Why a Good Appearance Wins
Dr. Orison Swett Marden
WHEN a man is on trial for a crime he does not think of going before the court and jury without preparation. He gets the best attorney possible; he tries to make the most favorable impression on the jury; and does everything he can to win his case.
But everywhere we see people with unshaven faces, with seedy clothes, soiled linen, shoes not blackened, and wretched manners seeking positions, and wondering why they cannot get them.
I know a young man who thinks it is superficial and silly to devote a lot of time to what he calls non-essentials— one’s personal appearance,—when there are so many more really important matters to be attended to. But this young man failed to get a good job just because of his slovenly appearance. He is a good-hearted fellow, a hard worker, but he wears his neckties until they are all frayed out and his collars and cuffs are frequently soiled and he looks slovenly. Every one who knows this young man likes him, but he is a bachelor, living alone, and no one likes to tell him why he does not get on faster.
A man is not likely to hire you if he is in doubt as to your fitness for the position for which you apply. You have very little time to convince him of this, so do not take chances on any preparation you can make beforehand. Make doubly sure of your neatness, cleanliness, and good appearance before you apply for the position.
The shrewd employer is always looking for earmarks. Everything counts in his estimation of you, and if he gets a bad impression he is through with you. Bemember that your interview with your prospective employer is a display of your goods. Yomre like a trav-
eling man showing his samples. If the samples are not attractive, if they do not tempt the merchant, he will not buy. If you cannot make a good showing to your prospective employer, you cannot expect a job.
Bemember that the world takes you at your own valuation.
Other things equal, it is the young man who dresses well, who puts up a good front, who gets the position, though often he has less ability than the one who is careless in his personal appearance. Most business men regard a neat, attractive appearance as evidence of good mind qualities. We express ourselves first of all in our bodies. A young man who neglects his bath will neglect his mind. It is not so much because the young man looks better when well dressed, but because, if he is neat and careful in his personal appearance, he is more likely to be so in his work.
A careless personal appearance often indicates slovenliness, easy-going ways, which are fatal to efficiency. Business men look for the earmarks of possibility, of efficiency, in an applicant’s appearance. They are influenced by little things. Any evidence of shipshodness in manner or dress prejudices the longheaded business man who is accustomed to reading human nature. He has learned to weigh and estimate people at first sight, to see their future, to sum up their character by their general appearance. His practical eye is always looking for tell-tales of the man and his possibilities.
A prominent business man in New York City, in the course of an address on how to attain success, says:
“Clothes don’t make the man, but good clothes have got many a man a good job. If you have twenty-five dol-
lars, and want a job, it is better to spend twenty dollars for a suit of clothes, four dollars for shoes, and the rest for a shave, a hair-cut, and a clean collar, and walk to the place, than go with the money in the pockets of a dingy suit.”
Most large business houses make it a rule not to employ any one who looks shabby or careless, or who does not make a good appearance when he applies for a position.
Neatness of dress, cleanliness of person, and the manner of the applicant are the first things an employer notices in a would-be employee. If his clothes are unbrushed, his trousers baggy, his shoes unblacked, his tie shabby, his hands soiled, or his hair unkempt, the employer is prejudiced at once, and he does not look beneath this repellent exterior to see whether it conceals merit or not. He is a busy man, and takes it for granted that if the youth has anything in him, if his is made of the material business men want in their employ, he will keep himself in a presentable condition. At all events, he does not want to have such an unattractivelooking person about his premises; it would injure his business reputation.
If the applicant is a girl, she is judged by the same principles that govern in the case of a young man. If she applies for a position with rips and rents in her coat, several buttons missing from her shoes, holes in her gloves, a dark line showing above the edge of her collar, her hair unkempt,—in fact, with any evidence of slackness, of slipshodness, about her,—she will not obtain the place.
A merchant said to an applicant for a position, “You look seedy, and no business man wants seedy-looking people about him. They are not good advertisements for his house. A good appearance,” he continued, “will atone for a great many shortcomings. Neatness of appearance is an indication of self-respect; and the man who has sufficient respect for himself to see that his anatomy is set off to the best possible advantage will meet with a hundred opportunities to one that the apparently seedy man receives. If a man is neat about his own person, the chances are
that he will be neat about his manner of conducting others’ affairs. If his appearance is such as to give an employer a good impression of his ability, there is reason to believe that he may affect possible customers in the same way. To hold his own in the business world a merchant must have every indication of prosperity, people are so like rats in their eagerness to desert a sinking ship ; and a merchant cannot look prosperous if he surrounds himself with seedy-looking people.”
“The man or woman wishing to present to me a business proposition,” says one of our leading merchants, “must have a good address and an agreeable manner and appearance, or he will not get a hearing. No matter how good his proposition is, he will not get a chance to present it unless he possesses a pleasing personality. The reason is a simple and natural one. It would be impossible to give a hearing to half the people who approach me with schemes; therefore, as I must reject the great majority of projects offered me, I reject without hearing all those that are not presented by people who have an agreeable manner and good address. I take it for granted that a first-class proposition will be presented by a first-class man, and vice versa.”
