Some time ago I was of the opinion that the professionalism of the management at the company I was then working for was in question. This was reflected not only by their actions but also in their daily dress attire, which was extremely varied and casual. As you can imagine, there were few avenues for me to express this opinion openly so I began an experiment of my own. I began dressing up for work. Not suits mind you, but nice dress slacks and shirts with a tie. Sometimes I would toss on a sports jacket as well.
The reaction to my change of dress was interesting to say the least. My coworkers reactions ranged from pleasant smiles and jokes about my “job hunting” to open suspicion and seeming distrust. The most interesting moments of the experiment were in mixed situations with a third party present. There were several meetings where outside suppliers continually deferred to me, even tho there were more senior people from my company in the room. Then there was the lunch with my boss where the waitress gave me priority service and brought me the check. My boss definitely noticed this and even made some comment about it to which my reply was, “You dress for where you want to be, not for where you’re at.” In each of these situations people decided that I must be the senior person based strictly upon my attire.
The above experience came to mind after reading a post by Seth Godin, “My Seersucker Suit“:
It totally transformed the way people treated me. Doormen, people on the subway… in an increasingly casual age, I was sort of stunned by how easily a $99 suit changed the reaction people had.
When everyone (men, anyway) wore the same thing, it was pretty difficult to make an impact with your clothes. Today, it’s a conscious choice and it matters whether you want it to or not.
I would disagree with Seth that it ever didn’t make an impact. Perhaps it wasn’t “cool” to notice for a while, but I think it still made an impact. So, keep in mind that you may not be aware of it, or even want it, but those first impressions are still being made and it’s mighty hard to overcome a bad first impression.