A cloud of musk and spice followed the teenagers down Third Avenue. The seven young men were headed to dinner after an evening at Bloomingdale’s where some of them spent a bit too much time in the cologne section. The teens, all participants in CV’s WAY to Success program, were participating in a social experiment designed to teach them the importance of choosing how they present themselves.
Half of the teens were instructed to dress up for the evening and arrived at Bloomingdale’s donning sweaters and slacks. The other half of the group wasn’t told anything regarding attire and showed up wearing sweatpants and t-shirts. The well-dressed teens were treated like royalty on a quiet Thursday night in Bloomingdale’s – schmoozed by salespeople eager to help them slip into a Ralph Lauren leather jacket or sample expensive cologne.
The other group weren’t offered a single spritz. One teen asked to try on a shirt and was surreptitiously followed into the fitting room. It was difficult to overlook the men with earbuds who appeared in the periphery as the teens moved through departments. “See the loss prevention guys?” John asked, nodding toward the security men gathered around the Prada briefcases, “It’s because I’m wearing sweatpants and carrying a backpack. I worked in loss prevention. Sweatpants and backpacks are their worst nightmare. You can fit so much stuff in them.”
The other teens who lacked John’s wisdom took it personally. Not one of them suggested that what they were wearing may have communicated something to the salespeople. It wasn’t until the group sat down at dinner to discuss their experiences that the teens realized the moral of the evening – the way you choose to present yourself will impact how you are perceived and the opportunities that are offered to you.