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I have thought a lot about this question over the years and I really believe I have the answer. The answer is as simple as this: Dress as you want to be seen. While this may seem an overly simplistic answer, I believe that with some further elaboration the meaning of this will become clear.
The thing I realized after being at the law firm for some time and being involved in the recruiting at the firm was that there were generally two types of people the firm interviewed: Those who came in dressed casually in shorts and those who did not. Law students loved to show up for interviews dressed ultra casually and really felt they were doing the right thing. More often than not, however, the law students did not dress casually, and it was even rarer that a lateral attorney candidate would dress casually.
After watching approximately one year of interviews I began to notice a pattern: Everyone who showed up for their interview dressed very casually did not get hired. In almost all instances the "casually dressed" associates interviewing them would make one remark or another about how the person did not seem that serious about the job and so forth. On perhaps one or two occasions, I heard something about how the person was dressed, but for the most part they would refer to other reasons for the person not being hired that had little to do with how the person was dressed. Deep down, though, I know that the reason the person was not hired had to do with how they were dressed. I just knew it.
When I consider the importance of dress in business and in the practice of law, I keep thinking more and more how important it is. Generally, when people are younger they are more shallow and tend to focus on style over substance; however, in my case I may be different. I firmly believe that among the most important things you can do is keep a flawless appearance – both in interviews and at your actual job. You must always be acting the part, and in order to act the part you must look the part.
One of the first things I realized when I started practicing law came from a very intelligent judge I clerked for, Robert H. Cleland. When I was younger I loved quoting people such as Judge Posner and using outside philosophers in my writing. I felt this made my job all that much more enjoyable and really added an extra level of intellectual depth to the work I was doing. In fact, I would venture to say that I viewed the content of what I was writing as more important than having perfect punctuation, for example. A few weeks into this first job, Judge Cleland said something to me that I will never forget. He said something to this effect:
"If your presentation is not perfect, people assume the logic you use to reach your conclusions is also not perfect. No matter how brilliant you are you will never have your point heard or taken seriously because your presentation will not be taken seriously."
Judge Cleland was right about the presentation of written work, and I believe this is also applicable to how you dress and present yourself. If you walk into a Rolls Royce dealership dressed like a construction worker they are not going to take you seriously. If you walk into a bank looking for a big loan with scruffy shoes they may not take you seriously. If you walk into court dressed poorly they will not take you seriously.
Think about the organizations you have belonged to and jobs you have held. I would venture to say that the best dressed people in these organizations were generally at the very top of the food chain in their respective organizations. Why do you think this is? There are several reasons looking the part is a good idea.
First, can you imagine the Vice President of the United States meeting an important world leader dressed in a cheap suit – or a suit that was well worn? How about if he wore a winter parka at a ceremony at Auschwitz?
This picture was in the media for days and was the source of numerous, numerous outraged blogs and media stories. People were very, very upset because they felt that Cheney had disrespected our country – and Jews killed by the Nazis – due to the way he dressed.
I have been completely ripped off only a few times in my life. One was by a sleazy dishonest insurance broker who sold me a whole life insurance policy that was barely worth the paper it was written on. I remember to this day that this guy was among the best dressed individuals I had ever seen when he signed me up for the insurance policy. I believe I must have fallen for this because I believed that someone dressed as well as he was must be honest and delivering a solid financial product.
Who would you want to represent you:
Think about these questions. Ask yourself who would you rather hire:
I could go on and on with this, but the fact of the matter is that you need to put yourself in the shoes of your employer and your potential clients. Both your employer and potential client will be most interested in hiring superstars. They want someone representing them who really reflects the professionalism and esteem that they personally hold themselves to. What brand would you prefer to represent you or your law firm or company: cheap or expensive?
Take a moment to think a bit about this. A man or woman who dresses exquisitely needs to put a lot of thought and effort into this. They need to ensure that they shop diligently for the right clothing and get clothes that are most suitable to them. They need to take the time to make sure their clothes are well kept up and pay attention to details, from the dry cleaner they use to the creases that appear in their pants. They need to make sure their clothes are tailored properly. They need to make sure they are purchasing good quality shoes and that these shoes are well polished and the heels are not too worn down. They need to make sure their belt has no scratches. They need to ensure there are no runs in their pantyhose and they need to ensure their slip is not showing. The list of what is required to dress like an outstanding professional could go on and on and on. Being a very professionally dressed person requires a ton of effort and an enormous amount of attention to detail. Being a good dresser also requires an enormous amount of multitasking. In fact, being a good dresser requires so much attention to detail that most people are simply not willing or capable of doing this.
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