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Non-Verbal Communication Through Clothing


Non-verbal communication is the major player in the human behavior and it is always important to realize that major communication taking place is usually non-verbal communication. Hence, for effective communication we must understand the role non-verbal communication plays as one of the measurement for competence of communication. Non-verbal communication has been subject of research in the communications disciplines and the major theme that keeps arising is its meaning and the myths behind its research which have been constantly under question. It is worth noting that considerable amount of communication taking place among various people is non-verbal. However, verbal communication is most common form of communication but many people do not appreciate that they constantly use their bodies to send communication to one another. Clothing is a very important factor that suggests a person’s personality through non-verbal communication. Therefore, effective communication can be facilitated by not only understanding ones body language but correctly reading other people’s body language as well.

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We are usually in communication with those around us and we do so verbally by vocalizing our feelings and thoughts. However, verbal communication makes only half of all the communication. We can also convey messages true the body language and appearance. Non-verbal communication in many instances has quick and lasting impressions more than spoken words.

Non-verbal communication through clothing

Variably non-verbal communication can be defined as the entire process conveying and receiving, messages that are not spoken at all i.e. wordless communication. These messages are effectively communicated through body language, object communication for example clothing, hairstyles and symbols, communication through speech features for instance intonation, speaking style and emotion (Andersen, 2007)

Clothing always makes a statement about us, that is, it is differently interpreted by people. For example in funeral people would tend to choose black or dark colored clothes over clashing colors to signify mourning or sadness. Another example would be the preference of white colored garments during the wedding. This will signify the purity in the ceremony and how it is rooted in cultural traditions. People would wear uniform clothes to signify their role in the society for example the army, policemen and the school children (Blatner, 1985)

Clothing is dependent on the environment. People would wear official wear if they are in an office setting but they would prefer casual wear if they are outside the office environment. Why is this so? People usually judge you from the moment they see you, therefore well-groomed persons suggest that they have self-confidence (Morris, 1995)

Clothing as a medium of communication and one of the everyday incidents calls for our attention at least daily as well as calling for our decisions and cultural experience. Clothing is similar to speech and it can be a comparison to a society at large.

Clothing as a medium of communication is a very good example of what is termed as an object communication. The type of clothing a person wears can precisely determine his/her personality traits although at times the assessment is inaccurate. For example, clothing can set apart different and distinct social groups from each other. Object communication goes beyond the clothing to include adornments for example jewelries and tattoos.

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The body’s sensory organs of sound, smell, taste, sight and touch in many ways determine the channels of non-verbal communication. This can be through purposeful action or unconscious decisions. In addition non-verbal communication usually takes place through many forms for example clothing or persons’ dressing is a contribution to some communication taking place in a certain situation. This type of communication can be useful or cynical in facilitating communication (Andersen, 2007)

Clothing often communicates and it is a pointer towards enormous information about a person. Non-verbal communication through clothing is usually responsible for identifying sex, status, age, person’s character, mood or a time in history. Furthermore, attitudes most related to clothing are; prestige, desire for self-expression, physical comfort, aesthetic satisfaction, need for conformity, need for social participation and the economy.

In practice, well dressed people are most likely to be accepted by people who don’t know them than those people who are not dressed well hence it increases interpersonal effectiveness. Some researches have revealed that certain relationships exist between the dress code and the successfulness of a student. Self confidence or lack of it is affected by clothing. Well dressed persons are more self-confident than their counterparts who are not well dressed. An impressive first impression determines how people will likely want to relate with you. Self styling is much more like fragrance. When you get well dressed you are full of happiness and self-confidence. Non-verbal communication is conceded in the form of graphics, fashion or messages on T-shirts or bags. In many business functions well-dressed persons are readily accepted and acknowledged. One of the best reason behind this ready acceptance is the person’s dressing conveys competence, credibility and above all self confidence.

Silent messages are normally conveyed also through the textures of the clothing a person has. For instance, clothes that are smooth textured are more welcoming and exhibit warmth while crisp textured clothing suggests efficiency. On the other hand the lines of clothing may indicate how the personality of a person may be rigid. Different dressing code may also reveal anger, depression, and aggressiveness (Knapp, 1980)

Clothing is meant to communicate through the shape, ornamentation applied and also the sewing technique which is an indication of diverse levels of identity including their status, sex and age. Some clothing may be used to communicate some sense of belonging to a given ethnic background. Clothing also is a symbol of cultural identity for instance in the political field where various ethnic disagreements are witnessed.

Clothing carries within its context quite some messages. Non-verbal communication it carries is more closely related to the verbal language in view with informative power. Furthermore, closing has statement about the identity and the culture. Clothing will be symbolic for both social and cultural differences (Andersen, 2007)

Clothing can communicate membership in a given cultural background. The choice of clothes therefore reveal the kind of person one is. This calls for leaders and those who are aspiring to be leaders to dress appropriately for their positions. For instance, if you would wish to be promoted into the director position, be at the same level the other directors are. That is, if they are wearing golf shirts and khaki shorts; be at the level they are. It has now become a norm that the workplace is no longer what used to be in the past few years, everything has now been loosened (Morris, 1995).

