You Are What You Wear

Everybody knows you are what you eat. But did you know it’s also true that you are what you wear? The reality, though unfair, is that whether you believe this or not, there’s at least some truth in it.

When I first started my business a few years ago, I went out to Kohl’s and purchased several sets of nice slacks, some button-up collared shirts and some nice leather shoes. Whenever I went to meet clients, I made sure my shirt was ironed, my pants had no wrinkles, and I even tried to match colors. That’s who I was, and that’s how I ran my business. I was charging customers good money (I wasn’t the cheapest game in town), and I wanted customers to know that I was taking their time and their money seriously. I also knew that as a young professional, there could be a potential age bias working against me. I wanted to rise above any possible perception that I was just a young punk who didn’t know what he was doing. I wanted to assure people that I was in business and not just playing around. So I always dressed accordingly.

The funny thing is, I got feedback from some people who told me I was “unusually serious” for a guy my age. After hearing this a few times, I figured I could relax my style and embrace my youth a bit. I bought a bunch of very silly t-shirts, and would occasionally meet with customers while wearing a ballcap. Later, when I was offered a full-time job at a software company, I relaxed even more and became Mr. Ballcap, Tshirt and Converse All Stars.

When I went out on my own again after the software company downsized, I dressed back up into my normal business clothes and got on with life. And you know what I found? People started commenting on what I was wearing—and not in a way that I liked. Comments like “wow, going to court?” and “hey—you’re all dressed up today… what’s the occasion?” absolutely drove me nuts. Where had these people been before?

Even today, when I go to visit the software company from time to time, I still get mocking cat-calls and whistles from people who tease me about “dressing up.” If there’s a lesson to be learned, it must be something along the lines of “you are what you wear,” and people will treat you with the kind of professionalism and attention you project. If you wear blue jeans and a ballcap, you may get treated casually. If you dress up even the slightest bit more, people seem to notice and treat you with a little more respect and give you a little more time.

So in my case, I’m back to taking my appearance seriously. Although I still maintain that I will never wear a tie. That’s simply going too far.

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