Do you see and interact with others through a “generational lens”? This past weekend I attended an educational curriculum for professional image consultants that examined the four generations: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Generation Y, and how to apply this information into our practices. The reasons for appreciating generational differences and similarities are twofold. First, there’s a chance to help workplace culture understand how to bridge the communication gap between generational differences. Second, is an opportunity to better understand an individual on the basis of his or her generational identity.

I was glad to have had the opportunity to evaluate and explore this because it fired up thoughts about my long established methodology and gave me a chance to challenge it.

It left me wondering: which is more important to a person’s image development? Is it stimulating a person’s personal brand or could it be an acknowledgment of a person’s generation?

Through the course of our group sharing, it was made clear how there are subtle and strong differences between the different generations. Traditionalists [born before 1946] want to be valued for their experience; but I know Gen X’ers who do, too, present company included. Baby Boomers [born between 1946-1964] are all about constant reinvention and relevance. But I think the Traditionalists’ mantra, “we aren’t dead yet,” suggests they seek similar relevance. Many Baby Boomers gave birth to the children of Generation Y [born between 1977-1995] and it stands to reason that they want to keep up with trends as much as their Boomer parents want to stay current. Gen X’ers [born between 1964-1977] want enough time and money for their family, but seems to be an ideal that everyone would love to achieve.

Supposedly all of this impacts each generation’s approach to fashion. My sense is that because the Baby Boomer generation is the most populous and prosperous of the four generations, designers and retailers appeal most to their likes and tastes. They expect everyone else to be influenced by the same designs and assortments.

Burberry was a very staid brand that quite successfully reinvented itself. Its appeal transcends the generational divide because the items that made the brand famous still exist, and evolved to become contemporary. Salvatore Ferragamo has successfully done the same thing. And my personal favorite, Hermes, has never been out of vogue, for those who can foot the bill.

While this entire generational natter was interesting and relatable, it felt one dimensional, like one onionskin of a very complex subject.

Would you like to be pared down and seen in such simplistic terms?

As an experiment, I asked a couple of questions to gauge the reaction from the group of Baby Boomer participants. The response was negative, sharp, and cutting. They said they did not want to be stereotyped. And it was right then and there I knew that seeing people on the basis of their generation would not become a part of my practice.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its merits, but it’s not part of how I relate with people.

As a gay man who has faced discrimination, and still experiences it to a lesser degree today, I know what it feels like to be looked at for just one characteristic. And I know from experience what a wonderful experience it is to be seen and honored as a whole person! The difference between the treatments is like night and day.

When others recognize you for your whole self, they are tapping into what I know to be your personal brand. Your brand is influenced by the sum of your experiences, and that includes your generational component. But to crack the code to your brand, it takes so much more. The talents and strengths that colleagues and clients celebrate about you, those fun quirks that bring smiles to your friends’ faces, and heartfelt qualities that those closest to you cherish, all help to define your brand.

I’m not convinced that seeing people through a generational lens provides clarity. But when I see your personal brand, I’m not seeing you as a category. I’m seeing you, the real you, the one and only you.

Have you been helped or hindered by others’ profiling and defining you by your generation?

Joseph Rosenfeld helps high-profile individuals revitalize, manage, and be secure in their personal visual brand. Visit JosephRosenfeld.com for details.