In a world where traditional social divides like gender, age, nationality and ethnicity are slowly but surely fading, many of us are subconsciously turning to what we wear to express our place in society. When we meet people for the first time, we can’t help but draw some snap conclusions about them from their appearance – and what they’re wearing is a big part of that.

In a situation like a job interview, or meeting a big potential client for the first time, it’s easy to see how these first impressions -right or wrong- can make a big difference. And by using this knowledge to your advantage, you can actually improve how people see and treat you, and even more importantly, how confident you are in yourself.

Subtle changes can make a big difference

Studies in the journal Sex Roles have shown that men and women will judge a female test subject to be more competent, intelligent and trustworthy when her skirt is just slightly longer, for example – and this is based on just five seconds of exposure to the image in question. It might not be fair, but it’s unfortunately just part of human nature. Luckily you don’t have to have a degree in psychology to make use of this information. If you’re angling for more responsibility at work, then dressing even just a little more conservatively can affect the way superiors judge you.

In the case of male subjects, a tailored, made-to-measure suit was similarly shown to leave a better impression than an off the shelf variety, even though the style and color were identical. You might be one of the most talented investment bankers the world has ever seen, but potential customers (and employers) are going to judge you poorly if your suit looks cheap, unfortunately!

Hints about your personality

What you choose to wear also tells people a lot about the way you identify your own place in society, and gives clues about your personality too. We’ll usually assume that someone who likes to wear bright colors is likely to be outgoing and extroverted, whereas someone who opts for more muted colors will be better at following instructions and paying attention to detail. If you’re interviewing at a big, traditional firm, then you’ll want to showcase your ability to fit well within the corporate structure. For this kind of environment, retailers who specialize in corporate clothing, such as House of Monatic, are great places to find classic pieces that convey a sense of professionalism and responsibility.

If you’re angling for a job at an up and coming tech firm or similar startup, on the other hand, then the traditional suit and tie or blouse and skirt might give the impression that you’re resistant to change. Speaking of which…

Dress for the times

An outdated wardrobe can give all the wrong impressions. Aside from giving people the feeling that you might not be moving with the times, it can also give the impression that you’re not paying much attention to what your clothing says about you. It could well be that you’re just happy with where you are, but bear this in mind if you’re actually looking for bigger and better things!

Most importantly, always finish your look with an extra layer of common sense!

Just as when you’re going on a first date, paying a little extra attention to what you wear can make a big difference, not just in the way others respond to you, but how confident and self-assured you feel too. If you want to be treated with more respect, than wearing clothes that convey a sense of power and authority makes a lot of sense. Better yet, knowing that you look good influences other subtle social indicators, like your posture and body language, which can in turn have a great effect on your behavior.

A polished look conveys that you have a professional attitude, pay attention to detail, and take pride in what you do.

In a different kind of role, such as an HR manager or in a counseling position, wearing more casual clothes can make you feel more approachable.

If you’re trying to attract attention and convey confidence, such as in a sales position, bright colors like red can indicate you want the spotlight to be on you.

If you’re angling for a highly creative position, then wearing slightly more bohemian clothing can give the impression you’ve got the right personality and a level of open-mindedness that you can bring to the role.

You might not be able to change much about the way you look physically, but what you wear is in your own control – so use it to your advantage!