The words you say in a professional situation are an important thing. But what you wear while you say them is also very important. If you aren’t careful, you might be saying the wrong things at the wrong time with your wardrobe. A question we should all be asking as men when we look in the mirror is, “Does this suit suit me?”
For men, there is no question that a suit makes a statement. This is also true for women. But when it comes to women’s fashion, I don’t have much to offer in the way of insight. So for the purposes of this post, let’s focus on menswear with the caveat that I would love to hear any insight women can give for women’s apparel and professionalism in the comments section. Fair enough?
What does a suit say to you?
The motivation behind this post began when I came across this video on Business Insider.com:
The items he recommends are considered the essentials of a professional wardrobe. But I would add that these wardrobe items are for working professionals items of clothing that create White Lab Coat Moments and communicate all kinds of information about the wearer whether they are conscious of it or not.
I talked to a hiring manager about suits and things he observes in interviews with job candidates. He was honest about what certain qualities of appearance invoked in his judgment of a candidate.
Source: A Hiring manager for a marketing department on the West Coast:
|High quality, dark tone neutral||Classy, experienced, high quality professional|
|Quality silk tie||Detail-oriented, fashion-conscious|
|Black nice belt||Classy, successful|
|Three-piece suit||Lawyer, banker (I found this one particularly interesting!)|
|Good Tailoring||Willing to go to the end|
|Double-breasted suit||Completely without style, clueless|
|Wrinkled suit||Not prepared, procrastinator, bad with details|
|Short socks (men)||Sloppy, amateur|
|No tie (men)||Cocky, arrogant, not a team player|
|Character ties||Tacky, poor judgment skills for a professional setting|
|Cheap suit||Inexperienced, uncultured|
|Short sleeve shirt (men)||Clueless|
|Scuffed shoes||Poor-attention to detail|
|Mismatched Accessories||Disorganized, unconcerned with details|
Clearly this is one person’s opinion and hardly a scientific study. But reading through the list, you likely have many of the same impressions based on the description. Even if you don’t have the same thoughts as what are listed here, you do have an interpretation. All of us do.
Interpreting appearance is always a part of a professional exchange and it will color your opinion of the wearer – even if it happens unconsciously.
Suits Create White Lab Coat Moments
In field of customer experience, we talk about the White Lab Coat moments. White Lab coat moments describe how the appearance of a person helps you make a judgment about the person’s ability and personality.
The phrase was coined in association with the famous Milgram study where participants were encouraged to administer electric shocks to fellow participants up to fatal levels when they answered questions incorrectly. Most participants hesitated when they heard the distress of their fellow participants, but continued at the urging of the study proctor, who was wearing a white lab coat.
In this case the white lab coat signified that the proctor had authority as a scientist and that they participant should continue with the experiment at his urging. For those of you that are not familiar with the Milgram study, the second participant was a plant, was not being shocked and any communications of distress were recorded.
White Lab Coat moments can also be a branding image for an organization. For Apple, it’s the blue Genius shirt, the glowing white apple on the aluminum cover of its computers, the white clean background in advertising. For Disney, the magic castle and the swirly loopy font they use for their name. For you, it can be how you dress at the job interview. The idea behind the concept is that the image creates a certain feeling and interpretation in the mind of the beholder, either good or bad.
Creating Your Own White Lab Coat Moment in Your Professional Life
Men’s suits have been a part of appearance for centuries. In more recent history, the word “Suit” is associate with management or professionals, although the connotation of this term is usually intended as an insult by someone who is under the control of the “Suit’s” authority. But for good or ill over time, the suit has created a white coat moment of its own.
You can’t control all the associations that are made with what you wear, to be sure, but there are some generalities that mostly apply across the board in a professional situation. You can do your best, whether it’s a job interview, a client presentation, or a conference in Vegas to 500 people in your industry, by making sure that your suit suits you.
What does at suit say to you? What are the White Lab Coat Moments in Women’s apparel? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in the following blogs:
- Dress for Success: The White Lab Coat Effect and the Subconscious Experience
- The Secret of a Great Customer Experience – Apple Case Study
- New Generation of Business: Connecting Employee Loyalty with Customer Loyalty
|Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin has been recognized by LinkedIn as one of the top 150 Business Influencers in the world. He is an international author of four best-selling books on Customer Experience. Colin’s company, Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from our Global Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter: @ColinShaw_CX