David Wescott over at the public affairs blog, It’s Not a Lecture, had some interesting thoughts on my recent “How to Wear a Suit and Look Good” post. He posed a sort of social science question about dressing well: essentially, does it matter what you wear when no one is looking?
David has the enviable ability to work from home; however his professional wardrobe has settled at the level of shorts, tee shirts and a trusty Boston Red Sox cap. While the Sox cap is, of course, the perfect accessory for any outfit, I feel the perpetual college boy thing has a negative psychological impact. Call it the frat effect.
“Sure, I’ll don a suit when I’m out and about, but what more must I do?”
That way of thinking completely misses the point. While I tend to critique the more formal side of men’s clothing, a suit is by no means the only “dress up” thing in a man’s wardrobe. Too often, guys see dressing well as a chore, something to avoid, or something against which to fight. Maybe, as I said in the post, it’s a latent fear of dandyism. More often, it is a misguided sense of self righteousness; a feeling that you’re fighting conformity, not buying in – you know, being more real.
Of course, very often those folks are just arguing their own sense of conformity: “if you’re getting all dressed up than you’re just a suit, a drone.” Get over it.
There is a world of style and personality between flip flops and a three piece suit. Just to be clear, I am not talking about when you roll out of bed and make that long trek down the hall to check the e-mail. Wear a thong for all I care, but when you step out of the house or log onto a video conference I believe you enter a sort of social contract. What you have on now matters. Once you start interacting with other people you ought to show them the same level social and sartorial respect you yourself would expect in return. You should make an effort to dress well because you want to.
Always be comfortable and true to yourself, in your own skin or in you own clothing. But whether you like it or not, people judge you by how you dress, how you carry yourself and treat others, your social skills, how you speak, etc. Within eight seconds their mind is made about what kind of person you are and it can take years to alter that perception. How you react to this universal truth is your choice.
If you want to (or have to) wear a suit every day than take the time to learn what makes a great suit great and what cut and fit works on you. If you wear business casual all the time, make the effort to expand your wardrobe. Instead of polos and khakis five days a week, buy some nice tailored pants and dressier shirts. Pick up some sport coats and have them properly tailored. You now have a more flexible and professional wardrobe.
If you work from home like David and have client or co-worker meetings less often, than keep abreast of general style trends. Update your wardrobe selectively and make sure to have someone else give you an honest assessment about color, fit and style. Pay attention to how you look when others aren’t around so that when they are, you always present your best face.
What do you think? Tell me your thoughts on this discussion or stories on dressing for the real world.