Does what you wear determine what you win?

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T's picture

Last season, I judged an Original Oratory round. There were several excellent contestants, but one that clearly stood out. The speaker was eloquent and precise, but it wasn't her speaking that put her in the lead. It was her speech. Rarely does one find such a mature and honest tone in a high school oration. The girl was clearly very bright and understood how to express herself. She was comfortable in front of the room and passionate about her subject. I gave her the 1.

I anxiously awaited the results, excited to see how Original would turn out. I knew my girl would place, but first? Judging is so subjective, you can never be sure. Finally, they announced sixth through first place. She wasn't called.

What had happened? Did she bomb? Did she forget her speech in another round? Probably not.

I had a sinking feeling that the reason she didn't place was because she stood out from everyone else. With a rumpled, off-white button down and an ill-fitting skirt, she set herself apart from everyone else dressed in their crisp black suits. Her hair was in a ponytail while everyone else's was neatly straightened. I couldn't help but think that her less-than-perfect (or rather less-than-standard) appearance kept her from being positively acknowledged for her dynamic speaking and writing skills.

My speech coach was very particular about what we wore- no jeans, no sneakers, always suits and ties. Each event had guidelines, and he made sure we followed them. Now I think I know why. He wasn't taking any chances. When you are relying on perfect strangers to judge the quality of your performance, you offer up everything- including your appearance. Unfortunately, it seems some judges take this into account more than they should. Is it fair? What would happen if a contestant wore jeans and a ripped up t-shirt, but they were absolutely amazing? Is it right for someone to judge the entire package, or should judges focus solely on the performance?

I think that balance has to be there. I think contestants are there to be judged for their speaking ability; but at the same time, I think that professionalism of dress is part of the speech. The overall package matters. With that said, I dont think an individual's style should ever be a consideration for judges.

I personally do not think it should matter what a person wears. If I ruled the worled, a competitor who was worst dressed yet gave the best performance would get top rank. But I don't rule the world and social norms are in place where dress does count. For job interviews if people are basically the same, even if one is a little stronger, the decision might come down to dress. Your presentation matters. And it has mattered since we all realized as kids what the other ones were wearing. The kid who is dressed different gets made fun of, and this has stuck with us all our lives. We like the visually pleasing and judge people by appearance. Period. Your fashion sense can be the difference between 1st and 2nd if the performances are just about even. Dress clouds the mind.

So if you want to win, better get yourself a fabulous suit and look wonderful.

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