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The Autobiography of Russell
Life from a different perspective
Mistaking the suit for power and respect instead of the act
Sometimes I wonder if my brain missed a development stage or some sort of social cues class (there's a very obvious "duh" there but for the sake of this argument I won't explore how that affected it).

When I see someone in a suit I don't automatically think "power" or "respect", nor do I see someone not in a suit and think "weak" or "disrespect". I give them both the same about of respect as I would any human being or intelligent species. The suit might mean more money, but then I also have the 'problem' that I don't equate money to power. Just because someone has more money doesn't mean they should get more respect or whatever than any other human/etc.

So why is it that society equals "professionalism" to respect?

I think what it means to be respectful, and thus professional, has gotten mixed up with the suit and not the act. We put on a suit and all of a sudden we're respected, rather than by how we act. Someone in a suit can be just as disrepectful as someone out of the suit.

I also think this is how we end up with companies going downhill, sexual harrassment issues in the workplace, and so on. Not just because they're higher in the command chain than you, but because we somehow think the suit makes them right so we are unsure if we're right anymore.

On another note, things have been so busy lately, and you all have been so responsive, that I've gotten behind on responses. That's something I'm going to tackle this weekend so expect to get a flurry of responses starting tomorrow.

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mai_neh From: mai_neh Date: May 3rd, 2013 03:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
People do treat me differently when I'm wearing a suit.

I've usually worked for organizations that have no dress code, so I'm used to working with very smart people who are wearing jeans and t-shirts. I have no problem with this. But I know that people typically signal their seriousness and desire to move up by starting to wear nicer clothes to the office. It is just part of the game.

I remember when a colleague of mine was selected for a detail over at Treasury, that weekend he was at Nordstrom buying handsome new suits and ties. It was a way for him to signal to his new team that he treated this detail seriously, and eventually he was hired for the job instead of sent back.

Wearing a suit is never sufficient, of course. People won't take you seriously only because you wear a suit. But it is a tool of power projection, no way around this.
lakeguy From: lakeguy Date: May 3rd, 2013 08:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I see that happen all the time at work, people wearing suits are treated totally different then when not
zimzat From: zimzat Date: May 21st, 2013 10:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, there may always be somewhere that will give someone favor because they're wearing a suit. The suit industry certainly has job security. XD

Do you think it's because I don't secretly find suits hot and aren't hiring them for the eye candy? ;)
legolastn From: legolastn Date: May 3rd, 2013 05:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've always personally not been a "suit guy" - I own (exactly one) suit and a few suit jackets but I rarely wear them. It's hard enough to get me into a tie or jacket. At work I generally wear a button-up shirt and dress slacks, but post-tenure that will probably change to jeans and maybe t-shirts (since I like t-shirts as a message medium). I think the last time I wore the suit I have was on my last job interview (3 years ago), and it's generally been the case I only wear them for job interviews, occasions like weddings or funerals, and events specified as suit-and-tie.

I guess based on my upbringing and the circles I travel within as an adult I've never equated a suit with power or respect or even money, at least in a direct way. Really not even professionalism although I think that might be closer. I think the tightest association I have with suits is "seriousness." Which is to say that wearing a suit is an indicator to me that you are a Serious Person(tm) and/or that you (believe you) are at/going to/have been at a serious occasion. That can be a positive or a negative. Certainly people with money or power are often Serious People(tm) and/or commonly engaged in Serious Transactions/Interactions(tm), so there is an association there, but only secondarily. Growing up, even in poor families we knew the men had suits - but they only came out for church and/or special occasions. On the flip side of the coin, although higher ed administrators usually wear suits among the faculty those with the most power and money (and, often, respect) tend to be the ones who can choose not to wear a suit most freely. And usually that indicates they're more casual or informal with their students and colleagues.

I think class socialization is no doubt part of the whole thing. I show my intro soc students a video on class where one a working class guy talks about how when salespeople come to his workplace he tells them to take their suit and tie off before he will talk to them. And I think a lot of lower-to-working class people have a distrust, rather than (or in addition to) a respect for the suit. It can represent the boss, the Man. But for those with a more middle-to-upper class upbringing I think it's less problematically (for them) associated with status, which in turn is equated with respect and professionalism.
zimzat From: zimzat Date: May 21st, 2013 10:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
The thing I wonder about going to job interviews in a suit and tie, as someone who has sat on the other side of the table, is what this person will really be like and dress like on a day to day basis. That's the person I want to see when I'm evaluating them for a job. If they come into the job the first day in raggy shorts and a holey wife beater I think we're going to have a problem. I want to know they have decent clothes for their day to day too. Ahem. Getting a bit too technical here.

I don't own any suits, though I do own several ties. Black slacks is the closest I get to dress pants though I almost never wear it.

I hear what you're saying about the view of suits from different social situations. I suspect your upbringing and/or field of study has made you even more aware of the situation from an outside perspective. I would like to think academia is even better placed to realize this and change their behavior than the rest of the business world is. Maybe I should go into academia? heh, I have entertained the idea a few times as where to go with my career path.
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