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With the knowledge that clothing carries non-verbal communication it would help understand people as well as interact with them.The best way to relate to others is through your skills of interpreting what clothing say about non-verbal communication

Does the clothing I wear make me?

In reality, the clothes we wear make a statement about us. In the era where what we wear has become a subject of self-consciousness and where everything is now under the mirror. Why then the physical appearance makes us who we are? The answer can be found in the clothing we wear and the environment that surrounds us. Everyone around us depends heavily on the visual communication via clothing. It is very important to portray yourself well when you go out there (Joseph, 1986)

In many job interviews, the majority of the human resources managers rely heavily on nonverbal cues that enable them make vital decisions in regards to certain candidates supposed to fill up critical positions in an organization.

According to Pete Drucker, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” (Andersen 2007). Therefore managers heavily depend on how candidates are clothed to make initial judgments regarding their performance. Given this it is always recommended for a candidate in a professional job position regardless of the work environment to wear a suit in the first job interview. The managers especially in the hospitality industry are on the look out for the selected outfits which reveal the candidate’s ability to interact, relate and perceive customers. The clothing accessories that a candidate chooses many times telegraph professionalism or the lack of it. The professional outlook is greatly enhanced by an immaculate tie, well shone shoes, a leather portfolio or a nice pen.

On the other hand a shabby appearance depicts the lack of professionalism; for example scuffed shoes or unkempt hair and dirty fingernails etc display a careless and hurried outlook.

Myths on non-verbal communication

First myth

The first myth is that 93% of all communication is non-verbal. The myth has been quoted nearly everywhere from advertising journals to psychology articles. The findings presented have been questioned because it only derived its findings from experiments carried out to communicating attitudes and feelings. Universally this has ceased being applied at all. The argument that non-verbal communication is more important than verbal communication is extensively accepted and it has been linked to counseling, therapy and education. For instance clothing depicts the kind of person one is. Also in education, typical experiments are presented through series of graphs, charts to depict something in reality (Joseph, 1986)

Going by the figures, surely it can never be true. It can never be true that 93% of all communication can be possible without words. “For instance, if watching a foreign film which one among body language and the vocal tones can you understand 93% of it?” (Knapp, 1980).The truth however is clear; the source of this myth was more specific communication rather than a general communication (the focus was only on attitude and feelings) (Knapp, 1980)

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In addition, the experiment never at all took into account any real world communications conditions. In the research, accomplices were read out positive or negative single words like thanks and don’t respectively. In some illustrations, the words were collected together with snapshots of people looking neutral, negative or positive. The participants were then required to give their opinions on whether the words were negative, neutral or positive given the combination of words/ tone or words/ picture. This is where Dr. Albert Mehrabian came with this statistics (Morris, 1995)

In reality, we don’t typically communicate in single words and we are never communicating feelings either. But to the amazement of many, these fundamental understanding have been thrown out of context, they have been misunderstood and even confused up to the point of claiming 93% of communication is non-verbal. Then who can claim the percentage of 93% is wrong? But the concept of the communication percentage has been excessively oversimplified so much such that it has lost meaning. So this implies a different meaning for marketers and other people in the sales field. Non-verbal communication can serve to convey you as a sales person more vividly. For example, clothing can convey who you are and any sales person won’t hesitate to dress well to communicate themselves well. However, non-verbal communication process can be a very intricate process to learn. For instance it can be impossible to practice your body language. This leaves the 93% unrealistic because somehow you would use words to communicate yourself well (Joseph, 1986)

Second myth

Another myth is that for an effective communication; 55% should be body language, 38% should be tone of the voice and a merely 7% of the communication content are words. These perceived percentages have been used frequently by communication consultants, media trainers, body language specialists and Human Resource instructors. This is quite unfortunate because these figures have not been scientifically proven and the information is quite general. Sorry to say that these figures are merely a myth and only urban-related. To illustrate this perception when you logically think of the words in the personal communications it should be more than 7%. But this figure has been wrongly used but it is a false statement which has been illustrated as fact (Mcneill, 1992)

So what is the truth about these figures? First of all the original experiments were carried out by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a UCLA psychologist in 1967. Their results and findings were quite narrow but they were documented after all. They findings they presented only related to inconsistent communication whereby the messages and other behaviors of the speaker are simultaneously conveyed. But it also possible to convey verbal undertones yet “facial expressions, tone of the voice, postures or gestures are totally opposite” (Morris, 1995)

Verbal communication is used mostly as compared to non-verbal communication. Most people use the verbal communication more and they tend to believe that it is a more convenient and they enhance communication level. Also it would be impossible to communicate all the words through emotions. It would be possible to describe through words that a person is unhappy but a teardrop will tell a lot more than words. A picture is indeed a thousand words, hence with no doubt you can easily communicate to people or group of people through a mere glance. Without a doubt, there is no way to justify that non-verbal communication is more important than the verbal communication. Nonetheless, it should be noted that many people use both verbal and non-verbal communication and therefore going into depth and finding out which is superior will be much like questioning the wings a bird will prefer most helpful to fly (Mcneill, 1992)

