The one with the books and covers

My brother was talented and dedicated enough to go to Music College when he finished his A-Levels. Anyone who thinks getting into Oxbridge or getting a job is a tough gruelling process, then try and get into one of the top 10 music conservatoires in the world….it’s tough. Following 4 years of study under a world class professor he graduated to flog his wares as a freelance musician in London….it’s tough. He ended up sharing a house with 3 fellow freelance musicians, 2 of whom were seasoned professionals (and seasoned drinkers but that’s another story) and 1 was also a recent graduate who it’s safe to say was fairly enamoured of himself.

He was ‘caught’ on several occasions parading around the house/his room in full evening dress (white tie & tails), admiring his smartness in various mirrors. His bubble was burst somewhat by one of the older lads calling him something far too rude for this blog and adding “it’s just a boiler suit”. When he received in response a quizzical look he added, “If you worked at Kwik Fit, you’d wear a boiler suit but you work in an orchestra so you get to wear that”. He went on to add that the individual should stop being….well, he should stop being a something.

There are some jobs, like orchestral musicians, that have very defined modes of dress and even more jobs that have stipulated uniforms but outside of those is a whole load of ambiguity. I was at a dinner with other HR professionals recently and a senior HR Director was bemoaning the amount of noise and nonsense is caused by the organisation’s dress code; her take on it being “if you’d wear it on a night out or to the beach then don’t wear it to the office”.

Having been told early in my career to ‘dress for the job you want not the job you’ve got’ I’ve fought the temptation to dress like an eccentric billionaire and am decidedly conformist in that I suit and boot. My thinking being that you never feeling uncomfortable being too smart (although being asked if I was a banker by a checkout lady at Waitrose did make me chuckle) and it’s easier to take a tie off, roll up sleeves etc to dress myself down if I am seriously ‘over smart’.

That being said I am not what you define as fashion conscious and had always thought I paid little attention to what people wear. I was wrong. Having reflected recently on several situations I’ve been in I have realised that maybe just on a subconscious level like everyone else I am prone to judging books by covers and in my judgement clothing and what it possibly says about the individual is definitely a component.  So how am I being judged? And do I care?

The reality is that impressions are formed quickly and intuitively we all make them, but was Mark Twain right when he said, “Clothes make the man”? (Although the rest of the quote is “Naked people have little or no influence on society”). Am I any better at my job in a pinstripe suit and double cuffed shirt than I would be in a pair of jeans and a polo shirt? Or does my ‘boiler suit’ just help me feel internally valid to do my job?


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