Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Perceived Value. What Your Clothes Say About You.

Rory Sutherland’s speech at TED, which I posted yesterday, and M. Lane’s post, got me thinking about one of my favourite subjects: the way that people see you. Or, in marketing/advertising speak: perceived value.

I think I’ve mentioned before that my former boss, the Creative Director at a famous agency’s outpost in Washington, D.C., was given a clothing allowance after I went to work for him. I was the only guy in creative who could get a taxi to stop for us. In short, I was “dressing above my position”. My argument was that Creative always was given leeway with the dress code; look at your average art director or designer… .

At a party a while back, I struck up a conversation at the bar table with a very conservatively well-dressed man. He was the very definition of Trad and I’ll bet that his suit was made by Chipp. He began to tell me of the heady days of investment banking, and mentioned a few names we might have in common… No? Then a few Manhattan spots that I might have frequented? No? He settled on “whatever happened to rational thought?” I listened. It turns out that he had an advanced degree in philosophy or something akin. He ended a query with “look at the way you’re dressed; you are obviously part of the well-educated, successful elite of this country.”

Err… Well-educated despite my best attempts. Well-dressed perhaps. That’s about as far as I would go. But, I kept my mouth shut rather than embarrass him for his obvious error in perception.

“Oh for God’s sake,” Mrs. E. will exclaim. “You’re going to Lowe’s. Must you shave and change?” When I wander a store these days, I am frequently mistaken for part of the staff.


Clothes say a lot about you. Or, if you are at all careful about what you wear, they say a lot about what you would like others to think about you.

Advanced PR.

Don’t forget, Cary Grant parlayed his ability to look stunning in evening clothes into a career as the world’s most elegant man. His upbringing wasn’t exactly of the port-out-starboard home variety. But he knew a thing or two about image. In these days of the personal brand, your wardrobe is a good place to start branding yourself.

Small details make the difference. Elegance is attitude. But your clothing is the first thing that is judged. Another good reason to dress just a little better than you have to.

22 thoughts on “Perceived Value. What Your Clothes Say About You.

  1. Mind if I link to this?

    I’ve been saying this for years, especially to the teen-aged son, and it never seems to sink in for some reason.

    I think it needs wide distribution. Regardless of what people think, how you look when you leave your house DOES matter.

  2. It takes no more effort to pull on a decent pair of trousers than to pull on a ghastly pair of sweats. People treat you better when you look decent. I can’t tell you how many times having a nice pair of slacks and a blazer on has helped me with some small favour… like the time there were two remaining seats on a flight we’d been re-assigned to and two of us who were well dressed were asked to get on the flight and the scruffy backpackers had to take a later flight… Turned out that the two remaining seats to London were in first class and we looked as if we would know how to behave there.

  3. This is so true and I keep trying to subtly encourage the people around me to understand this. When I was in my teens I worked in a car dealership and one of the salesmen (yes they were called ‘salesmen’ back then) always dressed like a million bucks. I asked him one day why he always dressed so well when the other salesmen looked bedraggled. He told me it gave the customers the impression he is worth it. He was the top salesman every month.

  4. Chris,

    Thank you for putting into words the ideas I have been trying to express for years. It is all about the brand you want to project – Brand YOU. Years ago I had a friend in the financial services field that ran into an older female client at the grocery over a weekend. He was shod in very casual clothes and was horrified when his client stated she was surprised how young he actually was. From that moment on, he ALWAYS were a coat and tie – even to the grocery.

  5. Chris, you’re welcome. Good man, you’re friend. There’s room for casually elegant, too. A coat and tie isn’t always necessary, even if it’s a lovely dream to hold.

  6. How you look says a lot about you – I’m careful at times to make sure I’m dressed (an once in awhile maybe a wee over-dressed) for the occasion. Where I work very few men and woman pay attention to their clothes. We have some new educated Directors but they dress like schleps! I want to drop Flusser’s book on their desk as a hint. I saw one VP today in a suit, that was so wrinkled I couldn’t imagine leaving the house looking like that

    On the other hand, what you look like doesn’t necessarily reveal what’s in your heart.

  7. HA! I understand about being part of the staff. I attended a friend’s wedding, where I was the only gentleman dressed in a suit. While on my way to the restroom I was accosted by a woman who swore I was part of the staff. She would not drop the subject despite my protesting as we walked. She finally dropped it as I was standing at the urinal and asked for a little privacy. Not at the door mind you, the urinal itself. She was quite inebriated, and I don’t believe she realized where she had gone. The funny part of the story is 10 minutes later, my wife returned to the table from the ladies room and told me that some woman was talking to another woman through the stall door about how bad the staff is, because they won’t even tell you they are part of the staff!

  8. Paul, it’s true that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Tom Ripley springs to mind. What’s that lyric? “I have a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve/I have a history of losing my shirt…” or something to that effect. We often reveal far too much of ourselves in public. At least in my opinion.

    Turling, priceless. “So is this but occasionally I pass water through it….” Peter O-Toole, “My Favourite Year.”

  9. My grandfather used to drum into us, that “he was any man’s equal after he shaved.”

    Every morning I recall those words, and couldn’t imagine not shaving.

  10. These are all such interesting and insightful posts . . . funny how we have similar experiences across so many miles and continents! Certain traits cross all continents and apply everywhere–manners, virtue, and first impressions based on how we look, speak, and act. Everyone behaves better when they are ‘cleaned up.’ It is the ‘putting on your Sunday best’ that makes us just a little sharper, a little more conscientious of our actions, and more appealing to everyone around us. This really holds true for teenagers–parents, are you listening? Tell the kids to nix the dyed hair, piercing, midriff-baring clothing, baggy pants, backward caps, etc. Just say ‘No.’ At the very least, refuse to pay for it.

  11. This is so true. And not only that, it’s a rather pleasurable experience being gawped at because you’re looking “damn fine”. It does wonders for self-esteem!

  12. Excellent post Easy, well done. I make it a point to dress such that I will be comfortable and welcomed in whatever place I may find myself later that day, high or low. It is far easier to take a jacket off than to have one materialize out of thin air.

  13. Mr. E – How I do so sincerely agree. Further, I feel when one utilizes public transport, it is an elegant gesture to ensure one is suitably attired and groomed. It’s depressing to have others in one’s gaze across the metro car, or on the platfrom, in an untidy state. If even a small effort is made to look like you know what you’re about, your fellow travelers will have their spirits lifted, and we all arrive at our destinations in a more positive frame of mind.

  14. Toad, I just bought my 3 1/2 year old son a kid’s “shaving kit.” A can of foam and a brush though? Hmmm. Well the foam’s almost gone anyway. I’ll get him a cake of soap soon.

  15. I couldn’t agree more, and this is somewhat the idea I was trying to express in my own post on wearing suits at work, although I feel you’ve explained it better than I did!

    I didn’t go to university but went straight to work in marketing and, as a result, have for a while been a good deal younger than my clients and colleagues (although I’m starting to catch up). Acting professionally is obviously key to keeping their respect, but I found that dressing smartly was also a pretty good way to defuse the first impression that my age might otherwise have given.

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