Most people know others they think present themselves badly. Most people do not say anything helpful about that. Because they do not care enough or know enough to do so. It is not easy to do it effectively, and meanwhile many of the unfortunate continue making appearance mistakes.
The first decision is whether it is wise to intervene. If it is affecting that person negatively or seriously hurting interactions with you (which that person values), then action might be required and should be done at the first good opportunity. If neither, probably do nothing. Also, there has to be a reasonable chance the person eventually will change in response to the comments. Outside of work, any sort of intervention is best begun by a close friend or loved one. (Be very careful if it is a new relationship.)
How to Begin?
It should be private one-on-one conversation, preferably in person at first. There should be plenty of time to talk. During a normal, friendly conversation is ideal.
Avoid bringing up his appearance out of the blue or as part of a list of complaints.
If it is not an employer-employee issue, it probably will need to be a series of conversations over weeks or more. (“I was okay with my appearance, but I will change it dramatically because you told me to today.”)
Someone is looking for a new job or just joined dating websites. “How is that going?” Ask to look at an online dating profile and then give feedback about pictures and other details, perhaps in writing.
A closet clean-out to save space or packing for moving might work with a loved one.
Mention a recent shopping trip, to exchange thoughts about clothing.
If it is an interaction between two men, ask for style feedback (maybe on a new shirt), then hope the other person learns something or leads into a discussion about his style.
(for employers) Comment during a performance review or if the employee is wearing something particularly inappropriate. Point out specific rules or expectations, state the consequences, and put it in writing.
What to Say about Style
Don’t say “I think you need a makeover.”
When it seems okay to give feedback, comments about general appearance should be tactful and about issues that others would notice:
“Sorry, but you look a little nerdy.”
“Don’t you wear basically the same thing every day?” or “It’s very casual, like you don’t care. What if a woman showed up on a date looking messy?”
“I misjudged you at first. I thought you were…”
“Others have said things…” or “I used to be like that…”
Non-verbal dismay when asked for a general opinion might prompt questions.
Sometimes it is possible to skip the basic appraisal and go to directly to small, practical suggestions. (Only conveying “You have a problem” is not very helpful.)
“What about replacing the dad jeans?”
“White socks do not go with everything.”
“Buy better shoes – they look better and last longer.” (Even neglectful people buy new shoes once in a while.)
“I think a new hairstyle would be cool.”
“You have a nice face – the beard is distracting from it.”
(to someone who wants a better job) "Some businesses prefer their employees be clean-shaven."
It usually is okay to point out that an item of clothing seems to be wearing out.
Be careful about criticizing jewelry, which might have a lot of personal meaning.
Don’t list many specifics in one conversation unless the person actively wants to hear that.
If possible, include a compliment in almost the same breath as a criticism is made, but do not hide the desire for major change.
Weight and Physical Issues
An employer should never comment on body issues.
Weight can be a very awkward subject to discuss, but people tend to show more interest in clothing when getting in better physical shape (and then need to buy new clothes), and it is uncaring to do nothing while someone’s weight risks his health.
Do not comment on weight gain early on in a reunion unless it is extreme. (“You look different.”) Try to figure out why the change before proceeding.
It is easier to deal with weight gain before It is extreme and he probably feels it is too hard to lose the weight.
It is not fair to ask someone to lose weight if his weight has always been about that number and health is not much of a concern.
Only comment on underweight or “skinny fat” if extreme and seemingly causing dating problems, and do not use phrases like “too thin.”
People with major skin problems usually know it. Unless it is dangerous-looking mole or there is credible, new advice to offer, let him raise the subject.
Do not recommend cosmetic procedures (except teeth whitening, perhaps). However, it never hurts to remind family to visit the dentist and that certain habits (e.g., smoking) are bad for teeth.
To bring up the subject, comment on a TV show about weight loss, for example. (If not living together, maybe as part of a discussion about what you watched last night.)
Mention a change that you are making for your own benefit. (“Anything new?” “Yes, I am trying to lose weight….”) If necessary, re-visit later after personal progress – a la being a role model.
If it is a family situation, point out snoring, sweating, or other weight-related problems.
Recommend a trainer or fitness website or a talk with a medical professional. Or one can buy a family gym membership to at least use for the self.
Unless it is something he specifically wants, do not buy exercise equipment as a gift– it likely will be resented and disused.
Periodically offer to walk, hike, etc. (Yes, if it is a romantic partner, that too – it burns calories.) A friendly weight loss contest is an option for some.
In family situations, mutually, gradually change eating habits for weight loss, without taking away the pleasure of food. (It is okay to make mild household food changes without explicitly discussing a weight problem, but that is unlikely to produce a big change.)
Place a picture on refrigerator as a reminder to eat wisely.
Consider asking an overweight partner for a weight loss promise as a birthday/anniversary present, possibly with an expensive gift if that does not happen. Negotiate on the numbers.
Making Changes Happen
Mention local clothing stores with better-fitting items or maybe even give a gift certificate. Be careful about recommending stores that might be much more expensive than, or in very different genres from, what the person is used to. Any upcoming sales?
A man may easily recommend his alterations tailor to a friend or family member.
Do not throw out his clothes without permission. Do urge gradual disposal of items, especially clothes that no longer fit (and are not worth tailoring), to raise standards.
Do not buy other clothing items without consent – too risky.
If the right length is known, it is okay to buy someone a tie – see the “Business Tie Selection” article - as a gift.
If the person has been avoiding shaving and probably would use the present, a new high-end electric razor is an option.
Offer to shop with (not for) him, on a particular day. Keep in mind that men do not want to spend hours doing that and also that buying many items at a time is unwise. If declined, try again later.
Mention or give a copy of a fashion magazine (but something the person probably will like, maybe an issue that also has non-fashion articles).
If he lives there, keep the clothing catalogs received in the mail.
A family member can bribe (for example, pay for something you both like or a non-clothing item) in exchange for appearance improvement.
Recommend an image consultation with a specific firm. That is a good option for employees who seem unable to present themselves effectively at work. For other situations, the idea probably should be introduced with subtlety, such as a link to a basic article. Do not mix birthdays and serious talks about appearance. A “makeover” might be fun for some women, but a consultation is serious business.
Various Important Points
It is better to know the other person’s tastes and attitudes toward style before making more than minor suggestions.
Communicating concern, affection, support, and patience are keys to getting someone to change. Change might be reluctant or stop and go.
Don’t be passive-aggressive.
Don’t use a set-up. (“Where do you shop?” “Uggh, no wonder your clothes are so bad.”)
Respect objections and back off if the other person is annoyed.
Do not be less affectionate toward him.
Do not joke about anyone’s appearance. Do not even insult clothing items.
Statements such as “You turn me off” or “You embarrass me” are very hurtful.
Avoid threats unless absolutely necessary.
Give encouragement. (“I like the new shirt/haircut/[something else].”) Thank him for any necessary evils, such as throwing out terrible items.
Emphasize that change will lead to better things.
If he is struggling, remind him that professional resources are available.
Most change comes from within. While looking better can make someone feel better, if someone’s disinterest in his appearance is due to serious depression or other issues, help for that should be the priority.
Copyright ©2011 Gentleman's Best Friend Image Consulting Services