What Are You Wearing?

Jim Luff
Posted on March 12, 2009
Perception and treatment of others based on attire
By Jim Luff
Recently my Mother-in-law spent six weeks in a local hospital. Various family members took turns remaining by her side. Depending on the time of day or day of the week, my attire would range from a business suit to shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops. I’ve never really thought about the effect clothing has on the way people treat you until I made some observations about how I was treated at the hospital based on what I was wearing.
It was an eye opening experience for sure. The observation comes on the heals of a discussion with a fellow operator who is new to the business. He asked me how many suits I owned, how often I dry cleaned them, and how important I thought it was to wear suits at work. Despite what I shared with him, he felt the need to cleanse his soul to fellow operators on an operator forum and state that he has no suits but plans to buy some. How important is it?
I must admit, I have in the past been amused that one coachbuilder dresses their entire sales crew in glorified bowling shirts at each industry show. They look like one big happy bowling team while their competitors across the aisle dress in business suits, classic white shirts crisply pressed with power ties, and polished shoes. Does it make a difference in how many people approach them, how many cars they will sell at the show, or the quality of their product? Probably not, but just maybe it might.
On the night my mother-in-law was admitted, I responded directly to the hospital from work. I met my father-in-law, brother-in-law, and wife at the hospital. I was greeted politely by the admitting clerk on my arrival and directed to my family. As the night wore on, I was offered food from a cafeteria worker passing by with a tray. This was a full meal with a sandwich, salad, cookie, and soda given to me free. The doctor who treated Mom addressed his comments to me assuming somehow that I was in charge of Mom.
The following day was Saturday and I arrived with jeans, a T-shirt, and tennis shoes. The admitting clerk snarled at me, “Can I help you”? I asked for Mom’s room number and was advised to take a seat and she would get back to me when she had a moment to look it up. When I was finally given the room number, I was promptly stopped at the nurses station demanding to know where I was going and who I was there to see. I was escorted to the room.
As this daily routine continued, I had the opportunity to again speak with the doctor regarding Mom’s care. In shorts and a T-shirt, I was given short, curt answers to my questions and in essence dismissed as a bother. Nurses seem to have the same attitude.
On the days that I arrived in a suit, I proceeded directly to Mom’s room, despite the fact she moved five times while she was there and no one ever questioned where I was going or who I was there to see. I was greeted with a pleasant “hello” by all hospital staff, probably assuming I was a doctor seeing one of my patients there. If I asked for a blanket or anything and I was in a suit, I was served well. When not in a suit, there was always a delay. Eventually they did figure out I was one and the same person and began treating me with respect each day. 
However, I realized the first impressions were made based on what I was wearing. I had one of Mom’s nurses ask me what I did for a living. She said that when she saw me in a suit everyday she figured I must have a very powerful and important job. Probably not so impressed when I told her I run a limousine company, but oh well.
Unfortunately, Mom didn’t make it. When we went to the funeral home to make arrangements, I took note that all the workers were wearing a suit. I appreciated it. It made me feel like I was dealing with true professionals that obviously cared about their own appearance so they would surely do their best with Mom’s appearance. The fact that they were dressed so nicely with polished shoes, perfectly manicured nails, and well-coiffed hair created my perception of them as being able to get the job done. It's funny how I thought that just because they were wearing suits, huh?

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Comments ( 1 )
  • Eli Darland

     | about 11 years ago

    Thanks, Jim. Although I wear most of the hats at our small company, I always wear a suit when performing executive level duties outside the home office. Successful executive wear suits when conducting business, period (with the exception of the LCT Leadership Summit in Miami, of course!). My successful father taught me this very important lesson when I was a young man, and following that advice has always gained me more respect, as proven by the comments I receive regarding my appearance.As an additional note, proper tailoring is just as important. That is, having the pants tailored to the proper length to break slightly over the shoes, and having the sleeves tailored to show 1/4" to 1/2" of shirt sleeve when the arms are at rest. These details make an important difference in the overall look of the outfit, as do shoe and tie selection, and the addition of a pocket square. Take note, and dress for success!

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