It's All in the Outfit
December 26, 2012
I've been told this before a few times. I've also heard an awful lot about dressing for success. So I recently decided an attempt at what could be considered a social experiment. I got the idea from a doctor friend of mine. Now, while this man is an accomplished, respected, and very successful physician, his social skills are lacking, to put it mildly.
Case in point: A couple of years ago, we were taking a plane ride together on Southwest Airlines. Southwest does not assign seats. You pick your own seat when you enter the plane after your group and number are called. They use three groups: A, B and C. In order to get an "A" boarding pass, you have to check in 24 hours ahead of your flight and hope for the best. I had gotten up early the day before the flight and sat at my computer with my fingers on the keyboard and my mouse at the ready. I was able to score A52, which meant I would be the 52nd person to board. I was thrilled! Sure, I'd rather have A1-51, but this was better than a higher group or number. My friend shows up at the airport right as they begin boarding. I was concerned he had a C pass with a high number. As he approached me, we exchanged waves and pleasantries. I told him..."Hey, don't worry about it, I got an "A" pass. I'll save you a seat!" "Oh good!," he replied. "Now what does this mean?" He showed me his boarding pass with the giant "A19" on it. "My cousin takes care of the travel for me." "Great." I said. "Just great.". So I waited in line and told him to get on and save ME a seat since he is now the one with the better boarding position. I see him walk toward the jetway. Next thing I know, he is gone. I can't see him at all. I finally board the plane in spot A52. There is my friend - several rows back. I say, "Hey! You were one of the first ones on! Why didn't you get a better seat?" He thought he was supposed to sit in row 19, seat A. He then tells me about how he walked on the plane before any other passengers and how an attendant asked what the heck he was doing since the plane hadn't officially started boarding yet. I'm telling you, it was the suit. I bet the Southwest people figured he was an air marshal or some executive with the airline.
He dresses like this all the time, with no ulterior motive, and seems to get respect and no questions asked. So I decided to try this myself. On my last trip out of town, I wore a pair of nice black pants, a dressy shirt, and a suit jacket. I had no response at the airport. This didn't surprise me. I did, however, get preferential treatment at the hotel when I was motioned to the "invited guests" line at check in, as opposed to having to wait in the long line with the other people waiting to check in. I was given a really nice table in a full restaurant that evening, and the valet called me "sir". All this has had me thinking of past times when I was dressed nicer than normal.
Working here at the Library, we promote a relatively casual atmosphere. Most of us wear jeans and nice shirts or our MCPL t-shirts with comfortable shoes. There have been occasions where I wore a nice button down shirt and khaki pants, and everyone thought I was going to a job interview. What I've really noticed is that people think I'm the guy in charge when I'm dressed up a little more than others.
It's a fascinating social experiment. I recommend trying it sometime. Just go to the grocery store in your best suit or dress. See what happens and let me know. I'll be the guy at the library wearing the bow tie.