Third myth

We all have been influenced by technology. In some cases technology is playing positive and others negative. For example, messages are now guaranteed delivery and no distortion at all through the help of technology. But in reality it is the people who determine the effectiveness and efficiency of communication abilities. Technology is the driving factor and helps in developing the communication channels. Nevertheless, communication is determinant in a person’s possibility and that is the bottom line (Joseph, 1986)

Another non-verbal illustration

The tie can be the smallest piece of cloth worn on the body but it gives out much information about the wearer without the understanding of him/ her. For example, a striped necktie gives an impression that the person holds a conservative taste. On the other hand a spotted necktie suggests that the person is jovial and fun loving. The bow tie indicates that the person is an intellectual. Politicians have gone a long way in utilizing the tie as a non-verbal communicator to influence others. For instance environment-driven politicians will always wear a green tie to conform to the surrounding while politicians who want to prove that they are socialist will tend to wear a red tie (Blatner, 1985)

It is often the ties that are first noticed from a person among the other clothing. Hence, the tie can be used to determine the different character traits that a person has. The prominence of the tie is unmatched since it’s the first item most people notice. “Knowingly or otherwise we use a person’s tie as a means to judge them, their status and their character” (Andersen, 2007). How one wears a tie determines how people will judge you. A well tied tie depicts neatness, efficiency and a well mannered person (Andersen, 2007).

The tie itself in as so far as making public statements is concerned has been used by many a leaders both in the corporate world and in the political arena. To the casual eye the type or color of the tie does not mean much, yet there are various languages that the color of tie conveys (Tarkovsky). This is normally called the “language of the ties”. Some of the tie colors and the message they convey are as follows:

Red Tie: The message that it conveys is that the wearer is a fighter who does not give up and it depicts aggressiveness and is a warning for people to watch out (Tarkovsky).

Dark Red (Bordeaux): This conveys the message that the wearer is a thinker and has the time to do things in the right manner and one should not be underestimated at all.

Vivid Blue: We can cooperate and am ready to compromise for the sake of unity and effectiveness.

Yellow: I am ready for a fight because I am angry

Gold: What I start I finish do not expect me to quit any time now. (Tarkovsky)


Non-verbal communication is not an abstract and equally important as the verbal communication. Nevertheless, it is important to observe that; different individuals respond differently to different situations, the background of non-verbal actions is relevant and the last observation is that non-verbal cues are affected by cultural norms.

93% of all communication is non-verbal and usually in different forms. Non-verbal communication through clothing is surely what everybody sees about you. Different clothing worn by different people suggests something unique to them but above all clothing portrays vividly ones personality (Joseph, 1986)

Today the clothes we wear; the traditional costumes, street fashion or military uniforms are as a result of appropriate styles and development of meaning and different identities. Clothing carries a deeper meaning and the maker of the clothes wants to bring out an intended or perceived expression through its cloths (Mcneill, 1992)

Unfortunately to majority of the people the clothing you wear is a reflection of who you are and what you would represent yourself to be. Additionally, the clothing you wear tells the rank you occupy in the society. The significant judgment would be what you wear. People have adopted the statement dress to impress because people are highly judged on their style by mainly their superiors or the high class people because they may not be meeting the standards of what they are expected of them (Blatner, 1985)

The clothing makes a statement about the personality of an individual or the possible mood of the day. The clothing also gives a first impression about you, therefore people will always judge you from the first impression and the way you wear can bring out different meanings about you. But what you wear does not necessarily say who you are. For instance, if you are wearing t-shirts and baggy trousers does not mean you have no goals in life. It should be the complete opposite and never a determinant of the person the clothing suggest.

The non-verbal communication through clothing has changed over time and the perception and it is now carrying is different. The wrong myth that has long been attributed to the non-verbal communication has wrongly been made a fact. We are all confirmation that the 93% non-verbal communication is surely impossible without uttering any single words. Therefore, seeing a well groomed individual and concluding that the person is self confident will be wrong. Verbal communication may be necessary in commending the person. However, I believe it is all about the first impression that clothing goes with. A casing point a tie is the first garment that is noticed of a person (Mcneill, 1992)


Andersen, Peter. (2007). Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions (2nd Ed.).

Blatner, A. (1985). Becoming aware of nonverbal communication. In A. Blatner, Role development: A systematic approach to building basic skills. San Marcos, TX: Author.

Joseph, N. (1986). Uniforms and Non-uniforms: Communication through Clothing. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Mcneill, D. (1992). Hand and Mind: What Gestures Reveal About Thought.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Morris, D. (1995). Bodytalk: The Meaning of Human Gestures. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

Knapp, M.L. (1980). Essentials of nonverbal communication. New York: Holt, Rhinehart & Winston.

Sacha Tarkovsky: Ties – What Does Your Tie Say About You? Web.

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