In the Concise Oxford Dictionary, image is described as "the character or reputation of a person or thing as generally perceived." A first impression based on nonverbal communication goes a long way in influencing this perception. Within seconds of meeting you, based on a single observed physical trait or behavior, people will assume to know everything about you. Furthermore, according to research by Dr. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, appearance and body language account for 55 percent of an invaluable first impression.

The Relationship Between Image and How You Are Perceived

Because light travels faster than sound, you are seen before you are heard. This is why, before even uttering a word, your visual image will say a multitude about you as an individual (your perceived level of intelligence, competence, affability, self-esteem, confidence, power, beliefs and success) and about the organization you represent (its philosophy, culture, and standard of service).

You constantly send out silent messages providing clues to existing and potential clients and colleagues. Based on these clues, they take their cues, e.g. consider you for a job or promotion, consider buying your organization's products and services, and so forth.

"I work in a field that is devoted to assessing people," states Kathryn Ricker, 30, Statistician, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, NJ. "One of the concepts we talk about is known as the 'halo effect.' That means that if we know certain positive things about a person, we tend to have a generally positive impression of that person, sometimes even in spite of evidence to the contrary. What I'm realizing is that the halo effect also extends to a person's appearance. I think that is why a positive first visual impression is so important. If someone is nicely dressed and looks well put-together, we have greater confidence in his or her abilities even before he or she has said a word. If that is the case, why not always have your halo looking its shiniest?"

The Relationship Between Appearance and Interview Success

Employers are severely irritated by inappropriate dress, mumbling, and even poor handshakes by job applicants. A recent study, conducted by an employment law firm, Peninsula, asked businesses in the United Kingdom what interview habit they found most annoying. More than 25 percent were upset by unsuitable clothing or appearance.

Pamela Monticelli, 50, Senior Recruiter for Sovereign Bank in Tom's River, NJ, believes, "Especially in the financial industry, which tends to be a more conservative environment, what a lot of the younger people don't understand is that we are looking for someone to represent the company. So your appearance is not just representative of you; you will also be representing the company the way we want it to be represented." She adds, "I have raised four teenagers and every one of them has, at some point, gotten a piercing or tattoo and has said that 'if I am are going to work for XYZ Company they need to accept me for who I am.' My children need to understand that at some point they might have to modify their appearance to fit into a professional environment. While companies believe in a diverse environment, you also don't want to offend your customers."

The Relationship Between Clothing and How you Perceive Yourself

Besides being an external cue affecting the response of others toward you, clothing is an inner cue affecting your self-image. Feeling good about how you look can make you feel good about yourself, thereby increasing your personal presence.

We all likely have experienced the emotional high of a successful clothing purchase, and when met with validating compliments and supportive attitudes from colleagues, our overall energy level is given an even bigger boost.

Karen Dixon, 42, Supervisor, The Mercadien Group, Princeton, NJ, indicates, "Dressing in a professional yet stylish manner can give you a tremendous feeling of confidence that is exhibited to others through your attitude and actions."

The opposite is true when we just don't feel right about how we're dressed. The observer meets the ensuing negative energy in kind, potentially causing a further drain to our self-image.

The Relationship Between Clothing and Behavior

Jackson Lewis, a law firm that specializes in personnel issues, polled more than 1,000 human resource executives who had implemented a dress-down policy. They reported a 30-percent increase in flirtatious behavior, contributing to an increase in sexual harassment lawsuits.

When you wear more powerful looking clothing (e.g. professional business attire, a suit, darker colors, and so forth.) and clothing that is appropriate for your profession, it changes your mindset, switching from "relaxed mode" to "professional mode." This positive change in attitude is reflected in body language and behavior (e.g. better posture, firmer handshake, maintaining eye contact, sticking to business, and so forth.), giving you greater visual power.

The converse is true for more insignificant or inappropriate clothing choices, such as washed out colors or informal ensembles where more traditional clothing choices are the order of the day. Without you even knowing it, people will take the liberty of interpreting what you are saying via your body language and will judge you and respond toward you accordingly.

The Relationship Between How You Dress and Your Professional Goals

An indifferent professional image (which spells an indifferent attitude) can cost you valuable clients, adversely affecting your professional goals and your organization's bottom line. However, a well-defined and consistent professional image can improve the perception of your professional abilities, which will increase your potential to attract and hold on to clients. When you to aim to bridge gaps between your personal image and corporate image, there is a positive impact on business relationships, plus you increase your ability to build rapport and fit with the team. You can then start contributing to your team's success and ultimately to the attainment of your own professional goals.

Emily Oswald, 22, Account Manager, TrailGraphix, Washington, DC, in her first job out of college, states, "My mother always said you don't dress for the position you have. You dress for the position you want. After three months with my company, I was promoted. Out of 300 people in my company, and out of 35 other account managers, I am the youngest one. When I meet with clients, who are typically 50-year-old attorneys, I always dress more professionally. There is nothing comfortable about wearing a suit and heels, but it does affect how you carry yourself and how you are perceived. Dressing professionally has definitely helped me move up quickly in my company. The first impression, and the second and the third, are important."

The Relationship Between Dress and Success for Working Women

While appearance for men and women can be a key to their success, a survey by Women Work! found that 75 percent of the respondents believed that appearance at work affects how women are perceived by others more so than their male counterparts. Nearly 80 percent of the respondents said that clothes, hairstyle, and makeup can make a significant difference in their perceptions and confidence that a woman has the skills and knowledge to perform her job.

The Relationship Between Local Culture and Global Culture

Markets differ not only from country to country, but also from state to state and town to town. Where on paper the same dress code policy applies, employees often find that when they have meetings at or are transferred to another branch of their company, they face dress culture shock. This leads to time wasted in confusion and awkwardness. However, global, cutting-edge organizations understand all too well that employees are an extension of their corporate brand and that, regardless of where they set up offices, it is vital that this corporate brand is expressed uniformly throughout the world to promote team spirit among employees, and to maintain a consistent image that projects the company's standards and culture. Bridging the gap between employee image and corporate image is imperative not just locally, but globally too.

The work world demands making a great first impression and keeping it. To communicate more intuitively day-to-day, start by understanding appearance psychology and non-verbal communication techniques. Doing so can lead to greater professional and personal success. If you don't believe us, then perhaps you will believe Mark Twain, who said, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."