It's Only Common Sense: Clothes Still Make the Man


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Remember when men wore suits to go to work? Not only salespeople, but also owners, managers, and even supervisors, who at least wore shirts and ties. At the risk of getting bombarded with hate mail, I have to say that I miss those days. I miss the professionalism that dressing in a suit and tie evoked. Guys looked like they knew what they were doing. They looked like they were serious about what they did for a living.

Nowadays, the only people you see wearing suits are the bad guys—bankers and lawyers. The rest of us are in shirts and slacks or even jeans. Many companies have exchanged their more formal dress code for good-looking company shirts…at least some of them look good.

The problem now, though, is that our industry has gone the other way. In fact, some of us have gone way too far. I am noticing more very shaggy beards; I do have a beard, but I would never be mistaken for ZZ Top. I also see a lot more piercings and old worn jeans, or worse yet, old baggy jeans and T-shirts. There’s nothing wrong with these clothes if you’re going to a concert or a bar, or cleaning out your septic tank. But clothing like this just does not look that professional. It’s hard to take a salesman seriously if he looks like he just got back from a rock festival. It just doesn’t work.

I know this is the age of personal freedom, so any talk of a dress code meets with jeers and sneers. But come on, forget the dress code for a minute and think of what you are trying to accomplish as a professional salesperson.

Selling anything these days is very hard. There is a great deal of competition and a salesman has to use any advantage he can. Note, I said salesmen because that’s who I’m talking about; the women in sales don’t have this problem. All of the women I know in sales maintain a very professional appearance. But for you salesmen out there, it’s hard enough selling anything without handicapping yourself.

Get with it, clean up your act. Don’t let your very appearance hinder your chances of making that sale. Because in the end, believe it or not, clothes do make the man…especially the salesman.

True story: Many years ago when I was wearing suits every day, I bought what I considered a pretty good-looking dark blue, pinstriped, double-breasted suit. I bought it at the Burlington Coat Factory; don’t laugh; they have great designer suits for less than $200 and they do tailoring for about $35, and that’s about what I want to spend on a suit. As I said I thought it looked pretty good, but nothing special. But apparently I was wrong.

When the company I was working for went Chapter 11, I had to go to see my big customer Digital Equipment Corporation to tell them the news. Joe, the head of procurement and a good friend of mine, smiled and said, “Well, from the looks of that suit you’re not doing too badly yourself anyway.” I was shocked. I had not even thought about what I was wearing, or that it was anything special.

Then a few months later when I was wearing the same suit on a flight to Los Angeles. I had balled up my suit jacket in the overhead, when another passenger carefully folded my jacket. He said, “I’m going to move your coat and put it on top of my bag. From the looks of this jacket, you paid a pretty penny for it and I wouldn’t want to wrinkle it.” Interestingly enough, this passenger, whose name was Norm, was a professor at USC and we ended up becoming friends and doing a couple of projects together. All because of that Burlington Coat Factory suit.

And finally, after the Chapter 11 when I was out looking for a new job, I had an interview for the job I really wanted, and of course I wore that same blue pin-striped double breasted suit and got three comments about the suit. And I got the job!

That was over 20 years ago, and there are still people who say that they remember when I came in for an interview, and they still comment on that suit…go figure.

The funny thing is I don’t even know what happened to that suit. I probably wouldn’t fit in it today anyway. But you get my point.

Man, I miss those days…I miss that blue pinstriped double breasted suit. But I think if I wore it today people would mistake me for a banker, or worse yet, a lawyer. It’s only common sense.

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