Interview with Elisabeth Motsch: The relationship between external perceptions and internal competencies and why looks do matter
To put it bluntly, competencies should be more important than my looks. What do you say to that?
It would be desirable to stop judging others by how they dress, but only by their personal character. Although such an idea would be admirable, the reality is quite different. We judge others in 130 milliseconds, consciously or unconsciously, based on how they dress.
A new study from Princeton University shows that perceptions of competence are related to clothing. The researchers came to the same conclusion in nine different studies: people who dressed better were seen as more competent. In every single study, the result was the same: even when subjects were shown wearing different clothing, those who wore nice clothes were rated as more competent than those in a plain T-shirt.
Styling and etiquette are two buzzwords that catch the eye when people engage with you. For those meeting you and your profession for the first time, 3 classic opening questions: Who are you? What do you do? How did you come to do what you do?
As a style and image expert, I show people how to dress their personality in an authentic, business-like way to appear confident and convincing. As a manners expert, I give them confidence in dealing with people on the social stage. Even at a young age I was interested in stylish appearance. Through my many stays abroad, which was characterized by a lot of insecurity with my dress style and appearance, grew in me the desire to learn everything to dress authentically and stylishly. My numerous trainings led me to Milan and London, among other places, where I still regularly get my inspiration. With appreciation, dedication and empathy I live my passion to create for everyone his style concept, matching his style DNA.
In your books, you deal a lot with external perception. What is the importance of clothing in a professional context?
Part of the reason we choose certain outfits for certain occasions is because we consciously or unconsciously recognize that our clothing has an impact on how we feel, act and interact with others. In fact, there is extensive research showing that our professional style and dress can influence others' perceptions of our level of education, leadership skills, and ability to get a job done.
Clothing can serve to create an identity. Clothing can also reinforce an existing identity and is therefore an important part of establishing a professional status. In creative professions, there are minimal or no rules. The strictest dress codes exist in conservative professions such as banking or insurance. But even there, the strict dress code is increasingly softening, with the result that professionalism suffers when clothing becomes overly casual or careless. With professional clothing in line with the image of the company, trust can be created. In business, a professional appearance is an important factor.
If we think one step further, what role does a matching handbag play?
The handbag is a style statement for us women. It reflects a woman's sense of fashion, elegance and personality. Since time immemorial, handbags have been considered a sign of a woman's class. A handbag must speak for itself: "I know what suits me and this bag matches my personality and style". Every modern woman loves handbags, preferably a large collection in several styles and sizes to be ready for any occasion and style.
Based on what should women choose their handbag? What are the criteria, where do I start?
In any case, the model must please us at first sight and match the chosen outfit. A strict straight bag does not go with a flower dress, and a playful one does not go with a strict business outfit. Then comes the question of color. It can be used as a splash of color, or subordinate to the outfit. I choose my professional handbag color according to the business wardrobe. So that there is also variety, I have a second in a subtle Bordeaux red. Others choose, for example, a beige or brown handbag to match their hair color, or a green one to match their eye color or dress color. Many choose the bag color according to the shoe color. If the style and color match, it must support us in daily life and provide good order. That is, we love a very good division, many small compartments and subdivisions to be able to keep order. We women have so much with us in our bag, whether we always need it is another story, so the size of the bag is also crucial. Privately we have bags in different sizes, more interesting shapes and colors. Most of my customers love bags with a lot of space even in private. Only for certain occasions, it is chosen smaller.
In summary, a handbag is not only an accessory that we wear with our outfit and confidently flaunt, it is a great help in our daily life. Men envy us for this.
How important is a good standing bag?
A bag that stands upright and does not fall over psychologically signals that my business is also upright and powerful. On the other hand, a ragged bag that falls over as soon as you put it down looks powerless. That's why it's so important for us women to carry a handbag that radiates exactly this power.
"New Work", home office flexibility and the growing start-up world - the business context is no longer clearly defined. What influence do these movements have on the everyday question: What do I wear? (After all, the classic suit is rarely chosen in this context anymore).
Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment has learned the spoken and unspoken rules of dress in the workplace. Subdued colors and styles have dutifully met expectations to move up in the career ladder - a reality that is especially true for women. But after two years of quickly throwing on a blazer over a T-shirt and sweatpants during the pandemic, and communicating with the world via screen in the home office, our tolerance for conformity - and discomfort - has changed.
