Investing in how you look can help you make up to 20% more money

Rebekah Maynard

If you do it wisely, investing in how you look can pay off by increasing your salary and opening up career opportunities.

Your appearance can boost your earnings by as much as 20%, according to a 2016 study in the academic journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. "Good-looking" workers can earn 5% more per hour, another similar study from the St. Louis Fed concluded, after controlling for other variables. Those with below-average looks, on the other hand, see their per-hour earnings reduced by as much as 9%.

While we're not all born looking like Ryan Gosling or Tessa Thompson, there are aspects of your appearance that you have control over, like your hygiene and what you choose to wear. This is how we can take command over the impression we make, especially at work, explains Morgan Wider, a personal style expert who runs her business, Wider Style, in Atlanta, Georgia.

"It takes seven seconds for a first impression," Wider says. "And 60% of that first impression comes from what we wear."

Start with these wardrobe investments

When it comes to improving your look, Wider recommends spending wisely on a few key areas:

1. Tailoring. "The number one thing anyone, male or female, should invest in is tailoring," says Wider. Having your clothes altered to improve the fit can make even an inexpensive piece look like it was made just for you.

2. Shoes. Your footwear "can instantly upgrade or downgrade a look," she says. The best type will depend on your professional setting, but she recommends buying well-crafted, high-quality pairs of shoes and then taking good care of them.

3. For men: A navy blue sport coat. A navy sport coat is dynamic, Wider explains—you can wear it with jeans and a T-shirt, or with a suit. That's why she suggests that all men invest in one, as it can dramatically change your look.

4. For women: Classic work pants. Take the time when you're shopping to try plenty of different brands, cuts, and styles. "It's difficult," Wider admits, to find pants that fit perfectly, so it can be worth splurging when you find that pair.

More ways to invest in your appearance

It may be strange to think of haircuts, makeup, or even a gym membership as an investment, but your appearance can work for you, or against you, when it comes to your paycheck. Being well-groomed versus poorly groomed has been associated with a $20,000 boost in annual earnings among women, according to that study in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.

After all, Wider says, "when you're in the elevator and your CEO walks in, that first impression can really make or break how they see you and treat you."

It takes seven seconds for a first impression. And 60% of that first impression comes from what we wear.
Morgan Wider
personal style expert

Kevin O'Leary, one of the stars of the ABC show "Shark Tank," spends nearly $3,000 per year on haircuts as an investment in looking professional. O'Leary told Grow during an interview earlier this year that he similarly invests in wardrobe accessories including watches, pens, and cuff links.

O'Leary, of course, has a lot of money to spend, but you don't need a four-figure annual haircut budget to look good. Here are a few easy things you can do to spruce up your appearance that can make a big difference at work:

  • Choose clothes that fit your professional environment. If your boss and coworkers aren't wearing jeans to the office, you probably shouldn't either. On the other hand, if you're wearing a tie to work and everyone else is sporting ironic T-shirts, you may be overdressed.
  • Buy clothes that fit. Tailoring is a great investment. But it also helps to put more consideration into the clothes you buy—meaning that you don't just grab the first shirt you see off the rack, hold it up against yourself in a mirror, and throw it in your shopping cart. Try things on. Experiment with different fits (slim fit versus original fit, for example), fabric types, and sizes. Looking sharp can improve your confidence as well, which has other benefits such as improving your abstract thinking skills.
  • Invest in an iron and a steamer. You may have never considered steaming or ironing your shirts or pants, but a crisply pressed shirt says "I'm put together" much more than one that looks like it was picked out of a pile on the floor. Irons and steamers vary in price, but you can find basic versions for around $20 each.
  • Keep up with your hygiene. Probably the simplest thing you can do to keep your appearance up is to take a shower, shave, make sure your hair isn't a mess, and brush your teeth. It may sound like common sense, but various surveys have found that young workers are skipping deodorant and scaling back on tooth brushing. Failing to do any of these things can cause serious issues—not only with your health, but with your coworkers, too.

Wider says that if you remember to remain approachable and come off as professional, your look can deliver the results you want.

"How can [your style] make you memorable? How can it make you approachable?" she says, adding that you also need to check that your clothes work for you. "Make sure the wardrobe is functional and practical."

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