It’s Easy to Look Professional

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Now that I’m getting back in the saddle, I’m starting with something simple…

When I was at UNC, I remember volunteering as a jury member in a mock trial for the law school. I sat and watched six law students argue a case and I helped render the verdict. I remember nothing about the case, but I do remember RHE.

RHE was a law student on the losing team of attorneys. I know his initials because he had them sewn into the cuffs of his shirt. I remember the cuffs of his shirt because thay were hanging out of his suit jacket the whole time. They were hanging out because his shirt sleeves were about four inches longer than his jacket sleeves. All I could look at was RHE, the entire case. Those three miserable, overly exposed letters. I voted for the other team for probably no other reason than RHE’s unnecessarily long sleeves.

Now that may sound shallow, but the truth is that there is such a thing as an attractiveness bias in humans. Part of it is conditioned; part is innate. Mothers pay more attention to more attractive babies and babies are more likely to look at pictures of attractive people. In the 1960 presidential debate between Nixon and Kennedy, people who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon won, while people who watched on television thought Kennedy won (look at video from the debate if you need help understanding why).

When you take this into consideration, you can understand the need to look professional, especially in fields that require you to be in front of people. Credibility is important and, quite frankly, looking dumb can hurt your credibility (right, RHE?). Now listen, I’m not saying you need to go out right now and buy Brooks Brothers suits or anything. What I mean to say is that there are some simple rules you can follow to look professional — not better for the club or the gym or whatever — that can prevent you from losing credibility before you even open your mouth.

Sorry, ladies. This is for the guys.

First, for heaven’s sake, wear clothes that are the right length. Your pants should touch the back of your shoes and there should be no more than one break in the front of the pantleg. If you’re wearing a blazer, your shirt sleeves should just barely peek out at your wrist when you’re standing with your back straight. If you’re wearing a jacket, I shouldn’t be able to see if you have your initials on your shirt cuffs…

Never button the bottom button of your blazer. I don’t care if it’s 60 degrees below zero; that button isn’t going to help. No blazer in the world, except for double-breasted blazers and military uniforms, should have the bottom button buttoned under any circumstances. Period.

Use an iron. Use collar stays. Nothing makes you look more apathetic than wrinkly clothes or a curled-up collar.

Clean your shoes. Having dirty shoes makes you look lazy. Buy some saddle soap and a rag and you’ll be doing better than the average guy.

When all else fails, wear solids. Some patterns can work together, like wearing a dotted tie with a striped shirt, but don’t be edgy on this. There’s a difference between being a trendsetter and looking like a fool. Try to avoid both in a professional setting.

Wearing brown shoes? Wear a brown belt. Black shoes? Black belt. That simple.

OK, those are easy ones. Remember that in a professional setting, you not only represent yourself, you also represent your organization. Remember the stinky kid in your elementary school class? He didn’t just represent himself; he also represented his parents. Don’t be the stinky kid.

Have more simple advice? I’d love to hear it. This is most certainly a subject I’ll return to regularly…

4 thoughts on “It’s Easy to Look Professional

  1. Great advice, Chris. I always tell my students to: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Also, you never know when your opportunities will come, so dress like you're ready for them. Airports and airplanes, for example, are places where you can meet interesting people. Do you really want to be in pajamas when you get a seat next to someone who could lead you to your next job?

  2. Also, recognize that some fabrics and cuts are considered casual while others are dressy or professional. So all pants are not created equal, even black ones. Cotton, khaki-style pants are casual. They're not as casual as jeans, but pairing them with a jacket is not the same as wearing a suit.

  3. Pingback: Friday Fun: Unapologetically Breaking Fashion Rules |

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