The business dress code continues to evolve toward looseness. But confusion abounds. When people returned to the office, many didn't know what was and wasn't now being worn in a professional setting. They wondered, "How casual is casual in our industry, can I wear jeans, is the T-shirt now socially acceptable or does it stick to the professional business look?
The messages of professionalism have not changed. When meeting with clients and superiors, people still choose the style of dress that was expected of them in the office or at a client meeting and that is in line with the company's values. The style of dress has not evolved from a strict business style to a casual jeans style, it has only loosened from strict business to business casual with blazer and from business casual to smart casual (upscale sportiness). Today, depending on the occasion, it is decided whether business, business casual or smart casual will suit the desired message. It is always a question of the industry and the company specification. There are banks whose employees stand at the counter in shirts and jeans because that is what the company wants. It is not the rule. In start-ups, a casual dress style has always prevailed, as long as it fits the image of the brand. If you pay attention to boundaries and nuances, as well as your own corporate image, you are already doing a lot right. If in doubt, consult with the management. It is still true that anyone who appears carelessly dressed at a customer meeting does not look professional, and even the pandemic has not changed that.
Appearing convincing in online meetings, today it's no longer just about scoring points on the entire look, but already with around 50% of the body. What tips do you have for appearing professional and confident in this context?
If you adapt to the style of dress that is expected of you in a customer meeting or in the office during online meetings with customers and superiors, you are not doing anything wrong. A blazer in muted darker tones and plain or subtly patterned blouses, as well as elegant blouse shirts, combined with slacks or skirts, is always well advised if it fits the corporate image and message. At peer-to-peer meetings, things are more relaxed and a blazer can be dispensed with. Be careful with (large) patterned tops, they distract from the face and the counterpart is busy with the pattern and not with the content, because the eye follows the attention. If you wear office-appropriate pants or skirts, even though you can't see them, you'll never be embarrassed if you have to stand up in front of the camera. We have seen enough sweatpants and pajama pants in the last two years. Accessories should not be forgotten, they are decorative by nature. They require a little extra effort, but they pay off. Someone wearing just a plain blouse or shirt might say, "I'm wearing this because I have to," but add an accessory, you give the impression, "I care enough about my appearance." Since zoom is usually a sedentary affair, for us women jewelry is an important accessory, it gives us the finishing touch. You are stating: I make an effort, I pay attention to details and I want to convey a coherent image of myself. A necklace or earrings should not dominate and distract from the face. Because the eye follows the attention.
Representation is not only important, but fundamental: How much room is there for individuality in a classic business context?
If a woman deviates too much from the usual dress image, she needs more persuasion to prove her competence, has to fight prejudices, which costs time and energy. Some doors remains closed that could be opened more easily and quickly with the right appearance. The chance: The woman can make herself a brand through clear positioning and self-presentation. The decisive factor is which goals the woman wants to achieve and with which style of dress this is possible. It is advisable to be aware of whether clothing should constantly be an issue or whether the focus should be on competencies and the outfit should be an attractive secondary matter.
What is the role of the word acceptance?
Acceptance is the basis of the mindful attitude. It is the ability to recognize that others have the right to be their own unique persons. It means having a right to one's own thoughts, opinions, and even style of dress. This requires society to be very reflective to accept others as they are. Since people are different and have grown up with different beliefs, it is very difficult for many to accept others as they are. Especially in matters of dress, the imprinting of social signals has existed for thousands of years. Always, the kind of clothes we wear - and the kind of accessories we use - have been a statement about us, who we are, where we come from, what we do, and how we think about ourselves and others.
Costume designers around the world know that they must dress each performer to fit their role in order to be accepted. Even colors are chosen based on the role. A strong character type will never be dressed in soft colors and vice versa. Therefore, the choice of clothing can greatly influence the impression it gives and is therefore a powerful communication tool to be accepted.
This is also true for companies. Employees represent their company in every way, whether it is through a certain work ethic or a certain appearance. Although they prefer to be judged on their intelligence and experience, they are also judged on their style and dress.