Power Suit or Open Shirt: What Do Your Work Clothes Say About You?

What you wear to work says a lot about who you are. In this post I want to psychoanalyze the heck out of the topic and see if we can learn a little bit about what your work clothes say about you.

The Power Suit

Creative Commons License photo credit: MShades

The power suit was popularized by Ralph Lauren and is all about wearing a suit that makes you look powerful without even having to open your mouth. It is somewhat intimidating – sharp edges, broad shoulders, etc. It is worn when working in a corporate environment, when meeting with powerful clients or when meeting the competition. It is also supposed to have an internal effect by making you feel more powerful than you really are. It is a psychological tool.

What does it say about you?
If you wear a power suit to work it might indicate one of many things. Here are some common thoughts:

  • Seriousness: a power suit is said to be a sign of seriousness. It shows that you are ready for business, you are focussed and you are in the zone.
  • Trustworthiness: my father always says that you should wear a nice suit when meeting with clients because it conveys a sense of professionalism and trustworthiness. Especially if you are dealing with people’s money, a power suit can speak volumes.
  • Wealth: leading on from the previous point a power suit also often indicates wealth. Or, it might indicate that you want to look wealthy.
  • Insecurity: some people think that a power suit is an insecure modern day suit of armor. I have heard professionals state that there is no need to look sharp and powerful on the outside if you are truly that on the inside. Some people see them as fake.
  • Arrogance: the power suit is often said to be worn only by arrogant people who think they are better than the rest of us. Perhaps a little harsh but I’m trying to include it all.

The important thing about the power suit is that it has a time and a place. If you are someone who works in a social work area there is no point meeting somebody you are about to help all decked out in an intimidating suit. Make sure you choose your moments.

Open Shirt Smart Casual

Creative Commons License photo credit: withthegrain

Open Shirt Smart Casual is the best way I could think to describe the style of dress that is not power suit serious and not “at home” casual. Quite often people who dress like this wear some slacks and and shirt with the top two buttons open and no tie. They might even wear jeans. They often wear brown shoes instead of shiny black ones.

What does this say about you?
If this is more your style than the power suit then have a read and see what it is supposed to say about you:

  • Relaxed: it seems to be that people who dress like this are more relaxed about their job and approach it in an easy going manner.
  • Friendly: people are much more approachable when they are dressed like this as it does not give off an aggressive vibe like the power suit.
  • Slower: I always get the feeling that people who dress like this are more “paced” as opposed to the power suit types who rush about like there is no tomorrow from one deal to the next.

Again, you have to pick your moments for this style of dress but in many circumstances I feel it is better to dress like this than in a sharp suit. Quite often it is easier to relate to clients when you are more approachable and less “business man/woman”. People are less intimidated and more open to asking questions and speaking honestly.

T Shirt Casual

Creative Commons License photo credit: Symic

Finally we have the casual that is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the power suit. It is jeans, t shirts and maybe some sneakers.

What does this say about you?
Here are some basic things that people infer about you when you dress casual at work:

  • Lazy: my father always says that it makes people think that you are lazy. Simply couldn’t be bothered preparing for work
  • Untrustworthy: again, if you are dressed in casual at work it might indicate that you are untrustworthy because you don’t care about looking good for work. Why would other people trust you with their business and money if you can’t even take care of your appearance?
  • Lack of Company Pride: dressing casual, in many workplaces, is seen as disrespectful as you are not too worried about how the firm is being portrayed
  • Easy Going: someone who dresses casual is also seen as easy going and more approachable. You might be more willing to ask this person a question or enquire about a deal.

The Most Important Factor: HOW You Wear It

After looking at all of this we need to remember that the most important factor is how you wear it. You could be dressed in a $10,000 Armani suit but if you haven’t shaved, brushed your hair or put on deodorant you are not going to be perceived the way you want.

Likewise, you can dress is smart casual or even casual and give the impression of being trustworthy, accountable and very professional. It all depends on how you carry yourself, speak and of course how much attention you pay to the little details.

Tips for Dressing Well at Work

I want to end this post by looking at some tips for dressing well at work. If you have any other please add them in the comments.

  • Shave everyday
  • Get regular haircuts
  • Iron well
  • Dress only in clothes you feel comfortable in
  • Go for softer colors like charcoal, dark blue and grey instead of black (leave black for funerals and black tie events)
  • Make sure shoes, tie, clothes and watch all work together
  • Remember that your appearance tells people something about you and something about your company

Any others?

top image:Creative Commons License photo credit: Sebastian Fritzon

11 thoughts on “Power Suit or Open Shirt: What Do Your Work Clothes Say About You?

  1. Excellent post.

    It seems as if there is a mini-revolution going on in how we as men in the US dress.

    For most of my career (10+ years) in information technology, open shirt smart casual was what we all wore. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed much more fitted clothing, shirt colors other that blue and more suits around.

    Since starting to wear ties and retiring my Dockers a year ago, I find that the baggy look now feels very sloppy.

    Interesting how quickly styles change.

    Dark, clean, well fitting blue jeans are always in fashion.

  2. I agree with the German guy….

    But seriously formal and conservative is in for corporate jobs but you have to do it right, that means the right sizing not the right brand name, people in $2000 suits that don’t fit accompanied with $80 shoes and polyester shirts still look ridiculous and I see it all the time

  3. Nice article. I have a lot of trouble knowing what to wear at work – being conservative but still looking stylish.


  4. Alex – Perhaps you could write us an article about dressing with style on a budget?

    Graham – What do you wear now?

    Anderson – Thanks! See if we can come up with some budget options.


  5. I’m also a believer in the idea that the way you dress matters. It’s how you show that you give a damn about the world around you.

    I think a lot of men would benefit from finding out what colors look best on them. After all, you want people’s attention on you, not your clothes. (I’m looking at you, Ironic ’80s Reference T-Shirt!) The right colors can keep attention on your face, regardless of how formal or casual your outfit is.

  6. Hello there! This article couldn’t be written much better! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept preaching about this. I most certainly will forward this information to him. Pretty sure he will have a great read. Many thanks for sharing!

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