Clothes Matter

Q. Yesterday I attended a meeting and ran into a man whom I was thinking of inviting to a party I am having. I had only met him once before and something about him intrigued me. He is about 60, has written a good book, and I was curious to know him better. However, he showed up wearing a black French beret, a black-and-white striped T-shirt (something like a pirate), narrow black leather trousers (minus a whip?), and reddish high ankle shoes. Call me a snob, but I decided not to invite him to my house.

A.The reader who sent this email, used the subject line: “Clothes matter.” Of course, I could not agree more. As I wrote in last week’s column: If you are a celebrity, you may get away with wearing something that appears so contrived. But, if you are a more typical human being, such behavior arouses the suspicion that you think of yourself as a celebrity . . . and are mistaken. It suggests an inflated ego, and, thus, does not reflect well upon you or your judgement.

As one who writes about men’s style, I certainly do not think everyone should dress in a cookie-cutter manner, following strictly conservative guidelines. That would be a sorry state of affairs. Expressing your individual style (as I hope readers do) is something to be enjoyed. If you go even further and relish the role of “maverick,” then go ahead and wear something a bit offbeat. But keep in mind two important points:

  1. Limit your veerings to one or, at the most, two statement-making, unusual choices. More than that number suggests a costume. Save it for the right occasion. It may have been acceptable for Halloween, but not for the rest of the year.
  2. Others are going to make a personal judgement about you, based on what they see. At social occasions, as well as at work, what you wear could negatively change the way others look at you to the extent that you might lose their respect.


When I wrote my book, “Dress for Excellence,” I interviewed a number of top executives to gather their thoughts on the importance of being well dressed and how it influences the way others perceive us. Here are a few of their insightful and revealing comments.

  • George Ball, then CEO of Prudential Bache Securities: “Clothes do not make the man, but they are a way of stating his value codes. If you are dealing in a scarce commodity like money, appearances are a guide to the mind set – the values – of the person you are dealing with. Early in my days on Wall Street, we were considering doing business with a certain company. When we met with them, two or three of their senior executives were dressed in suits with large patterns; they had almost a garish appearance. The decision was made not to finance that company. It was in part their general image that resulted in the ‘no-go’ decision.”
  • G. Chris Andersen, founder of G.C. Andersen Partners Capital and referred to by The New York Times as “one of the five most creative investment bankers on Wall Street”: “I did some theater work in college and discovered how crucial to a role it is to be in correct costume . . . When I get up each morning, I review my calendar and see what role I’ll be playing. I make sure that my costume is appropriate for that role.”
  • Pericles S. Panagopoulos, owner of Royal Cruise Line: “No matter what they say, people attach tremendous importance to how a person looks. A clean, sober, and fashionable – without being exaggerated – appearance attracts attention and disposes people to see us in a positive way.” .
  • Daniel Berg, former President of RPI: “Everything a person decides upon and uses says something about that person. The car he drives, the movies he goes to, the music he listens to, and the newspapers he reads – all tell you something. Clothes tell you immediately, of course, because one sees them right away.”

It may not seem fair, but it is human nature to base our opinions of others on what we see. After all, unless they have a resume, and even then, it is our first view of them. Since what others see of us is in our control, why not use that opportunity to project the very best possible image of ourselves?

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