When President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden sat down last week for a “Beer Summit” with Officer James Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, I couldn’t help but notice their dress. While Crowley and Gates dressed for the occasion—after all, it’s not every day that someone gets invited to the White House—in tasteful suit jackets, both Obama and Biden went the casual route, going jacket-less and rolling up the sleeves on their white shirts.
I assume Obama and Biden dressed informally so as to downplay the tension expected at this meeting, and to make their guests feel more at ease. Crowley and Gates, however, were correct to show respect for their host by wearing jackets. You should always wear a jacket for any occasion where business will be conducted.
Why? Because the jacket is your power piece. It commands more respect, and it always images you up. Next time you put one on, notice how your body language changes. You stand a little straighter, and you feel more authoritative. People respond to that.
The Parks Image Group has done some studies to test the power of the jacket. On one occasion I went to a store wearing a jacket. I was greeted and helped right away.
On my second trip, I wore just a sleeveless top. Not surprisingly, I was not greeted right away with the same respect. Why? I was the same person, with the same education, same credentials, same budget, same taste, etc. Why should I be treated differently because of the way I’m dressed?
Well, it’s the way it is. We are human beings and it goes back to the “fight or flight” syndrome. We judge people within 3 to 10 seconds and assume we know everything about them. We determine whether we want to do business with them, talk to them, or be their friends based on that first impression. And whether you like it or not, wearing a jacket (or a twin set cardigan for ladies in less formal business settings) will get you places faster.
In Obama’s case, I believe he went jacket-less and rolled up his sleeves because he was playing host and bartender. It’s actually good hosting etiquette. When hosting, you don’t want to overdress because you always want your guests to feel at ease. If you are hosting a party, don’t dress as if you were going to the inaugural ball. Dress appropriately, simply, and comfortably to make your guests feel good. It goes back to my golden rule: “Never put anyone in a position that makes them feel uncomfortable.”