It is commonly known that “first impressions are everything.” I remember many people sharing this with me – my parents, former teachers, interview coaches, colleagues, and even the media in general. It is generally agreed that first impressions mean be on your best behavior, which I assume means “appear in your most professional state.” Regarding clothing, this means I am to dress in a suit and tie while speaking maturely with grace and manners. I am not against this societal norm, although I deeply wonder how this would affect teaching in a classroom or counseling setting.
I am all for not always being normal – I don’t mind being different than society’s norm when it comes to style and behavior. Some days I will dress in a suit, while others days there are upbeat-casual jeans and button-up shirt. My work supports the best interests of the clients. Most may say that such best interests include giving a great first impression by dressing business professional. This sounds about right. However, are there are forms of dressing “right” where non-professional styles may also be in the best interests of my clients?
From my previous experience, many clients may actually experience intimidation and resistance when during the intake meeting with a Psych Counselor in a suit and tie. I’m assuming that students may view this appearance as a “serious” professional who means only business. Such a professional look has its benefits, although I believe it also has its downfalls. I remember days from my previous employment at a community mental health agency where I actually dressed more casually when seeing clients. Initially, I felt that perhaps this would be offensive to where clients viewed me as “unprofessional” and not taking the client seriously without a suit a tie. It turns out that none of my clients made any formal complaint about this, and actually there were several clients who said they felt more comfortable with me when I dressed more casually. They said that such an attire created a therapeutic relationship where I, as their therapist, could relate more with them for “being at their level.” I agreed completely.
I continue to ponder this subject. I begin teaching an actual college class next quarter, and I most likely will dress professionally (yes, suit and maybe a tie) for first impressions. I am a professor. I am professional. (So does that make me a “professional professor” and any other “profess-” prefixes? Sorry, had to throw that in.) However, I predict that I will also gradually “dress down” during certain times, such as nicer jeans and a good-enough button-shirt. I truly believe that many students would experience more comfort and openness to sharing if not a scary professional professor who dresses as if better than the casually-dressed students.
Overall, I’m fine with dressing either way. I support that the decision about attire regards who my audience is. If I am in front of administrators, then of course a suit and tie may be more appropriate. If I am with students who perhaps would value “someone like them” in dress, then more casual could be appropriate. I feel that it would depend on the audience, departmental policies, and supervisors in charge. As for today with two clients who attended session, I chose the more casual look. It seemed to work well.
What are others’ thoughts and opinions about this?