Our Uniform

Happy Monday everyone.

This morning I'm going to talk about uniforms. Most of you all would not refer to your suit (or business casual equivalent if you're that lucky) as a uniform, but in actuality, that is all a suit is: a uniform in the business world. There are many threads on WSO about suits, and most of the older, more experienced members of the community will say that your suit doesn't have to be a totally swagged-out Armani piece because the point of wearing a suit isn't to look "cool" or overly-wealthy...we wear suits because we have to.

This is an odd transition for most people coming out of college. Where I went to school, clothing choice was very diverse, and I wouldn't be surprised if I walked out of my door in the morning to some oddball wearing a kilt (this happened before). After I finished school, I worked at a quasi-hippie company where everyone wore whatever they wanted, and again the clothing realm was very diverse.

Now I'm surrounded by suits and business casual folks, and I've noticed a few peculiar things:

  • We often think we know someone based on what they wear.
  • We're often entirely mistaken.

I'll be the first to admit that it's easy to judge folks based on their clothing, but when everyone is wearing a suit and the black and white has become a whole lot of grey, it's a lot easier to put aside your biases.

The classic argument for uniforms revolves in part around people judging one another because of the clothes they wear. In high school and middle school, when hormone levels are unbalanced to say the least, this causes problems. We would hope that judgment based on clothing would become less prominent as folks mature, but as someone who judges and has been judged based on something this trivial, I think that's far from the case.

I've been doing a lot of networking while working as a SA, and strictly wear business casual or formal to work. So does everyone I meet up with for informational interviews, and many of these folks are my age.

Let's all recall the days when we would walk around campus at school and see someone wearing clothes that are counter to what we usually wear. A lot of people would be quick to judge. If you're in Nantucket Reds and a Brooks Brothers shirt, you're a bro. If you're in Urban Outfitters, you're a faux hipster. If you're wearing a vintage shirt from the 1980 Olympics and a Members Only jacket, you're a real hipster, etc. And don't deny that you've done this before -- just reading the threads on this site will illuminate how shallow most of us are and how quickly we make assumptions about people based on their clothing (or other trivial qualities).

But in the business world, even at the junior level, the playing field is even. We're all wearing the same thing.

In many ways, this has helped me leave my own personal biases behind. A social interaction is a lot more meaningful when neither party comes into it with assumptions about the other. Let's take an example from the above. If the Nantucket Reds guy wanted to meet up with the Urban Outfitters (yes, I know this sounds really stupid, bear with me) guy for coffee to discuss the markets and UO guy's firm, and both wore street clothes to the meeting, there would almost certainly be some assumptions made before they even started talking. I'm not saying the assumptions would be positive or negative, but in some fashion they would cloud some of the meaning derived from the conversation.

Now assume they're both wearing suits, thus each having far less poor evidence to base the other person's personal life off of. In reality, these two probably have a lot more in common with each other than might meet the eye based on street clothes, and coming into the conversation without assumptions and biases will likely lead to a more natural conversation in which mutual interests are realized. Sometimes when I talk to people during informational interviews I think to myself "well, I have absolutely no insight into your personal life or what you're all about outside of work", and this is a pretty refreshing thing to think about. High school and especially college are venues where people are allowed to be as judgmental as possible, and in college this is even encouraged in many ways.

The pleasant surprise is that in the business world, two people who might have entirely disparate interests physically see one another in the same light, at least at the outset. First impressions are important, and are often heavily-influenced by one's appearance. Now I might not be wearing a Hermes tie, but at least from a distance, our appearances are clean, similar, and ultimately pretty ambiguous.

A lot of people have told me that, in the professional world, they end up becoming friends with folks that they probably wouldn't have meshed too well with in college. I think this is due in part to the lack of judgement that is propagated through the business uniform, and also to the fact that we're (hopefully) maturing.

In any event, this is something to think about for people transitioning from college to the real world. What do you guys think? Have you noticed yourself being less judgmental now that everyone around you wears the same thing? More judgmental? Does it matter?

Comments (16)

May 7, 2012

Nope. Suits aren't standard and homogeneous; you look at a guy in a rubbish suit, you judge him.

But I agree that far fewer inital assumptions about new people and their lifestyle are made.

May 7, 2012

I personally don't think it changes all that much in the real world. Sure, you all wear business casual or business professional but as Oreos said, especially when it comes to suits, they certainly aren't standard. Details are everything when dressing up (in my opinion). I think people absolutely judge you if you roll in with ill fitting business casual clothing regardless of whether everyone else is wearing business casual as well. There is less disparity in appearance but when there is disparity I think it stands out more. You expect a myriad of clothing types in college. You don't expect someone to come into work in a bright colored shirt, or non neutral colored pants. Maybe you care less about what other people are wearing normally because you have bigger things to worry about but I think you judge regardless.

I think you simply judge differently in the real world and about different things. It is the same in High school, college or the real world. People judge on many different levels.

May 7, 2012

Interesting.

May 7, 2012

Skip the suit. You can judge a man must better by his shoes.

May 7, 2012
drexelalum11:

Skip the suit. You can judge a man must better by his shoes.

The truth.

May 7, 2012
drexelalum11:

Skip the suit. You can judge a man must better by his shoes.

I agree that square toed shoes look horrible, but what exactly does it say about someone? I haven't seen much correlation between square toed shoes and worth as a worker.

May 7, 2012
TDSWIM:
drexelalum11:

Skip the suit. You can judge a man must better by his shoes.

I agree that square toed shoes look horrible, but what exactly does it say about someone? I haven't seen much correlation between square toed shoes and worth as a worker.

You own square toe shoes, I see...

BossMode

May 8, 2012
TDSWIM:
drexelalum11:

Skip the suit. You can judge a man must better by his shoes.

I agree that square toed shoes look horrible, but what exactly does it say about someone? I haven't seen much correlation between square toed shoes and worth as a worker.

doesnt say much about work quality, just says keep away from the more snobbish / sophisticated clients.

on a more personal level just says doesnt know how to dress / doesnt come from a wealthy background

May 7, 2012

i still see people in squared toed shoes and lol

May 7, 2012
leveredarb:

i still see people in squared toed shoes and lol

So true. LOL!

May 7, 2012

I cant help but judge someone if I see them with all their suit jacket buttons buttoned up

May 7, 2012

It's not the suit, but how they wear the suit. Like mentioned above, buttoning all buttons and then square toed shoes just ruin the "uniform"

May 7, 2012

There are plenty of ways you still get judged. As mentioned previously, shoes are more noticeable than you would think. Also there is still the issue of how your suit fits you. If you see a man wearing a suit and its slightly too long in the sleeves or if the pants are a little too baggy, like it was bought off the rack. That man doesn't look as nice as he would if he was wearing a suit that was more fitted to his particular body type. Also there are still many options as to what color/style of necktie you could wear, and there is a slight choice in shirt color as well as accessories such as watches, pocket squares, tie clips, and cuff links to name a few.

May 8, 2012
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