Now, it’s not like I don’t have a suit and tie. It’s not that I can’t wrangle up a Full Winsor knot, or that I look awful in formal wear. (At least I don’t think so…but that’s ultimately in the eye of the beholder, I guess!).
I spent four years in an east coast prep school. On numerous occasions each month, while in the military, I donned my dress uniforms, which honestly I preferred to the prison-esque blue dungarees many of my shipmates chose to wear. And after leaving the Navy, I spent more than a decade schlepping around Fortune 500 corporate functions in formal business attire. I know the look. I’m used to the look.
But here’s the thing…I don’t really LIKE the look. More to the point, I find even a sport coat and tie a bit restricting and overly “proper.” I guess what I’m saying is this…I simply don’t think that look properly represents who I am.
So, who am I then? Well, from a fashion standpoint, on most days, I don the old torn jeans and a pullover fleece. On more “businessy” days or for a full-blown networking reception, you might find me throwing on some khakis and (at most) a suede blazer. You see, I do understand the difference between being totally casual and “professional.” But whereas I once was the proud owner of dozens of ties, I now probably have only about four. I simply don’t wear them.
Yes, if I’m going to coach a client in an overly formal business environment, I’ll dress up. But most often, I remain fairly casual, if a bit preppy in my attire. I’d say my fashion matches well with the type of clientele I tend to attract and with whom I tend to coach. These tend toward the small start-up types, with their informal cultures and their young, entrepreneurial leaders. They get me. I get them.
Now, I should mention (in all fairness) that with neither of the portrait requests (when I asked for clarification) was I required to overly dress up. But it got me thinking about how our own formality in appearance can really affect who and with whom we eventually work.
I recall, during my second year with American Family Insurance (a Fortune 400 corporation), undertaking my own social psychology experiment (yes, I’m a slight geek!). For two days, three times I day I walked from one end of the headquarters complex to the other wearing my normal business casual attire. Along the way, I counted the number of employees I did not personally know who said “Hi” to me along my route. On Days 3 & 4, I made the same journey at the same intervals of the day, but this time I wore a sport coat. The results? Nearly three times as many people said “Hi” when I was wearing the sport coat.
Scientific? Probably not…likely wouldn’t even qualify as quasi-experimental. But even anecdotally, there WAS a difference.
In any case, what’s interesting was the visceral reaction the requests of the past several weeks evoked in me. The “gut-check” really got me thinking….