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Alexandra Harris dresses as a bum one day, and fancy another, to test perceptions on appearance. (Photo Illustration by Emily Crooks / The Signpost)

As Miuccia Prada once said, “Fashion is instant language.” Whether a person is a jeans and T-shirt person or a style aficionado, there is no question that what a person wears has an influence on how he or she is perceived by society. In an effort to understand how appearance affects everyday interactions, I decided to perform an experiment myself.

The Experiment

First, let me start by saying that this was by no means a perfect experiment, and the results may be different for others attempting the same thing. That aside, the parameters were simple: spend one day dressed like a bum and another day dressed for success. I noted how others responded via communication and body language, as well as how my own attitude changed based on what I was wearing.

Bum Day

Everyone’s definition of a bum is a little different. For me, this meant putting in as little effort as possible into my appearance. The result was a ratty pair of sweatpants, an oversized hoodie, unwashed hair, no makeup and, naturally, slippers.

Because I didn’t have to spend time on getting ready in the morning, I was able to sleep in and get a couple of items checked off of my to-do list.

Where I had anticipated feelings of laziness, I found a sense of productivity and sweet freedom. How did others respond to my drab ensemble?

I discovered two distinct reactions that stood out from my usual interactions. The first was that people seemed to look right past me, when typically I would encounter a fair amount of eye contact.

The second was that I had more conversations with strangers than I usually have over an entire week. To summarize, being a bum is unequivocally comfortable, a great way to appear less threatening and an easy way to get lost in the crowd.

Fancy Day

Growing up as the shy girl, it was easy to think the fashionistas of the world had it all. After all, “If your hair is done properly and you’re wearing good shoes, you can get away with anything,” said style icon Iris Apfel.

With this in mind, I donned a pair of heels, curled my hair and put on my fancy clothes. While it is true that the finished look made me feel like an adultier adult, I quickly determined that it was a one-time ordeal.

Fancy clothes are not designed for comfort. That being said, my former invisibility was replaced with double-takes and smiles from strangers. There was a certain respect that came with fancy day that wasn’t present when I walked around campus in slippers.

The Take-Away

What you wear certainly
influences how people perceive and treat you. Whether you have more bum days or
more fancy days, the most important person’s opinion is your own. In the words
of Kate Moss, “Just remember that, ultimately, dressing is always about
attitude, feeling comfortable and confidence.”

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