What happens when one of the world’s most handsome, famous, and well-respected violinists dresses like a street person in a Washington, DC subway station? It’s a lesson in image, style, and context.
The Washington Post teamed up with Grammy Award-winning violin artist Joshua Bell. An attractive guy, he was asked by the paper to take part in an experiment by playing his Stradivarius violin as if he were playing in one of the world’s finest symphony halls. The only catches were that he was to dress like a street person and play in a Washington, DC Metro subway station. The experiment was intended to see if his amazing playing style, despite his personal style and the location, would generate a crowd and cause people to toss serious pocket money into his violin case.
Before I tell you what happened, what do you think happened?
Okay. Here’s the answer.
He played for nearly forty-five minutes, and about a thousand bureaucratic types walked by during that time. Most kept walking. A couple of people couldn’t believe their ears. One woman couldn’t believe her eyes. She actually figured out that the man in street clothes was the one and only Joshua Bell. Overall, there were a few lurkers, but no crowd ever developed. Passersby threw in pocket money, some throwing in actual pennies. Overall, he collected just over forty bucks and change, a whole twenty dollars coming from the woman who recognized him.
This is a great experiment because it proves the importance of considering context when it comes to image and style. Passersby didn’t consider that his violin playing was necessarily extraordinary because it was out of context for the location. Moreover, except for the one woman, the famous artist’s appearance wasn’t a draw, as he blended in, even though he was playing one of the worlds most appreciated and valuable musical instruments. Again, because of these circumstances, people would not have given it a thought that his violin was anything special. But in the context of one of the world’s fine symphony halls, an arts patron’s perception is entirely different.
When it comes to your image and style, you also need to consider context. Where are you going? When are you going to be there? Who’s going to be there? What’s the weather going to be like? All of these questions and other considerations are significant to presenting yourself properly. The answers to all of these questions matters whether you’re giving a speech, attending a luncheon with your neighbors, or are dressing for work everyday.
Here in Silicon Valley, we’re so hung up about how “dressed down” we are. But that crutch keeps us from ensuring that we’re considering the context of being dressed down in the right way. There are many people who need to reconsider this notion as it adversely affects their professional perception, or even social standing. Context is relevant based on your goals, too.
Creating the right image with intention means considering the context so that your talent is not needlessly unnoticed, a la Joshua Bell in a subway station. Don’t wait until the last minute to plan out what to wear for special events, and absolutely be sure that you have a wardrobe that works for your everyday lifestyle so that your image and style are always understood in the proper context.
Joseph Rosenfeld helps high-profile individuals revitalize, manage, and be secure in their personal visual brand. Visit JosephRosenfeld.com for details.