Answering my own questions since 2001

The Power of the Suit

Now, hey you Mister! can’t you read
You got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat

For a lot of men, a suit is a uniform. For me, it’s a costume. A uniform reinforces who you are; a costume makes you something you’re not. When I wear a suit for business, I’m a more gregarious, authoritative and serious version of myself. I’m Darren Barefoot, Suited Corporate Thinker.

Maybe because it’s a costume, I find wearing a suit a little transformative. The world responds to me differently. The suit is symbolic all things official and orderly, and so people tend to treat me accordingly. I get better service.

Maybe it’s because I have a BFA in Theatre instead of an MBA in Something Impressive, but my costume makes me act differently, too. In fact, it just makes me act a bit. I’m more inclined to request a particular table at a restaurant. I tip better. I feel…cavalier.

And yet, I also feel conflicted in a suit. All of a sudden, I am The Man–tall, broad-shouldered, tie-wearing, glass-wearing, Caucasian–I am The Man from NASA.
And I’m not sure I like me. In fact, I’d probably make fun of me, if I wasn’t, you know, me.

I’m rambling here, but I guess my point is a truism: the clothes do, to some degree, make the man.

On the stage, a relatively small costume change–a different hat or length of skirt–can have a significant impact on how the audience responds to a character.
This applies in real life, too. Women have known this since the first Cro-Magnon seamstress stitched together two saber tooth tiger hides. Men should catch up,
and be more aware of the impact of our clothing.

5 Responses to “The Power of the Suit”

  1. James

    I think it makes perfect sense that when you wear a suit you act differently. I know I do. Thankfully I only wear a suit now when I go to weddings or fancy dinner parties, which are both fun occasions and make me feel like I’m playing at being grown up.

    The origin of the business suit is in the military, where conformity is the norm. So I think it should be no surprise that in your suit you try to conform to the norms of what men in suits do – exercise their influence, power and wealth. In the suit, the world is designed for you.

    The other good indicator of the power of dress on behaviour is school dress codes. They exist to control the kids. A friend of mine jokes that even in offices men dress so similarly, he can spot the ‘blueniform’ a mile off.

  2. Arwen

    Unfortunately for me, I missed the dressing well gene passed out to other women. Fortunately for me, coders are expected to be somewhat slovenly…

  3. Heron

    I have several suit-coats. As a woman, I have a bit more leeway in business clothing, but the coat is the key to pulling whatever I wear into the realm of “serious business wear” To me, they are less a costume than a tool.

    When I absolutely want to be taken seriously, I pull out the suits. For instance, when I want to do large business transactions at the bank, the suit never fails to garner me scads more respect and smooth sailing than the normal “jeans and teeshirt” of my daily wardrobe. If I have any dealings with government, courts or beaureaucrats of any stripe, the suit must be worn. In a way, it’s sort of like wearing a big sign that says that this person means business (no pun intended) and to pay attention. Of course I’m a short woman, so perhaps I notice the change more dramatically than a man would. I do notice a huge difference in the way that people interact with me, and I tend to exploit it for my own ends.

  4. Lois Reimer

    Darren — I didn’t realize it was the suit. In any case, the performance was worthy of an oscar.

  5. Inn3rflow

    Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the realization you are describing is the degree of superficiality so willingly accepted by modern society. If you want to reach someone’s wallet, go ahead, and wear the suit. To reach their soul – stop shaving.

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