There’s nothing like a good suit (or three or four).
It has been a very chaotic and busy few weeks (hence the long time between posts). For those of you that aren’t aware, I moved back to Australia a fortnight ago, after finishing up my employment in Connecticut. After considering the job market, the costs of living, and the logistics of getting affordable health coverage in the U.S. while job hunting, it worked out that the best option for me was to sell my stuff and return home to plan next steps.
It has been nice to catch up with family and friends, and to enjoy the last remnants of an Aussie summer. However, tempting as it may be to use the time to take a well earned holiday, I know I have to continue the process of job hunting. Ideally I want to stay in the arts sector and continue to build experience and skills in managing and leading organisations, but pragmatically, I can’t discount opportunities in other industries. We'll see what happens.
What has been of interest is the variations in the language and expectations across different recruitment ads, ranging from the deadly serious, to the casual, to the comic. One particular ad for a consulting firm caught my eye for its comment “No suits here!”. I love jeans and skate shoes as much as the next person, and I understand the desire to create a “quirky” and “individualistic” culture within a firm, but the assumption that a suit was some sort of burden forced upon the wearer, or worse, an insinuation that its wearer was stuffy and devoid of personality struck me dumb.
Those who know me know I like to wear a suit. Maybe it’s the years of office work followed by years of B-School, but it’s become the default in my wardrobe. I own more suits than pairs of jeans. A suit is as much an expression of personality as any other set of clothing, if the wearer wants it to be. And despite what many people say, it’s a remarkably practical outfit. So here follows a few arguments in defense of why a good suit is my go-to.
In Defence of the Suit
Apart from a few places (e.g. the gym), you can get away with wearing a suit just about anywhere. It’s an outfit for all seasons and all events. Don’t think of it as being “overdressed”, think of it as being “well dressed”.
Despite what you might think, most (good) suits are made from lightweight wool fabrics, and are designed to work with layering when it comes to the colder seasons (think vests, undershirts, coats etc.). So they can be made to suit all seasons, including the summer. Even in 40ºC (105ºF) heat a suit is manageable, as I discovered while commuting to an interview last week (it’s not exactly comfortable, but to be fair hardly anything is when it’s that hot).
Take care of your suit, and it will last you years. Ideally a suit only gets 1-2 wearings a week, but even with more than that, a good suit will hold up well against most situations you can throw at it. A two-trouser suit will last even longer (it’s normally the seat of the pants that wears out first).
Jacket Pockets are Magical Things
Despite valiant efforts, the manbag has never quite taken off as the carryall for the ever increasing number of things we need to take with us. And the bulge of a wallet sticking out of the rear jeans pocket is both unsightly and a security risk. That’s why a suit jacket is such a great solution. Most have 3-4 internal pockets, and are styled so that you can carry your stuff and still maintain a clean look.
Speaking of a clean look, suits instantly create an impression. It's classic fashion. There is a caveat though: get it fitted to your body. That doesn’t mean you need to get a suit made bespoke (bespoke tailoring is expensive – I’ve never been able to afford it). But a good tailor can take an existing suit and by adjustment fit it to your shape (and a good suit salesperson knows to sell you something that will allow this). Moreover, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Sometimes a suit can be cheaper than a pair of designer jeans and a fancy shirt, if you watch for a good sale.
Because of the aversion most guys have to wearing suits, and the inherent connotations of formality, wearing a suit makes you stand out. It’s equally arguable that in the workplace everyone wearing jeans and t-shirts has created a new uniform. A suit immediately lifts the style game and sets you apart. And you can always accessorise it with ties, pocket squares, and cufflinks if you need that extra touch of individuality.
The Ultimate Travel Garment
But what prompted this extended rant on the virtues of a good suit was a reaction to this photo of me in a (very empty) Hong Kong airport, waiting for the second leg of my flight home to Australia:
A friend of mine was surprised that I would be traveling 30+ hours across the world (JFK -> HKG -> MEL) in a suit.
Frankly, I’m surprised more people don’t do it.
A suit is a great option for long haul travel. Firstly, it gives you the ability to secure all your pocket items in the jacket, and that makes it great for getting through security checkpoints quickly. Just take the jacket off, items inside, and put it through the X-ray machine. Paired with slip-on shoes it’s even quicker (Blundstone 510s are perfect, and they're not limited to being worn with suits - they can be worn with just about anything).
Secondly, they’re surprisingly comfortable, with the lightweight wool fabric being well suited for long stretches of travel. You can even get suits designed for traveling, made with special fabrics that have enhanced breathability and durability (for example, the one in this article).
Thirdly, a suit is good for improving your chances of getting better service, or even that magical upgrade. Yes, upgrades happen, and my friends in the airline industry tell me that dressing the part is one of the things they look for (being nice to staff is even more important, but you should be doing that anyway). And yes, it’s happened to me. I was lucky enough to get a business class upgrade just over a year ago, and it’s gotten me free lounge access and baggage allowance upgrades to boot.
Finally, if wearing a single outfit for over a day bothers you, you can always get changed on the flight into something more sleep-worthy (a lightweight set of pyjamas can easily fit into carry-on baggage). As well as that, a change of underwear and shirt for the really long trips goes a long way towards feeling refreshed when you get home.
So that’s my attempt at defending the suit. Hopefully it’s convincing. Needless to say I didn’t apply for that particular consulting job. After all, when it comes to hiring talent, cultural fit can mean more than qualifications or job experience. And clearly they weren’t my kind of culture.
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
Copyright © Gerard Atkinson 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the owner is strictly prohibited.