Executive Style - What Your Suit Says About You

Dressing up in a suit is often a difficult task that can take a lot of added attention and planning. It is definitely something I don’t want to take time doing first thing in the morning. Taking time to consider double cuffs or Windsor knots sounds about as tedious as watching the grass grow in the infield of Churchill Downs. However, according to almost all studies on fashion in the workplace, it’s worth the extra effort. A whole mountain of studies show that men’s fashion in the workplace is an extremely effective tool – and maybe not in the way that you think. It’s a subject I’ve spent some time on lately while thinking about corporate attire for the AJS Hotels brand.

A research project done at Yale University saw that men who wear suits were likely better to outperform those in casual attire in terms of financial gain. Interestingly, testosterone levels in those dressed in low-status attire fell an entire 20% (!!!) after their costume change. That’s no small amount. Another study done by CLICKON Insights showed that 40% of people who wear suits to work ‘love’ their jobs, as opposed to 29% who dressed casually. Additionally, while 7.89% of casual dressers recorded hating their jobs, only 2.14% of suit wearers said the same thing.
It seems to follow that perhaps the clothes really do make the man. Taking time to accent your look with a purple bowtie or cufflinks may seem frivolous, but it may also promote cognitive thinking, heightened competitiveness and overall happiness. That certainly puts a different spin on getting ready for the office in the morning.

But how can fashion plebeians survive the ever-changing rules that define what is in and what is out? Here is a list of dos and don’ts so that the GAP and H&M wearers of the world can still get on board with a little bit of power fashion to suit any meeting situation.

Matching tops to bottoms

For those of us who can often barely match our socks, the world of harmonizing tones and shades of a suit can be a nightmare. Here are some quick rules that make everything easier. First, belt and shoes should always match. For those rocking a watch, it is preferable if your watchband follows this match. If the suit top or bottom is black, never wear shoes other than black. Basically, black shoes and accessories go with all shades of suit besides light brown or khaki.

Finding a pattern

Adding a slight accent to a suit can really make you look like you know what you are doing. That said, it is possible to pull of a power clash in terms of patterns, but you had best be damn well sure you can pull it off or you risk coming across as eccentric or worse. If you have the personality to back it up, it can be a power play – but be careful. To be safe, have patterns on either the shirt or suit jacket, but never both. Professionally, it is best for the patterns to be subtle and detailed. And let’s be honest, unless you are viciously confident in your fashion choices, go with long plain black socks.

Buttoning up

Anyone who knows suits can immediately pick out someone who doesn’t due to the simple rules that come with buttoning the front. When standing, any jacket with two or more buttons should have the lowest button open. And I mean always. However, a jacket with just one button should also be buttoned up. The minute our suit wearer sits down, he should immediately unbutton everything. The general rule for vests is to never – and I mean never – wear one with your shirt untucked. Also, keep all except the bottom button buttoned up at all times. If you move away from these rules, you may find yourself being stared at as much as a first-time chopstick user at a Chinese restaurant. I know from experience.

Slipping on the right pair of shoes

Writing the exact science to shoes is difficult since styles in this arena are quick to change. It is best to pay attention to what other snappy wearers are putting on their feet. The current trend is shoes with pointed toe or wingtip that have thin leather soles. Sorry traditionalists, square-toe, slip-on loafers and thick rubber souls are a thing of the past. This one is hard for me too, but one must adapt. *Sigh*

Ties that bind

Ties have been adding sass to a men’s suit wardrobe since Louis XIII made them mandatory at royal meetings after seeing them worn by Croatian mercenaries during the 30-year war in France. Nowadays, we don’t need to kill anyone to put a little splash on our working outfit. Negotiators often use a bold contrast, such as a red tie with a dark blue suit, in order to bring focus to their figure.
The length of your tie should touch your belt, never below it. Both skinny and wide ties are acceptable, with thin men leaning towards a skinny tie and broader men leaning towards wide ties. A simple or four-in-hand knot can be used with skinny ties, while the half-Windsor and Windsor knots tend to be used with wide ties.

Interestingly, there has been a strong move against ties in the workplace in order to create a hipper and more creative atmosphere – including my corporate team. We’ve all had the experience of choking in the heat with a well done up tie, hoping nobody notices the sweat under our suits. While many things about a suit may promote positive work behaviors, I am quite sure the feeling of being caught in a stiff cotton prison is not one of them. Undoing a tie does create a more relaxed appearance – perhaps even better if we did away with them altogether.

Fitted suits or go home

While those who are worried about showing their figure may opt for bigger and baggier suit fronts and legs, there can be absolutely no doubt that fitted suits make a far better impression – no matter how big your gut may hang. A study done in 2013 where participants were asked to look at photos of men for five seconds and rate them on a variety of attributes found that those dressed in tailored form-fitting suits rated higher in all categories without fail. While it may come with added cost, putting in the extra cash is well worth the extra smash. A cost-effective alternative is buying a sale suit off the rack and asking a tailor to make some tweaks.

When put together well, the details of an outfit may tell your client or boss that you’re ambitious, thoughtful and worldly. An outfit selected thoughtlessly will have just the opposite effect. But what I am learning is even more important is how it makes you feel about yourself. The added confidence of having personal style and clothes that fit is well worth the extra trouble. Wearing a tailored, stylish suit to a meeting is more than just a projection of success, it is part of success.

How does wearing a suit to work effect performance? -Verses

Wearing a suit makes people think differently. – The Atlantic

Dress for success how clothes influence our performance – Scientific American

Top 5 reasons to wear a tailored suit – HM Cole

The evolution of the necktie