You cannot estimate the influence of your personal appearance upon your future. “The consciousness of clean linen,” says Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, “is in and of itself a source of moral strength, second only to that of a clean conscience. A well-ironed collar or a fresh glove has carried many a man through an emergency in which a wrinkle or a rip would have defeated him.” “The sense of being perfectly dressed,” says Emerson, “gives us a feeling of inward tranquillity which religion is powerless to bestow.” A good appearance is at a premium everywhere. It is one of the most important factors in securing a situation, in holding it, and in getting an advance. At West Point Academv a “slight untidiness in dress’ is punished by one demerit mark. A demerit mark for a West Point student is no small matter. Professor Holden tells us: “One button of a student's
uniform coat unbuttoned at drill, inattention, shoes not blackened at parade roll-call, gun not clean at guard-mount, and a hundred other matters of the sort are parts of official conduct. Each failure is noted and carries with it a fixed number of demerits. One hundred demerits in six months dismisses him. All this is known to everyone from the first. There is no talking. Only simple laws are prescribed. Each one of them is just. Every allowance is made' for inexperience. Every reasonable excuse is admitted. The final result is like the result of gravitation—inevitable, inexorable, just, immediate.
Few boys realize that an employer is almost as critical in judging a young man’s appearance, as the officers at West Point. If employers would only be frank, even brutally frank, with the unpresentable applicants for positions whom they reject, it would be of untold value to them. For example, a poor boy, perhaps from the slums, who applies for a position may never have been trained to to be careful about his personal appearance, to be cleanly, to be polite and courteous.
The employer should sav to him, “My boy, I think it would be of very great advantage to you if I should tell you why I can not give you a position ; it might help you in getting another place. I am very particular about the appearance, the cleanliness, the dress and manner of my employees. Our customers do not come in contact with me, but my employees represent me, and my patrons judge me by the people I keep around me, and my success or failure depends very largely upon the kind of an impression my employees make upon the customers.
“My employees are frequently inspected, and no one is allowed here who is not tidy, clean, and reasonably well dressed. If you should go through our establishment, you would find that no one has dirty ¡finger nails, unpolished shoes; you would find no grease spots on their clothing; no one with soiled linen. All employees are supposed to take good care of their teeth, and no one with bad breath or bad teeth will
be allowed to come in contact with the customer.
“I appreciate the fact that you probably have not been taught the importance of these things, but, unfortunately, in looking for a position you must suffer from your ignorance, and before you get a good position you will have to learn what others have learned often by sad experience. You might try to get a position in a hundred stores, and you would be turned down by all of them for the same reason.
“When you came in here you not only kept your cap on, but it was on one side of your head, and I noticed by the stain on your fingers that you were a cigarette smoker. Your shoes were unpolished, your clothing soiled; in fact, your whole manner and appearance made an unfavorable impression upon me.”
It does not matter how much merit or ability an applicant for a position may possess, he can not afford to be careless of his personal appearance. Diamonds in the rough, of infinitely greater value than the polished glass of some of those who get positions, may be rejected. Applicants whose good appearance helped them to secure places may often be very superficial in comparison with some who were rejected in their favor, but they made a good, appearance when applying for the place, and, having secured it, they keep it, though not possessing half the ability of the boy or girl who was turned away.
It makes no difference to an employer whether applicants for positions have been taught that a good appearance is their test testimonial or not ; it does not matter how honest or capable they may be, how good their intentions or how praiseworthy their ambition, he judges them as the world judges them, — largely by their appearance.
In nine cases out of ten the employer—the world—is right in judging the qualifications of a worker by the pains he takes in making his person and clothing as attractive as possible. Everything about a man bespeaks his character. He puts his personality into everything he does, no less than his work.
The man who hires all the salespeo-
pie for one of the largest retail stores in Chicago says, “While the routine of application is in every case strictly adhered to, the fact remains that the most important element in an applicant’s chance for a trial is his personality.”
There are two chief factors In good appearance; cleanliness of body and comeliness of attire. Usually these go together, neatness of attire indicating sanitary care of the person, while outward slovenliness suggests a carelessness that probably goes deeper than the clothes covering the body.
The London Drapers’ Record says: “Wherever a marked personal care is exhibited for the cleanliness of the person and for neatness in dress, there is, also, almost always found extra carefulness as regards the finish of work done. Work people whose personal habits are slovenly produce slovenly work.” A young woman had been recommended as highly qualified in every way to fill the vacant office of superintendent and teacher , in an industrial school for girls. The founder of the institution was very favorably impressed by the high tone of her recommendations, and appointed a time for an interview with the young woman. After she had seen ner, however, she absolutely refused to consider her application. When urged by a friend to give a reason for her apparently arbitrary decision in refusing to engage so competent a teacher, she said: “It was a trifle, but a trifle in which, as in an Egyptian hieroglyphic; lay a volume of meaning. The young woman came to me fashionably and expensively dressed, but with torn and soiled gloves, and half of the buttons off her shoes. A slovenly woman is not a fit guide for any girl.”
