I love this proverb, and it’s personal.
We’re told as children that a good first impression is crucial, that is, right alongside the converse warning never to judge a book by it’s cover. Why then is it that we all head off into adulthood judging left right and centre based entirely on the threads or uniform an individual chooses to rock?
My experiences have demonstrated to me that, in the vast majority of cases, con artists, blaggers and devious sorts dress extremely well and decent folk focus on more important things. Controversial I know, and I apologise to those decent hardworking folk that are still chained to, or indeed choose, the suit and tie or female equivalent, but hear me out….
Simplistically speaking: Suits run organisations such as banks & financial institutions, dictatorships & cartels – Casuals run organisations such as farms & charities, ethical businesses & support networks.
Below are a handful of examples for each (anyone offended by being on this list can back off – type your name into a search engine mate it’s there for all to see);
Suits = Stephen Hester (RBS Group), Rupert Murdoch, both George Bush-es, Peter Voser (CEO Shell), Bob Dudley (BP), Vladimir Putin, Tony Blair, Berlusconi
Casuals = The late Anita Roddick (The Body Shop), Richard Branson (Virgin), Dale Vince (Ecotricity), David Ritter (Greenpeace), Ricken Patel (Avaaz), Matt Flannery & Jessica Jackley (Kiva.org),
I reckon you can see the pattern emerging now, can’t you?!
Here are a couple of my own examples of classic suit v casual behaviour, they are purposefully vague but absolutely true;
There was the very wealthy but unostentatious British aristo’ and his equally wealthy son who entered a car dealership to buy two very expensive (couldn’t care less what type, sorry) top notch vehicles. They were dressed casually and when they approached the besuited puffed-up salesman (probably on a standard salary plus bonuses) he treated them with disdain, entirely based on their clothing, and lost himself two sales that day. Who’s the mug? The pretentious suit wearer or the low key Lord?
I attended a wedding a few years ago, thrown by a Lord for his Honourable daughter (Not bragging, couldn’t care less but the detail is important!) At the reception there was a man who stuck out like a sore thumb. He was dressed immaculately and driving a brand new Bentley – to the untrained eye, clearly a well-to-do, perfectly placed within this setting. There was something just a little too immaculate about him for my liking, something not quite right. When I googled him it turned out he was an international conman who was trying to talk the Lord into giving a lot of money to some sham project somewhere abroad. The guy had almost managed to con his way on to the international space station for goodness sake! (Try and control that tiny feeling of admiration, he was no harmless rogue.)
My parents, just before I was born, bought a derelict property for our family home. When my Mother first visited after the sale had gone through, she was alone and could smell bacon. Rounding the side of the house she saw a tramp cooking his breakfast and freaked. She told him he was trespassing and should leave immediately. As she was getting on with things she noticed him returning and went to deal with it. As she got closer she realised that he was carrying a large brown envelope. He proffered said envelope and explained that she had obviously dropped it on her way in. That was her told: Inside the envelope were thousands of pounds worth of staff wages, in cash, untouched.
I could recount stories ad infinitum, but I won’t. The point is that, having grown up believing one should dress ‘suit’ably I have met nothing but smokescreen from those that do, and I’m not impressed.
A carefully presented image is often a cunningly crafted disguise.
Even amongst my fellow ladies, I wonder how much genuine work they do and contribution they manage to make when they spend, literally, hours pruning, preening, painting, and perfecting. I am female and quite understand the wish to look presentable, good even, but I would never achieve anything if it was my sole distraction which sadly it is to many of my peers and contemporaries. And once you’ve preened and perfected, you then have to protect and maintain, protect and maintain. Where’s the time for fun, experience, life, love, work? I think if anyone calculated the average time served in front of a mirror nowadays it would be eye-opening. If you are vainly, incessantly concentrating on yourself and your image, does that really count in your favour as a decent and contributing member of society? An evolved being? A success story? I find it incredibly tedious and, along with the heavy tinge of competitive perfection, totally nauseating. There are women I encounter who visibly despise me because I couldn’t care less how much their outfit cost or where it came from, I’m not interested to go to the bathroom every five minutes to talk about and reapply makeup and I don’t subscribe to beauty over brains. And, to be clear, I am no oil painting – I just hate missing life.
I feel sorry too for the man who falls for a slim, large-breasted woman with long, luxurious eyelashes, flawless skin and long, thick voluptuous blonde hair…….only to discover that she is a slightly plump, flat-chested woman with very short eyelashes, a bit of acne and a few freckles and short, mousey brown hair. At what point does ‘self-improvement’ become deception? Why are men barracked for mentioning that this may be a tad unfair? I know I’m losing support from the ladies fast for saying this but come on girls, there’s no merit in over-selling yourself and then being an unavoidable disappointment. It’s a lose-lose situation and you aren’t going to attract a compatible mate anyway if you’re not yourself. I know men who love flat-chested women, others who love wispy hair, stretch marks, love handles and freckles, hairy bits and crooked bits and all sorts. Men are human too did you know, even though they try and hide it.
I’ve never been short of work, never lost a job, never felt short of friends, never felt short of male attention and I’ve also never worn a suit. I haven’t yet found a reason to, and yes I do have to attend meetings in London on a regular basis, other than in the case of men and out of respect e.g. weddings and funerals. I have, however, been eyed suspiciously, treated like a potential thief, been looked down upon, disparaged and sneered at. I’ve worn hooded tops all my life (not all the time, mind) and not just for sport – it hasn’t made me carry a knife and intimidate people – I get a cold neck and ears and find it useful for wind protection! If I don’t wear mascara (which is probably over 50% of the time) people seem to think it is acceptable to say I look ill/peellywally/tired, and that’s those I know and those I don’t. Since when was it offensive to be white skinned and natural? I realised I was feeling the pressure when someone said, “why are you putting on mascara?” and my automatic response was, “so I don’t upset or offend anyone”!! My point is that not only is the suit stereotype of ‘hardworking success story’ outdated, but so is the casual stereotype of ‘lazy good-for-nothing troublemaker’.
The clothes that I choose to wear DO have a huge effect on my own capacity for work, but not how you might think. If I’m trying to conform (we all do it!) I feel uncomfortable, distracted, self-conscious and, to be honest, shallow. Diverted from what is important. My attendance in the ‘Ladies’ increases ten fold and I feel exposed and vulnerable. If I dress for my own purposes, (don’t get me wrong I’m clean and tidy, unprovocative and avoid being malodorous), I concentrate well, contribute wholly and focus on the job in hand. We are not all the same but we are all human and I notice the same traits in my friends when they come to stay in my home of no expectations and the pressure is released. Smiles form, shoulders drop, tensions ease and order is restored.
I’ve learned over the years that to most accurately judge a person’s nature and true intentions you must look deep into their eyes. Look properly and you’ll see the fear, desperation, anger, evil intent or great kindness within. Go with your gut and you shouldn’t go far wrong. Not all men in suits are sinister and neither are all hoodies. Look in their eyes and not at their labels. The tide needs to turn; away from lauding the expensively dressed spin doctors with power in their hands and greed in their hearts, and towards embracing the ragtag bunch of integrity-filled ‘what you see is what you get’ folk, putting all their energy into doing a proper and respectable job, usually for the greater good as well as themselves.
Having said all that, I love a man in a tux!