Yes, Clothes Make the Man

January 03, 2011

Posted in Personal.

A few months ago at a conference, I found myself one of just a few who were wearing a tie and I stood out. At a another conference, I found I was one of the few who wasn’t wearing a suit and I stood out again. Guess which one I preferred?


Nick Denardis started a brief discussion last month when he found himself in a similar situation: “Think I’m the only one at #casev rockin jeans.”

Does it matter how you dress? Should it? A few assumptions to frame the debate:

  • First impressions matter.
  • Your appearance contributes to your first impression.
  • Reputation should be built on your work, not your wardrobe.

I contend that how you dress affects how people perceive you. The easy responses are that plenty of successful people don’t wear suits or ties, that Steve Jobs wears jeans, and that creative people aren’t expected to dress up. I’m here to say that that’s a load of crap:

Do you have to dress up to be successful? Of course not. But why put yourself at a disadvantage? You aren’t Steve Jobs. His reputation precedes him. Does your reputation really precede you?

A good rule of thumb is that you should dress like the people you’re meeting with. If that’s not a reliable predictor, then dress to the level you want to be at.

Finally, I often work by this logic: I work best when I feel good. I feel good when I look good, so I dress to look good. It might be subtle or subconscious, but I believe that sometimes the way I look affects how I work. It also varies on the work I need to do, such as meeting or presenting vs. writing reports or other independent work (you don’t find me wearing a suit when I’m working at home on the couch).

What’s your take? Do clothes matter?


  1. Nick DeNardis — January 04, 2011

    Clothes do matter but they can be deceiving. I have met plenty of well dressed people who were just blowing smoke. I guess I am just skeptical; might be my age, might be my experience. When necessary I definitely dress to impress, but in situations when it’s time to get down into some work it’s what you can do. Just make sure you do your best and not just sit there looking like a under dressed nobody.

    Personally I work best, present best, and think best when I am comfortable, dressing up just doesn’t do it for me.

  2. Cynthia Maciejczyk — January 04, 2011

    Chas makes a viable point about perceptions—people definitely make value judgments based on the way you look (your general appearance and the way you dress). So I agree that people working in a professional environment (in general, anywhere but your home office) should consider their wardrobe and its effect on how they are perceived. This doesn’t necessarily mean a person needs to dress like a banker, but in what is considered acceptable in that particular atmosphere. And, of course, you should dress to LOOK AND FEEL GOOD, period. There is definitely something to that old saying “put your best foot forward.”

    First impressions, however, are formed by more than just the clothes you wear. First (and subsequent) impressions are formed by the way you carry yourself (do you have a confident posture or do you slouch around?), how well you are able to communicate with others in person (are you a good listener; do you look others in the eye when conversing?), and whether you have something to contribute (do you like to find solutions or argue with others simply to prove you are the smartest in the room?).

    Oh, and…do clothes make the woman? Or, just “the man”?

  3. chas — January 04, 2011

    @Nick – Good point. In the end, results beat the heck out of dress code.

    @Cynthia – In my experience, people often try to withhold judgment based on 5-second first impressions, and wait until you’ve actually said/done something.

  4. Cowboy Hats — January 18, 2011

    Great,It’s really nice post. Thanks a lot for sharing.