Look Good, Play Good

Sometimes all it takes to get in the successful mindset is the right suit

I was getting ready to go to the office this morning and was putting a tie on in my bedroom while my oldest daughter watched TV. She looked over at me fussing with my tie and asked a pretty normal question, “Daddy, why do you wear a tie?” Without even thinking I said, “It lets people know I’m in charge.” To which her response, which I’m sure her mother, has already put on Facebook was “I thought Mommy was in charge.” I of course replied, “At work—Cameron—so people at work know I’m in charge.” Besides realizing that my five year old has figured out who is in charge on the home front it got me thinking about why I do wear a tie. The fact is that I wear a suit and tie to work about 90% of the time with jeans and a sweater reserved for really sloppy days with no meetings. So why do I do it? Washington, DC is a bit more formal town than many and there is certainly some peer pressure to look “professional,” but I’m not doing it for external reasons. I do it because it makes me feel like I’m ready to go, kind of like when superman hits the phone booth and comes out wearing tight fitting jammies and a cape, I know that when I walk out my front steps in a suit and tie I’m ready to take on the world.

So, do the clothes make the man? I really don’t think so, but they do make you feel a certain way. I had a baseball coach in college that was adamant that we wear practice uniforms. We all wanted to shag flies in shorts and t-shorts and he had us just short of game ready every day. He would sit in the dugout with his too tight coaching shorts on and scream at us for “looking slack” or “not looking like a ball player.” “Look good, play good” was his mantra and he hammered away at it whenever he felt we hadn’t lived up to his standard—not just of play but of looking ready to play. Looking back on it, I think he wanted us to look like ball players because it made us feel like ball players, which hopefully translated into us playing like ball players. It didn’t always work but he was a pretty successful coach over a lot of years. I think he was on to something. How you look contributes to how you feel and gets you ready to be successful. I’ve talked a lot about mental preparation and the importance of visualization as a means of preparing yourself to be successful. For me, getting “dressed for success” is just a part of that process of getting in the mindset to be successful. Whether I have a big meeting or I’m just working in teams, I like to look ready to succeed.

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Samuel F Doucette

Joshua, what you describe is what the military calls “military bearing” in terms of their uniforms and physical appearance. Yes, there is something to be said for professional standards of dress and appearance not just for subordinates or peers but for yourself and the pride you take in your work.

Joshua Millsapps

That’s interesting, our managing partner comes out of the Navy and I think he still carries that “military bearing” standard forward. I couldn’t agree with you more with regard to the belief that professional standards of appearance and dress are important when it comes to how you go about your work.

Janina Rey Echols Harrison

I came from working corporate offices in private sector where I went into negotiations in 3 piece suits and red power ties just like my male counterparts. Switching to working in a more rural setting, I toned it down to what used to be business casual for me. My first boss turned up at meetings and gatherings in jeans and tennis shoes all the time. People were always approaching me to ask questions. My boss got angry about them always going to me and asked me if I understood why. Of course I knew why, I was dressed more professionally. My parents always dressed us up as children to attend many programs, ballets, dinners. They had the same attitude that people treat you different when you are dressed nicely. I just haven’t been able to adjust to the T-shirts and jeans that most people wear around my current workplace.

Diane Lucas

I think there are two parts to this – how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. When you feel good about yourself, including how you “look”, your confidence shows, and permeates your actions. When others perceive you in a positive way, they react to you positively. I once read that you should look at a man’s shoes to see how he feels about himself. I’ve noted that 90% of all SESs I’ve ever met had clean, well-shined shoes!

Jay Johnson

The act of putting on certain clothes/accesories can form a habit and habits have a profound affect on our mental models. Doing it every day prior to work emphasizes a change in mindset between ‘home’ and ‘work’ and same would apply to removing the tie when you return.

Dannielle Blumenthal

When I was in summer camp the richest kids had clothes so expensive they did not even have logos.

I remember my mom used to take me to Jamesway (which is like K-mart in the Catskill Mountains) to get decidedly unbranded clothes for camp.

Before I knew anything about marketing, the kids’ reactions taught me the difference between a no-brand brand (best), a brand (acceptable), and a no-logo commodity sweatshirt.

Mostly the workplace is a variation on summer camp in the Catskills.