts. They're not as expensive or high-maintenance as you may think. At the very least, if you do wear glasses, make sure to get some frames that look stylish on you. Glasses suit some people, but just as many would be better off without them.
- If you don't have great teeth, see what you can do about getting them whitened or straightened. Of course, I realize this isn't something anyone can cheaply do in five minutes.
- Get in shape, but don't feel you absolutely have to get huge, shredded muscles. If someone is fit for their natural frame people subconsciously pick up on it and think they look better. Subtle differences in things like the size of your chest muscles, the width of your shoulders, or the V-shape in your torso show through. Don't think your only options are lifting weights or running on a treadmill either. There are tons of activities you can do that will make you fitter. Take up rock climbing, or kick boxing, or dancing, or Ultimate Frisbee. Pick something you enjoy doing and that isn't an unnecessary hassle to take part in. If you truly don't like doing something, or it's just a pain in ass to do it, you'll quit before long.
- Tanning is controversial because of the increased risk of skin cancer, so it's your call whether you want to do it. I think the idea here is more about not looking so pale that you glow in the dark, rather than trying to turn your skin a deep brown.
Some advice on getting better clothes
Having decent clothes is one of the biggest factors in looking better. It's also a bit more complicated than vowing to take good care of your skin. This site's readers are too diverse for me to try to recommend any specific styles, or stores, or labels. I'm not enough of a fashion maven to get away with doing that anyway. Here are just some more general pointers:
- For many people who are only semi-motivated, the hardest part about getting new clothes is getting themselves out the door and to the store. After they've picked up some nice new outfits they're usually happy about it, but it seemed like such a hassle beforehand to take a few hours to go shopping.
- You may think you don't know much about fashion, but you likely have an idea deep down about what looks good. A rigid self-image can make it hard to admit to yourself that you can wear these attractive clothes yourself.
- Go to a store that sells good clothes and start trying items on. You can use the staff's knowledge and style to your advantage by asking them to help pick out some good outfits for you (of course, trust your gut and don't let them push or falsely flatter you into buying something you're not keen about).
- Don't judge anything until you try it on and see if it looks good on you. Many clothes look a lot better than you'd think from just seeing them hanging on the rack or sitting folded up on a table.
- Your self-image or a sense of discomfort with change may pop up here and make you think things like, "That's not me, I'm not the type of person who wears this stuff" in response to styles that truly would look good on you. Try to ignore these thoughts and push out of your comfort zone. You may be surprised at how within a few days you're totally comfortable in outfits you initially dismissed as "not me".
- You may have some emotional baggage around certain styles, even though you think deep down that they look good. If you don't like the people who wear certain styles (e.g., jocks, preps, hipsters) the idea of dressing like one of 'them' may seem traitorous to you.
There are two broad paths you can take when it comes to getting better clothes. One is to just dress like your peers (the ones who look good that is). This is cheaper and easier. Yeah, you're not being a one-of-a-kind trailblazer, but you'll still come out looking a lot better than you did before. The problem is your clothes will go out of style sooner rather than later and you'll have to get new ones.
The second option is to go to hip, higher-end stores and buy some slightly more unique items. This is more expensive and there's a higher risk that you'll accidentally buy something that isn't a good fit for your personality. On the upside, these clothes tend to just look better and attract more positive attention. They also exist outside of the short-lived trends more mainstream styles are subjected to, so it takes much longer before they're blatantly out of fashion.
- Like anything there's a learning curve involved in picking out your own clothes. You get better at it with practice. As such, I'd recommend not blowing too much money your first few times out.
- Some people don't have a problem with paying more for what they feel are good clothes. However, it's totally understandable if that's not your thing. It's totally possible to look good and not kill your bank account. Some well-dressed guys take pride in the fact that all their shirts cost less than $15.
- If in doubt lean, towards (relatively) plain and conservative clothes over flashier ones. Flashy clothes can backfire and make you look gaudy and like you're trying too hard if you don't pull them off properly.
- Don't forget about accessories like a fun pair of sunglasses, a stylish watch, or a necklace. None of them have to be disgustingly expensive. As a general rule though, you want to lean towards wearing fewer accessories rather than overdoing it.
- Get some nice shoes. The standard advice for dressier shoes is to have a good pair each of black and brown ones.
Your external looks are influenced by your internal state
If you took two outwardly identical guys, but one was insecure and had a lot of other issues, and the other was self-assured, happy and confident, they would come across as quite different from each other. They would carry themselves differently and wear different expressions on their faces. One would literally be better looking than the other. As you invest in the inner you, your outer appearance will benefit.
Here are two related looks-focused articles, but which are more about insecurities: