A Rational Approach to Fashion

by lionhearted2 min read10th Oct 201196 comments

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Related to: Humans are not automatically strategic, Rationalists should win

Fashion isn't prioritized in many hyper-analytical circles. Many in these communities write it off as frill and unnecessary. They say they "just dress comfortably" and leave it at that.

To me, that seems like a huge blind spot. It misses a fundamental point -

A piece of clothing is fundamentally a tool.

Definitions are important so everyone is on the same page. I feel like Wikipedia's first sentence on "tool" accurately describes it -

A tool is a device that can be used to produce an item or achieve a task, but that is not consumed in the process.

Clothing clearly fits that definition of a tool.

Appropriately chosen clothing can keep you from freezing in the winter, from getting sunburnt in the summer, and can keep you dry in a rainstorm.

It can also help you achieve things involving other people. I think it's fair to draw a distinction between "clothing" and "fashion" based on whether your objectives involve interpersonal skills. If you're wearing clothing in relation to the environment and without other people, that's using clothing as a tool.

But clothing clearly can affect other people's opinions of you, willingness to accept your arguments, willing to hire or contract you, even their desire to associate with you. All of that is changed by clothing - or more specifically, your "fashion."

While most rationalists would happily and quickly plan out the best hiking boots to wear to not get blisters on a hike, or research the best shoes for bicycling or swimsuit for swimming, anecdotally many seem hesitant or even hostile to the idea of using fashion as a tool to achieve their objectives.

That's possibly a mistake.

The thing fashion can do best and most fundamentally is affect a person's initial first impression of you. Fashion is less important if you're in a context where you're guaranteed to get to know someone over a longer period of time, and is more important if you're going to get filtered quickly.

I propose that the most rational usage of fashion is this -

1. Ask yourself what your goals are in the situation you're about to go into.

2. Ask yourself what first impression would help you reach your goals.

3. Pick out and wear clothing that helps communicate that first impression.

The process is important. In isolation, there's no "good fashion" - it depends on your objectives.

In some circles, people more or less won't care how you're dressed. But even then, there's likely some clothing that will perform better than others. If you can afford the time or money to find clothing to fit your objectives, then there's no reason not to utilize this advantage.

I say "time or money" because you can deploy either - if money isn't an issue, there's stores where the majority of things look good, and the people there are professionals who will spend time giving you good feedback. Any high end department store like Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, or a high end tailor fits this category.

Alternatively, you can deploy time. To do that, survey the people that most effectively communicate the first impression you want to convey. Take actual notes and look for common trends. Then, go find pieces that look similar. You won't be perfect right away, but like any other skill, with practice you'll rapidly improve. Incidentally, the marginal cost to produce clothing is incredibly cheap, so most fashion lines over-produce clothing and have to liquidate it at super-discount sale prices periodically. There tends to be a major "Summer Sale" and "Winter Sale" once per year that have high end clothing that 70% to 90% off, making the cost comprable to the mid-tier.

There's also "Sample Sales" where over-produced items are liquidated or when a designer wants to see the buying public's reaction to their new pieces. Again, ultra-high-end clothing can be purchased at discount rates at these environments. You can get basically any semi-standard piece of high end clothing for not very much money if you put in the time. My strategy in the past has been to wait until finding a great opportunity like that, and then buying 1-2 years worth of clothing in one swoop. It doesn't take much supplementing after that.

It takes very little cognitive energy to begin this process. Next time you see someone who strikes a very good impression, stop and analyze a little bit. Note what they're wearing. If you want to strike that same first impression, go get something comprable. Your fashion will be working for you at that point, and your interpersonal dealings will become easier.

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I don't get it... there are so many more interesting things to say about fashion than "hey, maybe you'll get better results if you dress up a little". I hit "^F counter" and didn't find a single reference to counter signaling! Or pink!

And there also seems to be nothing about the mechanisms that are being played with by manipulating fashion in traditional ways, like the use of halo effects or contrast effects to manipulate early impressions, or the use of similarity to cause liking when seeking to affiliate or persuade.

Color me boggled. I'd have thought that if LWers were going to strategize about the dark arts there would be more discussion of the cognitive theories that make such manipulation tactics effective. And I'd have thought there would have been more discussion of the ethical calculations that come up when trying to decide whether to defect on epistemic hygiene issues.

To do that, survey the people that most effectively communicate the first impression you want to convey. Take actual notes and look for common trends. Then, go find pieces that look similar. You won't be perfect right away, but like any other skill, with practice you'll rapidly improve.

This is really level two fashion. And if people with no fashion knowledge try to do this they are likely to embarrass themselves. I think true beginners might need to start by just learning things like fit, color coding, buying for your body shape etc. If you don't have that stuff down but try to buy the hat you saw Justin Timberlake wearing you're going to look silly.

If you don't have that stuff down but try to buy the hat you saw Justin Timberlake wearing you're going to look silly.

If you do have that stuff down and try to buy the hat you saw Justin Timberlake wearing, you're going to look silly.

Edited to elaborate:

Modern entertainment celebrities are a poor choice of role-model for clothing, for several reasons.

1) They are usually accorded higher status, and thus able to "get away with" more. 2) They will often be more interested in attracting overt attention to their clothing than you would be. 3) There is a significant selection bias - they are mostly people who look good in the first place. George Clooney in something awful still looks like George Clooney. Also, they may be dressing to emphasize what you might prefer to de-emphasize.

Better are classic celebrities known for their dress sense, who at least have the additional filter of being remembered for it this much later. Also better are politicians and CEOs, who are presumably chosen less for their intrinsic looks (we hope), and for whom 2 probably does not apply.

Best is people around you, with a similar overall look.

In all cases, see if you can figure out what about the item or combination in question is working, consider whether something similar would work for you, and don't be afraid to ask for help.

3Jack9yRight, part of what I mean by basic knowledge is recognition of common faux pas. Nearly no one looks good wearing a fedora-- so if thats the hat you see JT wearing you shouldn't copy it. But google images pulls up plenty of less excessive hats celebrities wear-- hats that could be incorporated into a normal person's wardrobe just fine. I picked Justin Timberlake in particular because he very rarely dresses in a way that could be easily copied successfully. The key is -- you aren't going to be able to copy celebrities item for item but once you know what you can and can't get away with you can start cribbing details. Politicians and business men are fine for professional ware- and celebrities aren't. But suits are often not what the occasion calls for.
2dlthomas9yWhy is a fedora "excessive"?
2Jack9yhttp://suburbantragic.tumblr.com/post/4012562140/someone-finally-said-it [http://suburbantragic.tumblr.com/post/4012562140/someone-finally-said-it]
3dlthomas9yWhat he bought and what he is wearing are two very different hats. Real fedora versus short-brim fedora, to start with - and the pin stripes take it to an additional height of ridiculous. Edited to add: Also, this pretty clearly makes the case that some people look fantastic in a fedora.
1Jack9yI never said there were people who didn't look good in a fedora. But it is a really good illustration of an accessory that people try to wear because some people make them work but fail again and again. There are certain people and certain contexts where it works-- but a beginner to fashion should not look and Bogart or Timberlake, see their hats and try to add the hats to their wardrobe.
1juliawise9yDitto cloaks, unless you already look like Glorfindel or similar.
1khafra9yContrasting this with How do we know what's too difficult for a beginner? Must we observe lots of people who strike a very good impression, and only seek items which are similar across the majority of the training set?
2dlthomas9yThis may work, but not (I think) as well as looking for failure modes of an item you wish to adopt. Who looks bad in it? Who looks good in it? Can you find why? Which is more likely to be you?
0[anonymous]9yNot to mention that there are... confounding uncontrolled variables at work.
0dlthomas9yYes. Shave him, put him in a suit and tie with a trench-coat over it, and give him a real hat, and he won't look like Bogart but he will look worlds better! Edited to add: Though of course possibly still silly, depending.
1pedanterrific9yDo you consider yourself ready to bring "sexy [http://stylewithanna.com/fashion-for-guys/how-to-dress-like-justin-timberlake/] back" [http://www.ehow.com/how_2093434_dress-like-justin-timberlake.html]? I mean, just look at the photos in that first link. The man looks ridiculous.
2dlthomas9yI am totally ready to bring sexy back, just... not by dressing like Timberlake. Short-brim fedoras are usually silly, but I wear hats regularly (two fedoras and a panama in my rotation) and I regularly get complements. His biggest mistake is wearing that much black during the day, though.
3PhilGoetz9yIt's very rare to get feedback on fashion - I could probably count on two hands the number of times in my life that someone has said something about my clothing - so how do you improve?
7Antisuji9yPeople likely don't comment on your clothing because it is literally unremarkable. In my experience, people will comment on clothing that stands out, though negative comments generally only come from those close to me (and these are the comments that are most helpful for improvement, hard as they are to take). In fact, if I don't get positive comments about an article of clothing that I expect to be complimented on I take that as evidence that it doesn't look good on me. It's possible that no one among your close friends or family pays attention to clothing or knows much about it; if this is the case it will be helpful to find someone who is knowledgeable who you feel comfortable asking for advice. One of the best places to get feedback is the store where you're shopping. The people who work there might give you good advice since they should know their product, but be careful: they often work on commission, so you'll need a good bullshit detector. It can be better to ask your fellow customers, and it turns out that this is a perfectly socially acceptable thing to do as long as you're polite and not pushy. Also, their answers are more likely to be honest than if you asked someone you know about clothing you already own, since they won't have to worry about making you feel bad. I have had good results with questions like "do you think this fits me?" or "does this style work for me?" As always, take into account what kind of person they are (or present themselves as) when you hear their feedback and weight it appropriately. Another thing that I do that may have increased the amount of feedback I get is that if I see someone I work with wearing an article of clothing that I like, I compliment them. This has become a normal thing to do at my (mostly male) workplace, and so my coworkers are more likely to compliment me. I hesitate to speculate on causality, but I think there is a little. I also sometimes compliment people I don't know on their clothing in cafes or even
3atucker9yI ask people who I trust will actually criticize me. My sister pretty vocally and specifically hates particular things that I wear, and will say so when asked. My girlfriend is incentivized to try and make wear nicer clothes, and knows that if I'm asking her for fashion advice I'm not going to be offended by whatever answer I get.
3Jack9yThe internet is full of perfectly good fashion advice -- a search for fashion tips + your body type or + the relevant social scene will work. There is very little bad fashion advice out there. For whatever reason it is not a topic that people enjoy writing about when they don't know what they're talking about. At worst you'll be told to never do something only to later realize you can get away with it. "They're more like guidelines anyway." I'm not sure what to do about lack of individualized feedback-- it is important. I find that receive feedback on what I'm wearing routinely, though I that is probably something that happens on social, not professional occasions. I suppose one requirement must be friends who notice what I'm wearing. Gender of your social circle is relevant-- women are more likely to comment and more likely to comment positively; men are likely to make fun of me if I wear something really stupid looking. I believe there are online forums where people post photos of themselves to receive feedback on their fashion (there are a few subreddits, r/malefashionadvice for instance). That's probably easier than finding new friends. If you have money fashion and wardrobe consultants can work wonders.
3PhilGoetz9yI've subscribed to GQ and Details, and looked at other fashion magazines, and they are useless. They just show outfits, or particular items, and pile superlatives on them ('snazzy', 'retro', 'bold', 'understated', etc.). But they give no clue as to why one thing is better than another. One theory to explain this is that women have some kind of holistic thinking that lets them make use of this kind of information - that by just looking at a bunch of examples they can pick out what the rules are - and that fashion magazine writing culture teaches how to write for women. Useful writing on fashion for men is mostly about suits, which I avoid as much as possible because I hate wearing a tie.
0jefftk9yI suspect if you read them more you would pick up on the patterns. People are generally good at learning rules from labeled examples. You'd have to be interested enough to read a lot, though.
0[anonymous]9yMaybe. But nobody ever wrote a book on automotive repair that was just a bunch of photographs of working engines.
0dlthomas9yProvided the patterns are well defined...
1dlthomas9yI think there is, unfortunately, a fair amount of bad fashion advice out there...
0Jack9yLink me some.
2juliawise9yhttp://thestylesample.com/2011/10/03/how-to-wear-socks-and-heels-grownup/ [http://thestylesample.com/2011/10/03/how-to-wear-socks-and-heels-grownup/]
1dlthomas9yCompare this [http://www.askandyaboutclothes.com/forum/showthread.php?64428-Wore-my-Fedora-today!&p=482255#post482255] and this [http://lesswrong.com/lw/813/a_rational_approach_to_fashion/50av]. One of those must almost certainly be bad advice.
1Jack9yOne has to pay attention to demographic differences- and I probably should have considered that my advice would be read by people outside my own demographic before I posted it. Is it non-obvious that "Ask Andy About Clothes" isn't the place for an urban 20-something to go find fashion advice?
0dlthomas9yI am 28, I live in downtown Oakland, I have found it a useful resource over the past few years, and I am regularly complemented on my appearance. So yes, it is non-obvious. This is not to say that I disagree with the notion that it is important to consider context. If you are going clubbing you should probably dress differently then when you are going to work.
0Jack9yFor non-professional, non-formal occasions? I mean look, there are additional degrees of possibly relevant demographics here and it is a bit hard to figure them out given that I don't know you and don't know what you're optimizing for fashion wise. The point is, someone who says "Fedoras, yay!" and someone who says "Fedora's boo!" can both be right depending on what you look like and what the context is. But "Ask Andy" doesn't look like the place to go to figure out what to, say, wear to a rock concert.
3dlthomas9yYes, for non-professional, non-formal occasions. But yes, not every subculture will be represented by every point of view offered. And I guess that's partly my point - unless you know what you are looking for, there will be fashion advice online that you should not take. And if you don't know where to start, then "just look for advice online" doesn't help. Heck, the "doesn't Justin Timberlake look ridiculous here" links posted elsewhere were giving tips on how to dress like him! Regarding rock concerts, there are some that I'd totally show up to in my usual range of wear, to which Ask Andy is reasonably relevant. There are some that this wouldn't make any sense, yes.
0Jack9yFair points. Upvoted. I suppose I was thinking of lists of "basic fashion tips"- for which most sites I've seen agree. Things like: match belt and shoes, avoid pleats, how to tell if your seat is too low or too high etc.
0dlthomas9yYou won't go too wrong following those - particularly the ones pertaining to fit. They are oftentimes needlessly restrictive, though. "Avoid pleats" is perhaps better than no guidance at all - but there are pleated pants that look just fine, and flat front can have issues too; fit is far more important. Regarding pleats in particular, some general guidelines: 1) They are more likely to work if they're cut to hang from the waist than from the hips (unfortunately far more common on store shelves). 2) Shallow pleats are probably going to look better than deep pleats. 3) They are not currently "in", I believe. OTOH, that's been cyclical over the last few decades with a relatively short period, and most people won't look down on you for wearing pleats if they don't look bad on you (there will be a few that are invested in their opinions on both sides). 4) If you are very slim, flat fronts are more likely to suit you. If you are very large, pleats are more likely to do better. In either case, if they're not being cut for you (which shouldn't be the case, if you're just getting your feet wet in dressing nicer), try them on first. Walk around a bit. Sit down. Move like you'll be moving in the pants. If the pleats look really "puffy", don't get that pair of pants. If flat front pants aren't hanging well on you, pleats might be worth trying on.
2[anonymous]9yI occasionally get feedback on fashion. It's always positive, and it's always while I'm wearing this [http://www.amazon.com/Phineas-Ferb-Platypus-T-Shirt-Medium/dp/B0039OSTMU/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1319035700&sr=8-4] . This is probably not very useful.
2christina9yFashion is a completely subjective opinion. If you want to be fashionable, you need to figure out who you're trying to be fashionable for, and figure out what they like. In my case, this is easy, since the person I dress for is myself. I therefore choose clothing that is comfortable and functional given the large amount of time I spend outdoors. I do get comments on my clothing at times, which are sometimes complimentary and sometimes not. I think it's best to wear the things you yourself like, even if you are dressing for someone else, though. Don't you want to attract the kind of people who like the things you do?
3dlthomas9yChoice of goals is subjective. Effectiveness of your actions in meeting those goals is objective.
2christina9yI agree. Choice of goals is based on preferences. But in order to meet the goal of being fashionable, considering subjective opinions is the only way to be objectively successful. To expand on that, I think a person would have to consider things like which people they want to judge them as fashionable. You can't please everyone--the person who likes goth styles is probably going to have a different aesthetic than the one who wears sweaters with kittens (although perhaps not always).
3lessdazed9yAs a person you are influenced by all sorts of things and the people around you and their expectations and responses. People who believe that certain specific external things motivate their dress and other things don't may be wrong or may be right, but I don't think anyone claiming that no such factors are hugely influential is right. John Maynard Keynes [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Maynard_Keynes]
3christina9yWhat do you mean by eternal? What I find comfortable or functional is not eternal and varies depending on location, time of year, and the weather of the particular day, just to name a few of the relevant variables. Hugely influential in what way? Certainly I dress in certain ways that are indicative of the time period and culture I grew up in. I do not believe my choices are somehow unaffected by these things. Perhaps this was not clear in my original post. My intent was to say that I choose clothing by deciding if the clothing fulfills my preferences (which are shaped by external factors) and I do not generally spend much time thinking about whether other people around me will find it fashionable. I do spend a lot of time thinking about whether my clothing will keep me warm when it is cold, or dry when it is wet, and whether it is too tight or loose to be comfortable. In terms of aesthetics, I am trying to please my own sense of aesthetics (which are not necessarily unique to me). The largest exception to this that I can think of is interviews, and even then I pick the clothing I find most acceptable in terms of comfort and aesthetics that I also think will be acceptable for an interview. But my particular preferences will not necessarily be shared by other people. Other people may give more weight to the aesthetic sense of those around them when deciding what clothing to wear. For them it will be useful to decide which of those people it's more important for them to appeal to. They will also probably want to consider what kind of message they are trying to send, since choosing clothing in this way is about communicating something. This may mean that comfort and other factors might be ignored if they interfere with this goal.
1lessdazed9yeternal-->external, sorry, edited. It really wasn't, especially coming from you, whose writing is almost never incomplete and confusing like that. I think people's articulated reasons are, even if true, not nearly complete. For example, the largest factor in someone choosing to wear a particular red thing might be anger, but the person might not know this and respond that he or she only dressed to please himself or herself, OR might say the choice was motivated by what others would like. Or a person might consistently prefer things presented to them by their closet on their right. Either way I don't trust intuitive conscious narratives people have for how they choose what to wear. So when you say "I therefore choose clothing that is comfortable and functional," I'm perfectly willing to believe your conscious thoughts about how to dress are vastly different than most others', but as I think the majority of influence is subconscious (for no clear reason do I think this), I think you probably choose clothing for largely the same reasons others do.
1christina9yThanks for your comments, and for clarifying your ideas. I think I can further address some of your points now. Good to know you think my writing is usually clear, even if not in this case. I agree that there should have been more background added to the first post to make the statements clearer. I will try to improve this in the future, since one of my goals for my writing is for it to be clear to those reading it. Therefore, I have tried to be as clear as I can in this post, although I suspect that it could be optimized more for brevity... Thanks for clarifying this. However, I am still confused by this sentence. Now the first part seems to be saying that if someone believes that certain external factors motivate their clothing choices and others don't, they could be wrong or right. But isn't it always the case that certain external factors motivate people and others don't? If I wear rainproof clothing on a rainy day, isn't it rational to suppose that I did so because it was raining and not because the grass was green? The second part of your sentence says that someone claiming that no such external factors are hugely influential isn't right. I agree with that, but I'm uncertain if it was intended to disagree with my assertion that I choose clothing to please myself. If so, I think that my second post addresses that what satisfies me is based on external factors, especially those external factors that produce the comfort and functionality of the clothes (such as their size and the material they are made of). Could you perhaps give a specific example of where someone's beliefs satisfies the statement you made and one where it does not? Also, I feel that internal mental states, as they are affected by external factors, are what is actually being discussed here, and it is important to make this distinction. If the causes for our actions were 100% external from our brain, it follows that we wouldn't need one to act in the ways that we do. But in fact we have exte
4lessdazed9yI see now how my sentence was ambiguous. I meant: "people who believe that certain specific external things motivate their dress and other things don't may be wrong or may be right about each of those things, instead of "people who believe that certain specific external things motivate their dress and other things don't may be wrong or may be right that some things influence them and some things do not. "Because" isn't really enough, for each explanatory factor you have to tell me how close to being necessary and how close to being sufficient it was. I said I don't think that! I think more goes into decision making than attempting to achieve satisfaction. Our ability to know of the existence of facts is a separate fact than our ability to know those facts. You can be suspicious of anyone saying that they know your subconscious reasons without being suspicious of someone who tells you your articulated reasons are of moderate importance. If my road map has a huge hole separating the visible parts of a freeway to what scales to 50 miles, this does not mean that I can instantly teleport across the area represented by the hole by driving on that freeway. We believe there are unintuited influences, we should not pretend that all the influences we understand are all that influence us. One example I gave was this [http://thesituationist.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/the-situation-of-confabulation/] : No, e.g. I would expect people to tell themselves flattering stories about whatever they did when they did it for a different reason, and then repeat that specific thing. E.g. if a person is stuck out in the rain and there are no umbrellas in local stores, that person might buy a parka and forever after "prefer waterproof jackets to umbrellas because then I don't have to carry something in my hand," (see here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4e/cached_selves/]). I might expect people to wear a certain color whenever and because they felt angry, but would expect people to differ great
1christina9yUpvoted for your thoughtful reply, which clarified a number of your points quite well. I will try to address some of your points and ask questions for those things I am still unclear on. Firstly, in your previous posts, it seems like you are discussing two separate issues—the first is the extent to which our decisions are based on external factors, the second is the extent to which our decisions are based on unconscious processing as opposed to conscious processing of those factors. Since your last post focused more on the second issue, this post will do so as well. Here is what I did to analyze in more detail the position you are taking. I followed the link you supplied (this link being one of the reasons I upvoted your post—also, the use of the quote is very helpful to quickly establish relevance) and also used that page to get some information on the original source of the study mentioned. This led me to a paper by Nisbett and Wilson [http://people.virginia.edu/~tdw] where this experiment is described by the original researchers. They also did a review of the literature to describe similar studies. Reading Nisbett and Wilson's paper changed my point of view on this subject since they discussed a variety of confabulation research in great detail. I would now agree that unconscious reasons can be an important component of understanding healthy decisions, although I still think this doesn't always tell you any more useful information than the conscious reasons (specifically this may not always or even usually be the case where the conscious reason is correct, regardless of whether it is a confabulation). Their description of the 1931 experiment by Maier stood out especially for me, since it showed that healthy individuals could incorrectly explain how they knew the answer to a problem (as opposed to just saying that they don't know how they figured it out). I'm not sure why I found this additional information more compelling than the more relevant clothing example
0lessdazed9yOK, so let's say it tells you that the useful information that you get from your consciousness is only 10% (semi-random number) of relevant information. It's not that it provides useful information to outweigh the conscious information, it just contextualizes it into being less important, even if it is most of the important information you have. So it should greatly reduce confidence, and affect decisions related to that. Let's say out of a group of 20 people you knew well, one was going to construct two teams to compete in an activity, say soccer. If I told you a random member of each team, you could predict which team would be more likely to win, but your confidence would be less than if I told you all the members on each team. This is so even though the information you know (one player per team) does more for you than that you don't know (the players who are evenly distributed). It is certainly possible that when presented with nearly identical items, people prefer the one on the right, but when presented with very different items, they all else equal do not. It is also possible there are few such effects and they are swamped by conscious ones. However, I see no evidence the effect is limited to similar items, I think there are many such effects, and an analogy to natural selection is applicable - it hardly matters for a rabbit's reproductive success whether it is a bit furrier or less furry than other rabbits, a bit bigger or a bit smaller, etc., but with many small effects occurring, the small effects add up. Based on research indicating that they effect emotion, I assume they probably effect choice absent having seen any study on point. I was thinking primarily of things broadly categorizable as negative motivation - physical discomfort, emotional fear, self-sabotage to have an excuse for later failure, etc. We apparently have very different priors. If basically "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", whereas subconscious processes would no
1JoshuaZ9yInteresting, I get feedback fairly frequently but only positive feedback for specific garments. I suspect that people simply don't say anything if they think something looks hideous or just mediocre.
5grouchymusicologist9yHeh, once I grew a beard and had it for about six months. No one said anything about it to me while I had it. When I shaved it off, I couldn't go anywhere for a week without being told "You look SO GOOD clean-shaven." I completely understand why no one wanted to tell me how bad it apparently looked while I had it, but I was really embarrassed in retrospect.
0dlthomas9yAsk for feedback, in situations where you aren't going to be judged (or are likely to be judged favorably) for the asking.

I'm certainly not an expert, but since minicamp I've been paying more attention and attempting to optimize my dress and social habits. Here are some observations I've made or have been made to me (and seem correct):

  • Your clothing and body language broadcasts a packet of information to a everyone around you. It has higher bandwidth than speech. It reaches more people than your speech does.
  • It's all about signalling. I don't know what all the relevant signalling dimensions are but I suspect that conscientiousness and social skills big ones. For example, wearing clothes that fit closely to your body without being tight (this is my working model for what people mean by 'fit') clearly suggests you pay close attention to things.
  • You are only signalling something if others actually infer it about you. Your intent with your signals about what you is not relevant.
  • Even people you are familiar with may be more positive towards you if you optimize your fashion and body language because people like to associate with people who strangers feel positive towards.
3Armok_GoB9yWhat is the format of the information packet? Is it a point in some simple universal configuration space, or does it have syntax? Can one translate back and forth between fashion and English like a language? What kind of information can be communicated more generally? If "this sentence is false" is an english equivalent of Gödels incompleteness Theorem, is there an equivalent of it in fashion?
6pedanterrific9yHipster fashion. (It's popular to dislike things that are popular.)
1Armok_GoB9yTangentially relevant factoid like thing: The only way to be intentionally be reliably original is to come up with a way to enumerate significantly more unique styles than there are people who want to be original (10 billion should do), then taking one random sample from that set and sticking to it.
2Bugmaster9yThere are some pretty serious constraints that limit fashion: physical, such as the tensile strength of the fabrics, available colors, etc.; social, such as our nudity taboos; as well as functional, such as ease of use and mobility (f.ex., you're not going to wear a wedding gown every day, since they are too unwieldy). Given these constraints, is it really possible to come up with 10 billion non-trivial styles ?
2Armok_GoB9yI have no idea, but it's exactly the right question to ask.
0dlthomas9yThis is unlikely to produce something that looks good on you.
0Armok_GoB9yThat depends on the enumeration algorithm! :p
0dlthomas9yGranted, but then we have cut the space available quite significantly.
0Armok_GoB9yYes. And more importantly in a way with very high complexity.
0Prismattic9yI've been looking for a way to work this [http://wondermark.com/188/] into the conversation, and finally I have found an appropriate spot. Thanks!
1pedanterrific9yMust... resist...! [http://www.topatoco.com/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=TO&Product_Code=WON-ELEPHANT&Category_Code=WON]
0shminux9yA large chunk of the Yogi Berra quotes [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Yogi_Berra] are of this variety.

This is interesting and the point that objectives matter is a very good one. I own a lot of nerdy tshirts. A few years ago I went to an event that was a geek singles event. I deliberately didn't wear a generic nerdy tshirt but rather wore a math tshirt because it efficiently singled what sort of nerd I was. In that context that was likely a better approach than dressing in a way that is generally considered to be fashionable. Goals matter.

There is a scene in Crazy Stupid Love during which Steve Carrell shows up at a mall to have Ryan Gosling teach him how to improve his fashion. Carrell shows up in sneakers and a boring, striped polo.

GOSLING: Can I see [your shoes]?

CARRELL: Yup.

Carrell takes his shoes off, hands them to Gosling.

CARRELL: These offer a lot of support.

Gosling throws Carrell's sneakers off the balcony.

CARRELL: Hey!

GOSLING: Where are you? In a fraternity?

CARRELL: No.

GOSLING: Are you Steve Jobs?

CARRELL: What?

GOSLING: Are you the billionaire owner of Apple Computers?

CARRELL: No.

GOSLING: Oh. Okay. Well in that case you've got no business wearing New Balance sneakers, ever.

Gosling slaps Carrell in the face.

GOSLING: Come on.

Now, replace Gosling with lukeprog and Carrell with Yudkowsky.

I used to have the attitude of not paying too much attention to how I dressed, because I don't have a high opinion of "superficial" people and consumerist suckers (something like "that's a game I don't want to play, because I think it was invented to make money for the fashion industry").

But when I considered that even I judged people on how they dressed (and on their hair etc.), I accepted that yeah, it's normal that I get judged on that, I should pay attention to it (not that I claim to dress well, I just pay attention to it now).

To p... (read more)

7sixes_and_sevens9yI recently (successfully) applied for a job at a fashion company, doing technical back-end stuff. My invitation to interview said "just wear what you're comfortable in". On the basis that they probably didn't want me turning up in my underpants and slippers I wore a suit. I've always considered the business attire interview convention to be a very useful protocol, and actually found it a bit discourteous when they tried to take it away from me. Business attire might be considered conventionally high status, but it also sets a bounded limit on how good or bad applicants can look. If they're going to be judged based on their clothing, at least they're being judged on a scale which is common knowledge. Once you remove that protocol, you have no idea what you're competing against. I actually asked the panel interviewing me what they all wore to their interviews with the company, and every one of them went for formal business attire.
5dlthomas9yI also got my current job wearing a suit to an interview when they specified "dress casual." I didn't get the email in question until I was already heading out the door, or I would have honored their request; I am not sure if this would have been to my advantage or detriment.
0mare-of-night7yI'd be interested to know whether women feel the same way about business attire. It's much less standardized for women, which is an advantage in some ways because they have more flexibility, but it also means that dressing for business doesn't reduce the amount of thought they need to put into their clothing. Though, I guess I sort of cheat at this - I'm a woman, but stick pretty close to the male versions of business clothing. I'm not sure if this puts me at a disadvantage or not.
0Emile9yI agree, it's not the same as say wearing designer clothes in high school, which would be closer to a prisoner's dilemma - and in that case one way to enforce "cooperation" is to make wearing a uniform compulsory.
0DaFranker8y(except that it doesn't achieve the desired results, and makes identification and tracking of status games much harder for people outside of the loop by reducing signal visibility, without diminishing the frequency, intensity, complexity or consequences of the status games in the slightest)
1dlthomas9yAt least it's a good looking defection.

Why is this on LessWrong? We already know that looking good helps in many situations. I can find fashion advice by typing "fashion advice"* into Google. Is any kind of post appropriate on LessWrong if I prefix the title with "A rational approach to..."?

*Or "fashion advice for men" if you don't want clothing that's aimed at women.

Is any kind of post appropriate on LessWrong if I prefix the title with "A rational approach to..."?

Perhaps someone should write a post: "A rational approach to figuring out which posts are inappropriate for lesswrong despite the title having the prefix 'A rational approach to...'"

Certain people are very smart and understand why many of the things normal people do are silly in some ways. For instance, judging people based on their fashion sense rather than actual behavior is noisy, or believing that you can do anything you want to do is inaccurate.

But these silly behaviors exist for a reason. Such people, to be successful in life, need to be reminded that just because something is silly from a certain analytical perspective doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, or some variation on it.

Many lesswrong posts fit into this template. They seem useful, and I enjoy them. Such points made in rationalist language cannot be found in many other places.

4meta_ark9yIt helped teach me a few valuable thought-processes which should help optimise my social life. I'm glad it's here.
2pwno9yYou can do that with a lot of topics on LW...

That's possibly a mistake.

I think confrontational framing of motivation for this post makes it worse.

How should I dress to improve my chances of winning a Magic: the Gathering tournament?

In a way that's mildly subtly intimidating, in order to bring out the Bruce in the other person. I seem to recall a study that showed that when randomly dividing sports players into wearing red jerseys and blue jerseys, the red team won a statistically significant larger percentage of the time - maybe a 1% edge or something from red?

So I'd go clean, straight lines on a strong red clothing, maybe with a little black mixed in, impeccable grooming, and otherwise just look you're going to win. If it makes someone say "fuck it" and not do the combat math in their head just one time because your opponent has mentally crumbled, then your odds are improved.

0Prismattic9y2nd and 3rd articles mentioned here [http://www.bakadesuyo.com/?sort=bestmatch&search=red%20shirts]

I have a female acquaintance who has a special outfit that she wears to the normally male-dominated Magic drafts and tournaments. This outfit is designed to distract her opponent to the point where he is not able to compete effectively. I can personally attest to its effectiveness.

Don't wear jeans, I hear they're bringing denimwalk back.

