The Clothes Maketh The Man

empty suits

During my recent time of unemployment, it really came home to me how important clothes are to our self-perception. For my job, I nearly always wear a suit and tie. So initially, it was something of a relief to be able to wear casual clothes for the majority of the time, only donning the suit for interviews. Yet sometimes, I allowed myself to become too casual. Since a lot of my jobhunting was done by phone, there were some days when I didn’t get properly dressed until after 10am. Until then, I would remain in the old jogging bottoms and t-shirt that I normally slept in.

But doing this had an unexpected effect on my psyche. On such days, it really made me feel unemployed. Years of suit-wearing have ingrained in me a sharp distinction: suit = work; casual = non-work. I like relaxing and time off as much as the next person, but prolonged periods of not working make me feel non-productive.

In the past, I have had very rare occasions when I’ve worked from home. But this is my relaxing environment; work doesn’t belong here. On those occasions, I’ve found it very difficult to get going as there are just too many other possibilities. So what I found helpful was to get everything ready as though I was going to work. I would set my alarm for 6am, have a shave and a quick breakfast, put my suit on and even go so far as to make a packed lunch. I’d then sit at my dining room table and try to get on with work. Without this routine (you could almost call it a ritual, I suppose) I just find it far too easy to get distracted from work.

More recently, when I was on a business trip my luggage was lost in transit. Having travelled in my casual clothes, I found myself in a sudden quandary. Having arrived on the Sunday night, I had business meetings fixed up for Monday morning. But the people I was due to meet were people I had never met before, so I had to make a professional first impression.  Having been put up in a very posh hotel – far posher than befits me – the hotel had a concierge service and I was able to request the loan of a suit.

However, it soon transpired that I do not share the bodily proportions of the average Indonesian. I find it hard enough to find a suit in this country for anyone as short as me (about 5ft 7 or 5ft 8) but in Indonesia the problem was trying to find anything big enough for me. The first suit jacket I tried on was a disaster: the arm ended just below my elbow. It took 3 pairs of trousers before we found a pair I could get over my 34 inch waist; all the others were for those who are slimmer than I.

Eventually, we made do with something that was passable, though the shoes gave me blisters and the shirt sleeves still didn’t quite make it as far as my wrists. I had to make do with this setup for 2 days. I was able to present myself at business meetings and to attempt to come across as a professional, even though in the more casual moments I did explain about the lost luggage.

What we wear influences how others think of us. I think this is true in the vast majority of cases. Some may claim to be able to rise above such superficial prejudices, though I think this is more the result of reasoned thought overriding first impressions. Even if this is less than I think it is, how I am dressed certainly affects how I think others perceive me.

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