Do Clothes Make the Man… Or hide him?

Please don’t show this post to my students! I spend time in my professional selling class promoting “dress for success” and urge students to dress just a bit better than their interviewer or sales prospect.

Yet since I have become a professor I daily dress in the broad range of business casual:  jeans and polo or plaid shirt, or a sport coat sans tie on special days. Why are my colorful silk ties and custom-made suits from Asia gathering dust in the back of my closet?


Part of it is simply that the biz casual range seems to fit the professor role. But in honesty a part of it is my feeling that among professional people the formality and costliness of standard dress is negatively correlated to the ethical practices and societal benefits of the profession. For example these four groups would dress in order:

  1. Investment Banker (Gordon Gekko, Michael Miken)
  2. Commercial Banker
  3. Treasurer
  4. Engineer

We all know about Investment Bankers – read Liars Poker or Barbarians at the Gate or watch “Wall Street” again. Commercial Bankers love to take risks fully protected by the public… but do lend money to worthy enterprises. Treasurers help keep the company going. Engineers develop the new, cool projects. Note: ethics/value in reverse order of dressing!

An extreme contrast is venture capitalists versus entrepreneurs. One dresses in silk ties and Italian shoes; the other in jeans. The former is commonly called “investment bankers without the heart;” while the latter is the lifeblood of America…

Need another example? In any town large or small, observe:

  1. Lawyer
  2. Funeral Director
  3. Doctors and School teachers

The best dressed profession in this grouping works to keep criminals on the street. The second squeezes money out of widows and widowers when they are at their most vulnerable. At the bottom of the list, in terms of being well-dressed, are the professionals that keep us healthy and train our young.

At the University, in best-dressed order we have:

  1. President and Provost,
  2. Deans,
  3. Growing army of minions [VPs, Ass. Provosts, Ass. Deans],
  4. Professors.

For anyone who is familiar with the campus scene I can only say: Q.E.D. baby!

Of course I don’t really think that pulling out my suits would make me less ethical or less useful to society. I maintained ethical standards working for a Wall Street firm(!) But appearances matter: maybe people would clutch their wallets or purses tighter or guard their daughters were I to dress in the Wall Street garb.

What do you think????

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1 Response to Do Clothes Make the Man… Or hide him?

  1. elkement says:

    Of course I could not agree more – I am in the engineer / nerd / entrepreneur’s camp 🙂

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