The Hoodie Test

I was raised in a family that didn’t have a ton of money. We made ends meet, but I was never the girl who had the expensive coats or the nice shoes. It took me years to understand that the girls in third grade who were in the popular cliques had clothes from the expensive store at the mall. Those clothes, along with their ever circulating group of protective moms, somehow made them “ok”. I sat on the outside, looking in. I will never forget the day that one of those girls told me that I couldn’t be her friend, but that God would give me friends someday. She was right. I have an amazing group of friends who are nothing like her. They are beautiful women. They picked me to be their friend. They believed that I was intelligent, with amazing things to offer the world. They knew when it was hard. They helped me when people who should have shown up just didn’t. That conversation with that girl was the fuel for what became “The Hoodie Test”.

As an adult, I was introduced to wearing nice clothes, makeup, jewelry, and handbags. I finally learned how to tie a scarf. I bought my first pair of boots. My business was successful, and it was definitely time to step up my game. Looking beautiful was hard work. Some people came by these skills naturally. Not me. Grouping outfits, putting on eyeshadow, applying eyeliner, picking out lipstick, and mastering the art of the boot was exhausting. Eventually, I realized that I also enjoyed people who were beautiful on the inside and wondered how I would identify them. It’s hard to find someone who treats people with actual kindness. Most people will only treasure others when they look good and are considered “worth something”. Eventually, after loosing too many fair weather friends, I developed what I called “The Hoodie Test”.

Rather than always dress as expected, I started wearing hoodies unexpectedly. Did I have more credibility? What if I had makeup on? Did the people around me behave any differently because I dressed down? Did I have more or less credibility?

This experiment was most interesting in places where people wanted to sell me something or get to know me for the purpose of leveraging a financial or relational benefit – like stores or in networking environments.

Why does something like a Hoodie Test matter? It matters because it gets at your heart. Do you only care about what someone is wearing and their makeup? Or do you actually care about who they are? I was checking the character of the people around me by intentionally not meeting their preferred standard of appearance. Does this person like me? Or do they like expensive clothes and purses?

Believe me, I knew how to dress. My closet was full of things that I was able to wear and didn’t. Judging someone for their appearance instead of the depth of their character and their contribution to society was wrong. I walked into every meeting well researched. I was prepared to have a successful meting. Sometimes, things went well. People surprised me. Often though, they didn’t. I found it ironic and disappointing that usually, people left knowing less about me than I did about them.

How people look when they are with you doesn’t also determine their value. Slow down. Who are you… really? Do you love the outfit? Do you love the person? Or do you love what the person can do for you? Why are you at this meeting?

Consider the answer to the questions in the preceding paragraph carefully. If you value appearance more than the person, that is reflected in the things that you do. I don’t care what you look like, what you’ve done, what you wear, what you eat, what you don’t eat, how you exercise, or what you weigh. I care how you behave towards all of the people around you and what that says about the state of your heart. Those things reflect your real character.

Don’t fail the hoodie test.

Jenn is the Founder and CEO of Cotton Babies. She holds an Executive MBA from Washington University. She was awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Emerging Category for the Central Midwest Region in 2011. Among many other awards, she recently received a 2017 YWCA Leader of Distinction Award for Entrepreneurship. Jenn holds many patents on various inventions in a number of different countries and is listed as one of 50 Missourians You Should Know. She is particularly fascinated by languages, chickens, and children (she has four) when she’s not reading economics journals. Jenn offers mentorship to product developers at any stage in the journey from idea to shelf.