Self-interest clamors as loudly as aesthetic or moral consideration for the fulfillment of the laws of cleanliness. Every day we see people receiving “demerits” for failure to live up to them. I can recall instances of capable stenographers who forfeited their positions because they did not keep their finger nails clean. An honest, intelligent man whom I know lost his place in a large publishing firm because he was careless about shaving, and caring for his teeth.
The first point to be emphasized in the making of a good appearance is the necessity of frequent bathing. A daily bath insures a clean, wholesome condition of the skin, without which health is impossible.
Next in importance to the bath is the proper care of the hair, the hands, and the teeth. I know a business man who is very particular about his personal cleanliness, about his dress and about his appearance generally, but lie nearly always has soiled finger nails. He does not seem to think that other people will notice such a trivial matter. But it is just such little things that we are measured by which locate us in other people’s estimation.
Manicure sets are so cheap that they are within the reach of almost every one. If you cannot afford to buy a whole set, you can buy a file and keep your nails smooth and clean.
Keeping the teeth in good condition is a very simple matter, yet perhaps more people sin in this particular point of cleanliness than in any other. Nothing can be more offensive in man or woman than a foul breath, and no one can have neglected teeth without reaping this consequence. Many an applicant has been denied the position he sought because of bad teeth. No employer wants a clerk, or stenographer, whose appearance is marred by a lack of one or two front teeth.
Every detail of appearance, then, counts for or against one. And to make a good appearance, one must not merely be well dressed, or well mannered, or well groomed, or cheerful,—he must be all of these. Politeness is an open sesame denied to the bad mannered. We know of an instance where a New York business house with a large force and no vacancies, actually made room for a young man merely because his personality was so attractive and his manner so courteous and winning. One member of the firm said to another: “We’d be the losers if we let that young man go.” He foresaw occasions when just the urbane qualities this applicant had would be essential to the business. This young man’s fortune was in his manner and address.
Do not deceive yourself by thinking that merit will ultimately win in spite of manners. Superior merit has starved to death in many a man and woman because they could not overcome the handicap of an offensive manner. If you are conscious that you have a great deal of ability which people do not recognize, study yourself and see if it is not hidden under an undesirable exterior. “I cannot too emphatically impress upon young men,” said Mr. Williams, late president of one of the largest banks in New York, “the absolute indispensability of politeness. If I had twenty tongues, I’d preach politeness with them all—for a long experience lias taught me that its results are tangible and inevitable. It is the Aladdin’s lamp of success.” Resolve to make yourself so interesting in your conversation, so pleasing in your manner, that, no matter what physical defects you may have you will reveal your ability to the world.
Whatever your work, cultivate a sweet voice. Not long ago the president of a Chicago school board rejected an applicant simply because of her sharp, squeaky voice. “Don’t inflict that woman on any of the children In our schools,” were his directions to the superintendent. Dr. Maxwell, superintendent of New York schools, says that a soft, well modulated voice is one of the most important qualifications of the successful teacher, because children are so extremely susceptible to the tones of the voice.
There is a business man in New York City who employs a large number of people, and yet he never sees the face of one of them until after they are hired. He sits behind a curtain in his office and listens to the voice of the applicant replying to questions put by his representative. He says that the human voice does not lie, like the manner or the facial expression. He says he does not care so much about what a man says of himself. He decides his qualifications upon the sound of his voice, its intonation, its pitch, the quality which it carries.
Thousands of people who have failed in life might have been happy and pros-
perous to-day had they learned early in life the importance of a good appearance and manner. Many men now on the downward path would have been climbing up in the world had they made a favorable impression when they first went to look for a position. They did not realize that some carelessness in dress, some lack in personal cleanliness, some rudeness or disagreeable peculiarity of manner condemned them before they spoke a word. They were .given no chance to present their claims, to show their merit or fitness for the position, because the employer was so prejudiced by their appearance that he would not even give them a hearing. This experience was repeated so often that they finally became discouraged, imagined they had no ability, and that they were not competent to fill any position.
No one will ever know, no statistican or sociologist will ever be able to find out, how large a percentage of the great army of the unemployed, of the denizens of the slums, of the might-havebeens, the paupers and the criminals who make up the dregs of society, have fallen to their present pitiable conditions because of their disregard of appearances when they first started out for themselves. Poverty is no excuse for a bad appearance.
To save money at the cost of cleanliness and self-respect is the worst sort of extravagance. It is a point at which economy ceases to be a virtue and becomes a vice. In this fiercely competitive age, when the law of the survival of the fittest acts with seemingly merciless rigor, no one can afford to be indifferent to the smallest detail of dress, or manner, or appearance, that will add to his chances of success.
So, the external man must be in trim when you go out to capture a job. If one would rise in business and in society, he must cultivate his appearance, his manner, his address—improving them step by step with the demands of his career. Only as these things Keep pace with the rest will he be able to cope with the world and convince others that he is making good. Every one will read his progress in the signs of appearance.