The Value of Personal Appearance

One of the greatest challenges of living a lifestyle of financial freedom is determining the exact value of personal appearance. How does one balance a desire for less expensive clothing and personal care items with the expectations of the culture that enables their income and personal lives?

On the one hand, many people who overspend are focused heavily on their appearance to others, often buying clothing and technology items in order to boost their appearance of affluence to others. Thus, the natural tendency for people trying to manage their spending is to drastically cut these costs, as expensive clothing can easily be functionally replaced by less expensive clothing or by reusing clothing more often.

On the other hand, a polished personal appearance is often vital to a person’s public persona, to their workplace situation, and also to their self-image. Many people cringe at the thought of not wearing designer clothes or having to wear outfits many times. Plus, a well-dressed appearance pays other financial benefits as well by creating a more positive general impression of yourself in the community. Others will have a higher opinion of you and you’ll subtly find yourself in better situations.

For me personally, this was a tricky balance, but it was one that I managed to figure out over time. The key was to make sure that I leveraged every inexpensive trick that I had, while also maximizing the utility of the expensive items. Here are seven tips on how to maximize the value of your personal appearance while trimming some fat and not hammering the credit cards as hard as you once did.

Take special care in cleaning yourself. I don’t mean buy expensive shampoos or such things; I simply mean take a few extra minutes to cleanse yourself thoroughly each morning. Take a thorough shower and clean yourself as much as you can. Use underarm deodorant as well. Cleaning yourself properly is the most valuable aspect of your personal appearance and it is also the least expensive, as there’s really no need for expensive shampoos or soaps in most cases.

Practice strong oral hygiene and use a strong mouthwash. Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day; your breath is a key part of your appearance and “cover up” items such as Tic-Tacs often only work for a short while. It’s much better for your appearance to make sure your mouth is truly clean. For mouthwash, I recommend Listerine, but many people are hesitant to use it because of the extremely strong burning sensation it provides in the mouth. I also floss once a day, but this mostly serves to reduce dental bills.

Use a fragrance that smells good to you every day. For my own use, I have a small collection that I freely alternate between on a daily basis; I like every one of them that I use in this rotation. Among these are Eternity, Emporio Armani, Dreamer, Dolce and Gabbana, Acqua di Gio, and Platinum Egoiste. Don’t apply them by spraying, just spray a bit on your hand and rub behind your ears and the sides of your neck with your moistened hand; this creates just the right level of fragrance for both men and women and it also prevents you from wasting it, meaning you’ll have many more applications per bottle. I consider fragrances to be a worthwhile gift for a significant other; it gives my wife something to splurge on for me on occasion. Plus, it is a reasonably personal gift that you might receive from a close family member, such as your mother or your sister if you are particularly close. If you are single, a small array of fragrances is a better investment in your appearance than one extra expensive set of clothing – I’ll explain why in a bit. Also, don’t skimp here; you’re better off not wearing any fragrance at all in most situations than wearing Aqua Velva.

Buy only clothes that go well with the majority of other clothes in your wardrobe. I own only ten dress shirts and eight business casual pants and I work in an environment where business casual is a strongly expected mode of dress, yet I manage to regularly elicit comments on how well dressed I am. In the past, I used to shell out ridiculous amounts of money for complete outfits that really only went well with each other, which meant that I would own a closet full of clothes but I really only had fifteen or so options for dress. I’ve moved away from that and drastically decreased my clothes budget. Here’s the key: buy only clothes that go well with other items. This means buy high quality, but stick to the basics. My shirts are a wide variety of subdued solid dark colors, all of which go well with black or navy trousers. Even better, I was able to pick out several of these items in a very high quality at a consignment shop.

Clean and press your own clothes instead of buying new ones or taking clothes to the cleaners. Tending to clothing is an invaluable skill to learn, particularly if you’re travelling. Spend some time to really learn how to use an iron to press your own clothes; spend a few hours learning how to do this on a lazy weekend day by using this tutorial (which is for men’s clothing, but the basic principles apply to women’s garments as well). You’ll save a lot of money, be confident that you have clothes that are wrinkle-free and present you in the best possible way, and also be able to travel with confidence.

Create a different presentation every day. By presentation, I don’t merely mean visual; I mean that you should liven things up using the other sense you can affect, the sense of smell. The key to not making yourself seem repetitive is to bounce around through the clothing colors; I never wear the same colored shirt twice in a row; though I may have three red shirts, they never follow another red shirt. But that’s not what completes your appearance; make sure that if you’re even close to a clothes presentation you assembled earlier in the week, you are using a different fragrance than before. I make sure to never repeat a fragrance during a given week.

Greet everyone you meet. This seems strange at first, but close your eyes and imagine the way you remember people who seem friendly to you versus the people who do not. In almost every case (unless there is a weird jealousy/hero worship aspect going on), you’ll imagine the genuinely friendly people in a positive light, making them appear better than they really are, and imagine those who antagonise you in a negative light, making them appear worse than they are. You can help capitalize on this subtle mind shift by making an effort to be friendly to everyone around you. Make it a point to talk in a friendly way to everyone you are near on a daily basis, even if you don’t like them.

Each of these tips enable you to maintain a strong personal appearance while also minimizing the impact on your pocketbook; while everyone else is buying clothes by the ton and gossiping in the office, you can maintain a smile on your face and cash in your wallet.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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