Growing up I was always told to present myself well at all times. When I say at all times I mean “all times”. What this meant for us growing up is you can’t just walk out the house wearing whatever you want on the basis that you are JUST going to the grocery store. This meant that you didn’t wear duwrags out the house. You put your best foot forward at all times.
The funny thing about all of this is that I pushed back against this as soon as I was able to. My first year in college I rebelled against all the things I was taught. I would wear pajamas to my early college classes. I would wear taz house shoes to class. I would wear duwrags to events and to class with tall tees. I dressed like a stereotype, everything that I was not allowed to do growing up.
In doing this I realized that the reaction I got from people wasn’t a reaction that I cared for. People were afraid of me. People would watch me in stores. I looked like a thug and I was treated like a thug by everyone I came in contact with, even black grad advisers and grad chapter members in the fraternity.
This experience in year one of college pushed me to start caring about how I dressed and presented myself for myself. Not because my parents required it. While they were right, I had to experience the reactions for myself to appreciate the lessons they were teaching me.
At that point in life I started taking my attire very seriously. I became obsessed with GQ and all things fly. I read the Fonzworth Book and I just started trying to not show up but stand out. I wanted to look like money (I was a finance major), not like a rapper or the hoodlums on the street. I wanted to look like I owned the building not that I was looking for a job in the building.
At that point in my life I started drifting toward preppy and timeliness attire. I went to the store and bought a bunch of Ralph Lauren polo shirts (some that I still own ten years later), I bought a few pair of Seven for All Mankind jeans, I cut out the sneakers and started wearing boat shoes and loafers. I started dressing well for myself and the reactions from those around me were great. People on campus saw that I was about something so they looked out for me and made things happen on my behalf. The only thing that changed was the clothes I was wearing which then changed how people treated me and also changed how I thought.
As I got through college and into the professional work space I was then challenged again at Edward Jones. EJ has a policy of dark suits, and no facial hair. This was weird for me as I was used to wearing a goatee or a chinstrap beard as the last few things I held on to in my cool guy phase. I adopted both, not by choice, but these are things I still carry on to this day.
These days I work in a casual office. They don’t wear suits or ties and they embrace a casual Friday. This is uncomfortable for a lot of reasons.
Wearing a suit elevates you
It elevates your standing in society and it elevates your mentality. People talk to you different when you are in a suit. You go from Charles to Mr. Oglesby. Your thoughts go from worker to owner. I like this.
Wearing suits opens doors
Another thing that happens when you wear suits is that opportunities come to you. When you wear a suit people wonder what you do, they are interested in what you do.
Wearing suits destroys stereotypes and bias
One thing I dislike about Orange County is that it is very judgmental. People look at you and make an assumption about you based on things outside of your control. What I like to do is take my power back. I do that by dressing well, speaking well and being polite. This flips their thinking on its head. You have to do what you have to do to get what you want. For me, a piece of this is suits.
This is why I will require all my staff to wear suits. This is why I will require my children as they grow up to wear collared shirts. Appearance matters. Appearance impacts how you think about yourself. Appearance determines the opportunities that come your way. I choose the suit life even if those in my office aren’t about that suit life. I dress for where I am going not for where I am. Don’t let your environment dictate how you carry yourself.
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