Remember the time when you were growing up and your family decided you were the "smart" one or the "pretty" one or the "funny" one in the family. All of a sudden people were making assumptions about the way you'd behave and about the things that were important to you. Being pegged as the drama queen or the peacemaker wasn't necessarily all bad. But it probably wasn't all you, either -- or at least it wasn't all of what you thought you might want to express to the world. Fast-forward a few decades and that personality shorthand is probably still at play in your life. You may have experienced it at school and even at work. In a world where many of us see life speeding past our car windows, fast and not quite in focus, it probably isn't any big surprise that drawing quick conclusions about people is a pretty common practice.
Cursory details add up to an idea, and that idea becomes a seminal truth in about the time it takes the average person to blink. Facial hair on a man means he's either super successful, anti-establishment or a slob. See, the process is fast and efficient: One observation yields three possible interpretations. Which interpretation sticks could ultimately depend on what the guy is wearing or what kind of car he drives. This is before he ever utters a single word. Now that's powerful.
This could sound terrifying if it wasn't so easy to beat the system -- and have fun doing it. The fact is that we aren't what we wear (or what our family members concluded about us at the age of 8). We're much more complex than that. We're much smarter than that, too. What we wear has an impact on the way we're perceived by others, though. This is a good thing. It means that ultimately, the power to conceal or reveal ourselves, our personalities and passions, belongs to us alone. Fashion experts call that power "style."
On the next page, let's look at a few ways you can put the elements of style to work for you.