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Tuesday, January 28. 2014
Do the clothes make the man (or woman)? Of course not, but they do make a statement and they do make a difference.
When I used to be a slob and tended to dress down, a friend told me to check out this only-slightly outdated text: John T. Molloy's New Dress for Success.
There is also one for women: How to Dress for Success.
It's better to have three good suits or three good work dresses than to have closets full of mediocre stuff. If you have business or professional ambitions, look the part. I own only three good, conservative suits, but plenty of Brooks Brothers ties and shirts for variation. Forgot, also a summer suit. I have three sports jackets for "informal Fridays" and for church, etc. A blazer and two tweeds.
I have just three pairs of expensive dress shoes for work; brown, cordovan, and black. They ought to be good for 20-30 years at least. Somebody once told me that people always check out your footwear, and it is true. I never do that, but other people do.
If you look professional, chances are that you will be treated that way. It sounds shallow, but the way a person presents himself in public, comports himself, grooms himself, speaks, his posture, all makes a huge difference in a world in which people only have time for quick takes and generally are not very interested in you because they know enough people already. After all, how you look is your decision about how you have chosen to present yourself to others. If you look like a schlub, people will assume that that is what you are or what you aspire to. If you look too natty, or whorish, conclusions will also be drawn.
We identify ourselves, introduce ourselves, before we open our mouths. Do I appraise people on their appearance? Of course I do. Everybody does. It's termed "signaling." It's not always accurate for sure, but it's a rule of thumb for people with little time.
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When I was being a rebellious non conformist by growing my hair out like everybody else back in the 70s, I was once expressing my outrage at being judged by employers for my hair and dress.
"Length of my hair has no bearing on who I am, it shouldn't make any difference how long it is!"
My grandfather listened for a bit then looked over his newspaper and said, "If it don't make any difference, then why don't you just get it cut?"
Fucking logic sucks.
it's not logic. If my skills aren't influenced by how I look, why should I be forced to look differently from how I feel most comfortable, ergo most likely to be able to make full use of those skills?
If I'm forced by some dress code to wear narrow, pointy, shoes that hurt my feet (and yes, those exist, especially for women where more than a few corporate dress codes require 6" heels for example) I'm more focused on the pain in my feet than on the work I'm supposed to be doing.
If I'm required to wear a suit and tie, which are highly uncomfortable unless you have several thousands of dollars to spend per suit on getting them tailor made, I'm not going to be fully productive either.
If you force me to wear a fleece sweater with your company logo and then turn the heating in the office up to 100+F, I'm sweating like a pig, so you'd best not then reprimand me for "not smelling clean" (and yes, I've had that happen).
I may prefer to wear clothes that look slouchy, but they will be clean, well mended, and match together, not have bright colours or offensive or commercial messages printed on them.
So what's wrong with someone who's never to see a customer face to face wearing jeans, a T shirt, and some sandals if that allows him to work in comfort?
Or have hair that's not a uniform crew cut.
Mind I'm not talking about a sales rep for a high profile company, but an engineer slaving away in some corner whose only contact with the outside world is planned well in advance and who's professional enough to dress the part if it does happen.
There is also the infamous UBS dress code:
In my very first full-time job I got criticized for personal appearance on the annual performance evaluation, but neither my supervisor nor anyone from HR was willing to tell me what I was doing wrong.
As an engineer/geek, the next step was research. A trip to the public library elicited several books that could be distilled to some simple rules in selecting and caring for clothing for someone of my shape and coloring. One critical step was buying a secondhand copy of
Color for Men so that I could tear-out the page of appropriate color samples for me and carry them in my wallet for reference when shopping.
Recently a colleague saw me outside of work when I was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. and she commented that she had only ever seen me in a business suit -- which is a little odd, as I have never worn a suit or tie during business hours in the nearly three years I've worked at this place. It must be that she mentally files my clothing as "professional", even though I think of it as "smart-casual".
Many will complain about "dress codes" being restrictive, and others should have no right to tell you how to dress. But from my perspective, having an authority (some book author) give me instructions so that I don't have to waste time thinking about it has been a big help, because I don't really care about fashion.
"Many will complain about "dress codes" being restrictive, and others should have no right to tell you how to dress. But from my perspective, having an authority (some book author) give me instructions so that I don't have to waste time thinking about it has been a big help, because I don't really care about fashion."
yes and no. Many 'dress codes' are utterly irrational, and violated by those charged with enforcing them.
Like one company I worked, that on one wednessday announced that starting the next day every man was to wear a suit, tie, and jacket, dark blue or black, tie monotone dark coloured, shirt white or light blue, dark blue or black knee length cotton or wool socks, and dark blue or black glossy leather shoes with heels no more than 1cm high.
For women the only rule was "no bare shoulders, and skirts or trousers no shorter than halfway up the thighs".
Nobody in the office had any physical contact with customers or business relations.
A full third of the staff spent half their work hours on their knees or belly on the floor in the server farm keeping the 200+ computers there alive.
And to add insult to injury (quite apart from the impossibility of everyone getting hold of the required clothing between end of business hours one day and start the next, and the clear discrimination based on sex, and the utter nonsense of enforcing that on people whose job would wear out a suit a week, and the fact that the cost of those clothes was for many of us impossible to bear on our income) the announcement was made by the CEO, wearing jeans, sandals, and a knitted woolen sweater.
It's termed "signaling."
True enough. When we needed to know how things actually worked, we ignored the guys in suits and looked for the guys in tee shirts and jeans. It's a helpful habit, like throwing spec sheets on glossy paper into the waste bin.
yup. Remember one acquaintance who was purchase manager for an ISP.
Bit of a hippie type from her looks, but highly skilled and great work ethics.
First thing she did (office overlooking the car park...) when a sales person was to come pitch something is check what car they're driving.
If an obviously very expensive one, strike one against the pricing policy of the company.
Strike two if they came in wearing custom made very expensive suits and/or deodorant.
Strike 3 if they then give a glossy presentation the production of which has obviously cost more than the product is worth.
Good thing (satire) the AF just decided that religious exclusions (not impacting the mission) allow facial hair, head coverings, and tattoos. And colorful phone cases...as long as they're not seen while you're "in uniform." I used to think if we could all be 5' 11", 170 pounds of muscle, and sandy haired the AF would have been much happier. Not so much any more. The military is rapidly becoming a social club with benefits.
Ah, but if you've the resources to not need the good opinion of another, then being under-estimated can be a lot of fun.
I had a great-aunt who often looked very much like a bag lady. She bought a new car every couple years. She'd go in to the dealership, the salesmen would ignore her. She finally make a scene, they'd scramble. She'd demand they take off the commission since they didn't actually earn it. Then peel off a roll of bills to pay.
The key, as with many things, is to master it so that you control the feature instead of it defining you. Then use it for your benefit. The bigotry of others is fun to play with. Assuming they are bigoted over a discretionary trait.
JKB, I love your great aunt. I learned early on to dress for the occasion, and by that I mean sometimes I over-dress or under-dress according to my objective. My style is that which helps me to "signal" what I want to project. Dishonest? I don't know but it seems to work for me.
I consider suits to be almost obsolete; used only for special roles or occasions. I compare them to togas. I have a brown suit for weddings and a grey suit for funerals. Both of them work for what I call board room camouflage, which I have to sit in on monthly to run the IT equipment. They can also pass for most any semi-formal affair.
It may not work in New England, but in OK I don't need dress shoes because I wear cowboy boots everyday that look very nice with suits. They're expensive, but if you invest in several pairs, clean and polish them regularly, they will last a long time.