By Kames Narayanan
It is a common sight for students to turn up at lecture halls in T-shirts, singlets and shorts they could have very well slept in the night before. Students often prioritise comfort over effort when dressing for school.
Disgruntled with students attending lectures and tutorial classes in “nightclothes”, a citizen wrote into The Straits Times in Dec 2017 suggesting that dress codes should be implemented in tertiary institutions.
He said this can “demonstrate to the world that we are a disciplined society”.
The letter quickly generated debate online, as netizens questioned if clothes made the student or not.
While the association between being disciplined and being well-dressed may be a bit of a stretch, I believe that a student’s dressing does matter.
Dressing up the mind
Over the years, I have noticed that the way I act is influenced, in part, by the way I looked. The clothes I don seem capable of affecting my level of productivity and alertness.
When days are particularly dreary, I find myself taking greater care of my image. Somehow, dressing better has been able to lift my mood. By the time I am ready to get out of the door, I would have a little skip in my step.
Initially, I dismissed this connection as I thought my performance for the day should be attributed to my state of mind instead of my clothes.
However, Dr. Adam D. Galinsky, speaking to The New York Times magazine in April 2012, stated that clothes have an effect on our cognitive processes. He added that people think not only with their brains but also with their bodies, and that extends to the clothes they wear.
Hence, chances are that when one is dressed in shabby T-shirts, shorts and slippers, one’s attitude will reflect nonchalance. On the other hand, one who dresses smartly will be driven by a sense of importance and productivity.
A sign of respect
While there are no dress codes or uniforms in Singapore universities, I have always felt the need to dress for the occasion as a display of respect for both the institution and its lecturers.
This idea has been ingrained in me from a young age. Growing up, my mother paid more attention to the way I dressed than even I did. Even for tuition classes just a couple of blocks away, my mother’s orders were clear – I was to dress smart casual. Shorts, in particular, were forbidden.
“You are going to study, there’s no need for you to be exposing so much of your body. Be respectful!” were the words from her every time she deemed my outfit inappropriate.
To someone brought up in a markedly conservative society, the association between respect and way of dressing was apparent. However, this point seems to have been lost on the younger generation.
First Impressions Count
The fact of the matter is, we all make snap judgments based on the way people look. First impressions count, and have been proven to last longer than the initial meeting.
A test conducted by a team of researchers at Cornell University to determine the longevity of first impressions suggest that they can linger for up to six months and affect the way people feel about a particular person.
Participants were instructed to look at photographs of four women. They were asked to evaluate them for likeability and probability for participants to form friendships with the women in the photographs.
Within one to six months, participants were tasked to interact with the women and evaluate them again for their likeability and personality traits.
Results showed a strong consistency between the participants’ evaluations of the photographs and their offline interactions .
Termed as the self-fulfilling prophecy, researchers stated that people tend to carry positive impressions through offline conversations and interactions.
One of the researchers who is a psychology professor at Cornell University, Vivian Zayas, said that participants were more friendly with the women in the photographs they liked.
“They respond in kind. And it’s reinforcing: The participant likes that person more,” she said.
Naturally then, in university where first impressions are not only formed by lecturers but also by fellow students, it is important to present ourselves well. For what it is worth, it pays to forge healthy relationships from the beginning rather than have to work at undoing an initial bad impression.
Leave the sloppy FBT shorts and camp T-shirts to the confines of the bedroom and give the casual day dress or dressy shorts a chance. Let your clothes make you, for once.