Reader Question: I struggle with the intimidation and non-approachable effect created by being tall, high contrast, and a fairly classic dramatic personality. I dress in medium to low contrast and more muted colours to be approachable and less intimidating but it feels less me. What do you suggest to dress to look more approachable?
How to Dress to Be More Approachable
Yin and Yang is Key
The concept of yin and yang is key to approachability and why if you’re very tall, or have high contrast colouring or tend to enjoy wearing dramatic style clothes (or a combination of all of these) that you may find others feel you’re more intimidating.
Rather than completely altering your style – see how you can adapt what you wear to help you look more approachable (if this is what you really want).
Look for Yin elements of Design
Yes, a lower value contrast is more yin, but this may not be for you. Instead why not try:
- Softer fabrics rather than very stiff or structured fabrics
- Curved patterns rather than stripes or checks
- Colours rather than neutrals
- Softer colours rather than bold colours
- Lightweight rather than heavy fabrics
- Balancing out dark clothes with some lighter colours (and step through using a medium colour as well)
We have a natural desire to connect, be welcomed and be accepted at social gatherings or the office. A study in 2013 looked at factors that influence approachability in the field of library science – what makes a librarian appear approachable. Check out the study here – First Impressions and the Reference Encounter: The Influence of Affect and Clothing on Librarian Approachability
No matter what the librarian’s age, race, clothing, or behavior – smiling had a significant effect on the viewer.
Smiling improves approachability for everyone. The researchers found that smiling was the most powerful factor in approachability in the whole study.
I recently had some professional photos taken and I’m smiling in all of them as I know a smile is the best accessory you can ever wear.
In the study on librarian approachability, formal clothing improved approachability for men, but worsened approachability for women.
In order to increase approachability, you increase the yin element in your outfit. Yin elements are softer and less dominating, while Yang elements are strong and draw attention. For more information on yang and yin elements, read this blog post – How to Understand the Yin and Yang of Clothing
This could be using soft or lighter weight fabrics such wool, cashmere and chiffon. Clothing with less structure that has an element of flow and swish will also appear more approachable. You can choose a rounded neckline blouse instead of a stiff collar button-up shirt; an open placket instead of a zipper, or a curved or waterfall hem instead of a stepped hem.
You can also add yin elements to your outfits using patterns that a flowing and curved such as brocade, floral or paisley rather than straight lines and solid patterns such as plaid, chevron or geometric.
Light colors make you appear more friendly and approachable while dark colors are perceived as more formal, dominant and authoritative. You don’t want to move away from your colour palette but use colour to your advantage.
In the librarian study, blue was the most approachable colour and red negatively impacted approachability across the board. The brighter colours in your palette will express energy and confidence, while muted colors look more reliable and less threatening.
Colour such as blue and green are seen as stable, reliable and trustworthy as are some of the neutrals brown and tan so wearing more of the colours will help you dress approachable.
Reducing the value contrast of your outfits will also add more yin. Using medium value colours are great for stepping through that light to dark value contrast – stepping through the colours from light to dark (read this to understand more), lowers the overall perceived value contrast.
In the experiment, the researchers found that having a nametag increased librarians’ approachability. In certain professions, having a nametag may be an appropriate way to increase approachability as a nametag is an indicator that you are someone that works in that environment (and that they are not just approaching anyone). However, this isn’t going to apply to all professions. You could try wearing something interesting that reveals who you are – a piece of jewellery; bright shoes or a graphic tee – anything that adds appeal to your outfit and creates a conversation starter.
You don’t have to employ all the suggestions above, just include one or two elements to soften down your outfits and make you appear more approachable.
It is important to make sure that you don’t add too many yin elements to undermine your confidence. You still want to be you, just in a way that’s a little bit more approachable for other people.