Sunday, March 13, 2011


I own a grand total of two business suits. Putting one on allows me to play a rousing game of dress-up. About 4 times a year, I become an actress, posing as someone who’s eminently concerned with rules, decorum, and color-coordinated camisoles.

I had to wear one of the suits all day on Friday, and haven’t had a day like that since the last time I wore one. People receive you differently when you clean up nice; the VIP treatment can have entertainment value. When I walked into an early-morning subway car, I was put in charge. I could do no wrong, and had everyone minding their p’s and q’s. People who weren’t in my way acted as though they were, nervously “excuse me, miss”-ing me. I was heading toward the Wall Street area, and looked forward to getting off the train, so I could blend in with all the rush-hour, business-clad pricks on the Lower Manhattan sidewalks. But since all the suits on those sidewalks were worn by men, a suited-up young woman turned out to be even more of a novelty than it had been underground.

I’ve always instinctively treated everyone (until they start acting up) as equals, no matter what they’re wearing, or how they look, or what they might be able to do for me. (In fact, I have a history of not getting along very well with the regular suit-wearers, as they’re often the ones who are up to the most mischief.) But most people aren’t like me. Authority figures, or those who look like they could be authority figures, are generally afforded more respect and better results.

Right now, there are a lot of mass protests and public demonstrations against organized bullshit, and I’ve sized up a lot of the footage. When you want something from someone, when you want someone to listen to you, presentation can matter as much as your underlying principles. Looking good will always be a form of power and there’s a way to leverage that power into something productively progressive. It doesn’t have to mean wearing a business suit or a party dress or paying lots of money or selling out. But it does mean understanding that presentation is a secret weapon that shouldn’t be discounted as a means of supplementing substance.

1 comment:

  1. I think the rationale for uniforms for students might logically follow from your argument for "suitability". What a person wears affects his/her state of mind, and when I was teaching, I always felt the need to dress up, even though some of my colleagues were a bit more casual about dress than I was. I wanted to show respect for my office, so to speak, and because school was the "work" of the students, it was my opinion that their dress ought to reflect a respect for their job as well. Unfortunately, the last principal that I worked under (before I took early "retirement" from teaching) wanted to come across as a pal to the students and virtually wiped out the dress code. Some students began coming to school in pajamas (complete with slippers!) and it was no surprise that effort took a dive. It may seem superficial, but clothes do make the man, and it's not just because of the perception of others, but because of self-perception as well.