4Emile9yIf you have a deck that gives the opponent the opportunity to make stupid mistakes of carelessness, such that him underestimating you increases your chances of winning, then think up the stereotype of the worst magic player (whiny stupid arrogant rich kid?), and dress like that. Though indeed, unlike many situations (work, romance, being a teacher in front of a class, going to a LessWrong meetup), that's one situation where you don't care much about how people will judge you in general. So you don't care about how you dress (also, you don't care about Belching loudly and spitting on the ground, you can do those too). If you want to have friendly conversations at a Magic tournament you may want to avoid giving a bad impression, you may still want to care a bit about clothing, though since that aspect doesn't matter much (unlike in dating or for job interviews), people won't expect each other to pay that much attention to it and wear whatever's comfortable. (Some people go to Magic tournament with "being admired" as a goal they wouldn't mind reaching; clothes can help for that)
2taw9yI have "Tap: Take control of target player's girlfriend [http://www.zazzle.co.uk/take_control_of_target_players_girlfriend_tshirt-235862144471827736] " tshirt from Essential Magic just for that. It may distract the opponent just enough.
2taryneast9yIf you're female... in a sexually revealing manner. [note: any implicit assumptions intended for the purpose of humour.]
0betterthanwell9yDressing like a mathematician will not make you one. Dressing like a clown will make you a clown. Fashion will not affect your skill, outside of making you more (or less) comfortable, which in turn could affect performance. A socially calibrated sense of fashion could help you get noticed and gain reputation among peers in any community.

While most rationalists would happily and quickly plan [...], anecdotally many seem hesitant or even hostile to the idea of using fashion as a tool to achieve their objectives.

This point is essentially the point of having your article here on LW, but it is not emphasized strongly enough, in my opinion.

Additionally, I think the point that "the tool of fashion is one you are using to convey some information, whether you intend a message or not" is an essential point that I did not see in your text.

This doesn't have to be hard. If I wear generic blue jeans and a plain dark grey shirt, and both fit me well, then I look good, and I'm appropriately dressed for almost any situation. Most of the people I know can dress well with a similarly simple strategy. This kind of approach won't be winning you any awards for snappy dressing, but neither will you have to worry about not looking good.

Probably the most ridiculously easy approach to dressing well is to open up an L. L. Bean or Land's End catalog and get some clothes in the same style and color combinations as the models in the pictures; that way you don't have to know things about fashion. This is hard to mess up.

A piece of clothing is fundamentally a tool. Definitions are important so everyone is on the same page. I feel like Wikipedia's first sentence on "tool" accurately describes it

Starting an article with a "proof by definition" does not make me feel overly positive by the article. Why is the definition of tool important? Do you think that before we saw that definition, we did not know that (a) clothes help us deal with environmental conditions or (b) clothes change the way some people perceive us?

Overall, I do not understand what this a... (read more)

When I wear a certain shirt, I get markedly better social responses than usual. What's the best procedure for figuring out what aspects of it hold the magic?

2TheOtherDave9ySome ideas. 1. Start looking for other shirts that were different-but-similar to that shirt in various ways, wearing those, and seeing if they elicited similar responses. Ten shirts ought to be enough to start drawing some conclusions about what aspects are and aren't relevant. 2. Identify modality by analyzing the reactions. If people don't respond differently until they hug me, but do respond differently afterwards, I'd suspect that the important aspects are tactile; if vice-versa visual. 3. Test whether pictures of me in that shirt elicit similar reactions. If so, test whether B&W pictures do. If not, I'd suspect that the color of the shirt is important.

All this talking about fashion here is starting to get me interested. However, I have a few problems preventing me from actually attempting anything:

a) All my knowledge of the subject comes from these articles on LW, although I suspect there might be some instant discharge of insight if it's properly bridged with my general knowledge of Art and evolutionary psychology. (I suspect the generalized understanding of art might even give me a significant edge over most of LW if I'm lucky. But the bridging needs to happen first, and if it's like most other arts l... (read more)

4Nornagest9yThis doesn't make sense to me at all. The whole point of this kind of conscious signaling is to modulate people's reactions to you; if, in some context, you truly value signaling that (say) you really like InuYasha over all the other things you could be saying with your clothes, even after taking the downsides into account, then looking like you're on your way to an anime convention is exactly what you want in that situation, not a downside of any kind. Otherwise, it's not really what you want to say with your clothes. Am I missing something important?
2Armok_GoB9yWhat I meant is the things I'd like to say are likely so complex and unusual that it's look like a costume, something only people in other usually fictional cultures wear, rather than any kind of normal everyday or formal clothing.
0lessdazed9yMake your reasons more resonant and useful in a pro/con list by making them more concise. Like so: c) unpleasant.
0Armok_GoB9ythat wasn't at all what I meant with c. Which sort of proves your point I guess but I have no idea how to compress it further.

This is relevant, considering that I'm replacing most of my wardrobe at the moment and trying to strategically find new clothes that both suit me and will help me achieve the goals I've set for the near future. Namely, improving my social skills, learning to make better first impressions, and analyzing the effect of what I wear on my daily psychology. (I've noticed over the last few months that when I wear nicer or bolder clothes, I'm more comfortable with speaking my mind and make fewer unconscious attempts to become invisible in social settings. Maybe I ... (read more)

Companies that sell clothes would like you to believe otherwise, but for almost everyone the value you get going from "clean, comfortable, and well fitting" to much fancier levels is really negligible, and cost is pretty high. You are also quite likely to screw it up and hurt impression you make - people are bad judges of that as a rule, so it makes sense to go the safe way.