Today, 13 October, is International Suit-up Day, the day to get out your smartest suit and ‘look sharp’. With the day falling on a Saturday this year, I guess sporting a formal ‘black tie’ look at work won’t really be an option for most people, but there’s nothing wrong with a night on the town dressed up like someone who just stepped off the set of the Godfather.
Mention the word ‘suit’, and a couple of images involuntarily pop into most people’s minds.
- First and foremost, you cannot help thinking about the classic mob movies such as the Godfather series, where the characters look as dangerous as they do smart, and you just know you don’t mess with a guy in a suit.
- Then, of course, there’s the sharp dressed singers of old; Frank Sinatra (OK, perhaps he belongs to the first category above), Leonard Cohen (who has famously proclaimed that he has simply never felt comfortable in a pair of blue jeans) and the younger contenders like Michael Buble and the like.
- For the twenty-somethings, suits will probably be synonymous with Barney Stinson, the sharp-dressed character from the hit TV series How I Met Your Mother, who refuses to be seen in anything but a suit and tie, even when he’s in bed. I am sure Barney deserves an award for making suits cool again to a new generation.
On the topic of suits, it is interesting how the way you dress influence the way you are perceived by others. Whether it’s dressing in a suit, or a scientist’s lab coat, or a pair of torn jeans and a t-shirt, your choice of clothing goes a long way towards determining people’s opinions of you before you’ve said a word, and before they’ve even met you.
Suits in particular can have a strong impact – numerous behavioral science studies have shown how dressing sharply can increase your perceived status among peers, boost self-confidence, and even make you more productive at work. For a mini-masterclass on suits and sharp dressing, look no further than the US TV show Suits. When Ross (a young lawyer who passed the bar but didn’t go to law school) asks, “What does it matter how much I spend on suits?” Harvard graduate Specter replies, “People respond to how you dress so like it or not this is what you have to do.”
It turns out what you wear may even influence how you feel about yourself, and how you act. You’ve probably all heard the advice to people who work from home, that says you should dress as though you’re going to work, as it will influence how professional you come across on the phone etc. (Apparently wearing a singlet and underpants won’t do the trick if you’re planning to spend some quality phone-time with your clients.) Beyond this amusing fact, research reported in the New York Times has shown how people wearing lab-coats actually become more attentive and precise in their actions. Researchers got a group of people to wear white coats (said to be scientists’ lab coats) and then perform mental tests. These were compared to a reference group wearing their normal attire, and the ‘scientists’ did significantly better in the test. Surprisingly, when the test was repeated with new groups, but the overcoat-wearing group were told they were wearing artists’ coats, they did not perform any better than the reference group.
If you extrapolate this to suits, wearing a suit may well influence how you perform at different tasks. The problem is, however, that your opinion of suit-wearers will colour the impact the suit will have on you. If you consider suit-wearers to be important, responsible, trust-worthy people that you look up to, wearing a suit may well result in you ‘stepping up to the challenge’ and acting more responsibly yourself. If, however, you see suit-wearers as sharks and underhanded crime lords, donning a suit may perhaps not do your personality any good…
Whatever your normal daily attire, today is a chance to go all out. Dig out your best suit, heck, rent one if you don’t have one, and live like Ol’ Blue Eyes for a day. Here’s to a dashing International Suit-up Day – have fun!