In February, the Wall Street Journal posted an article entitled, “Why Dressing for Success Leads to Success” by Ray Smith.
I spent my entire corporate career (23 years with Marriott) in suits. During those years I worked in the corporate accounting department and later in various hotels where suits were expected and in one hotel even white shirts mandated. Now as a business owner in the 21st century I have a different view. Personally I could care less about being “suited up” and in fact have little desire to dress as such except when an occasional protocol calls for it.
The article subtitle is “Wearing more formal attire can send others a signal that you are confident and successful.” Could it also send the signal that you are overdressed? A friend and former salesperson for a trucking firm insisted on wearing suits every day being motivated by the same mantra. Does dressing like a banker sell more trucking services when the customers are blue collar or at least casual in the workplace? Also, doesn’t this risk alienating the rest of the internal staff who dress casual at work? How genuine is it to dress out of your perceived league? I learned this lesson early on during my business startup days (yes it does take time to transition out of the corporate mindset) when I showed up for sales calls in a suit and sensed the resentment (some even spoken) from decision-makers for out dressing them.
The article goes on the claim that studies show increased worker productivity for associates, really? That may be true for bankers, accountants, Wall Street brokers and insurance people but the rest of us on the ground do better in casual and thus more comfortable garb.
Okay, I can buy the article’s argument when engaging in “high stakes” negotiations. This works when we are face-to-face with politicians and the Fortune 1000. Yet let’s remember that there are very few politicians and only 1,000 of the behemoths compared to the multi-millions of small to mid-sized businesses where the real business traction resides in America.
The WSJ article included what I would consider a laughable study whereby a comparison was made between three groups: one in business suits, one in sweatpants, white T-shirts and plastic sandals and a third group in “neutrals” (whatever that means). Obviously the “suits” came out ahead in the study. But what about the “jacket and jeans” types (as I believe a vast amount of business owners today wear, myself included)? Couldn’t they go head to head with the suits? Is Kevin O’Leary (aka “Mr. Wonderful”) on shark Tank more influential in his negotiations than Marc Cuban?
Another point is the amount of average profit the “suits” make vs. the casual ($2.1 Million vs. $680K). I would suggest this is a comparison of high stakes vs. good profit in small to mid-sized. Do suits put your company into the high stakes game or does the high stakes game put you in a suit? Good luck studying that one! Also, consider “Small Giant” companies that focus as much on culture for a great company with good life for the workers along with profits. Profits are not necessarily the best metric.
Another point (mis)taken, that a study showed higher levels of abstract thinking when they dress up, compared to the laid-back. Are the best artists in suits? Really? Could have fooled me. Was Steve Jobs or Bill Gates in a suit when they came up with the Apple and Microsoft ideas? How often is Richard Branson in a suit? Does Richard put one on to get another new business-launch idea?
I can applaud Mr. Smith’s attempt to turn back the clock. I am just not buying!
READ MORE: If you like this article, you will want to read “Surprises We Can Do Without”
Jim Mullaney is President and CEO of Edoc Service, Inc. a “Fast 55” virtual company based in Cincinnati, Ohio.