shoes, status signals and property rights

What Do Your Shoes Say About You?

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Sep 4, 2012    •    TIME TO READ: 1 minute

During a panel discussion, my students were told by a business woman not to wear sandals or even open-toed shoes for a job interview. But, does a shoe really send that much of message?

Focusing on the accuracy of the first impression a shoe creates, a University of Kansas study gave some answers. Called an appearance cue, a shoe might convey information about income, gender, age and agreeableness. It could reflect a personality that is agreeable, extroverted, and avoids close relationships. Researchers even thought that the shoes you wear might indicate your political preference.

So, they designed an experiment to test whether the self-described characteristics of shoe owners would be conveyed to people looking at digital images of their shoes. Seeing a colorful, pointy shoe, for example, would you assume that the person was an extrovert? A female? Are people with shoes in good condition worried about what others think and those who display brands more affluent?

Their results confirmed only a few of their hypotheses. Yes, with reasonable accuracy a first impression based on shoes will determine gender, age, income, agreeableness and even attachment anxiety. However, shoes will not reliably convey a first impression about most of your personality traits nor your political affiliation.

Still though, for a job interview, shoes do matter.

To read an overview describing the shoe study, I suggest this Bloomberg article while the original academic paper can be accesssed here. Trying to reconcile some of my skepticism about the study, I then looked at and recommend this paper about luxury goods, conspicuous consumption, and first impressions. Referring to Thorstein Veblen and categorizing people as patricians, parvenues, poseurs and plebs, they explained that a first impression depends on the target audience for your “status signal.” And, by understanding the kinds of status signals people send, luxury brands can increase sales.

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