Magazine article Management Today

Just Listen to That Suit

Magazine article Management Today

Just Listen to That Suit

Article excerpt

What you look like is shouting so loudly that people can't hear what you're saying

Clothes are business language. They speak volumes. Any intelligent headhunter would be idiotic not to look you over and factor your kit into their assessment, along with your professional skill-set, the Social Skills Index and the Psychological Inventory.

I have colleagues who reckon they can work out most things about someone from the nonverbals they throw off on the 10-second flightpath from door to desk. For one, it's shoes - he can spot a PVC sole or poor stitching from 20 yards. For another, it's ties. 'Anyone with one of those novelty animal prints starts from zero with me,' she says. (Women worry about this sort of thing already. They know clothes matter. How much visible thigh is a staple of women's magazines.)

From a man's work clothes, I'd reckon to get a good steer on occupational type or training; his peer and 'reference' groups; social and political sympathies; some life-stage experiences, and what he does and doesn't know about.

It's not that difficult. If one knows the culture of a social or occupational group, you know at an almost instinctual level what they would and would not wear. Thus a middle-aged man with cropped hair, a black suit, grey-wool shirt, no tie and wire-rimmed specs has to have been at an art or architectural school between, say, 1969 and 1977. He would never wear the striped suit and oval gold cuff links that his second-cousin (Kleinwort Benson, 1971-1989) sees as a natural uniform.

From there I can speculate usefully on who they will know, admire and defer to, and in which milieus they will work most comfortably. Black-clad Bob will understand the language of design and some of the language of marketing. James will feel comfortable with City-speak types and younger Tory MPs, and have sympathy with the Countryside Alliance.

I've picked pretty obvious stereotypes to illustrate a key problem: that your clothes may be saying much more than you want them to - that, to misquote Thoreau, what you look like is shouting so loudly people can't hear what you're saying.

It's not difficult to imagine whose hackles will instinctively rise at the sight of Bob or James. So they should be sure they're targeting the right supportive colleagues and potential employers when they go round like living sandwich boards. …

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