Dressing up, not down: Clothing does send a message

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No, I am not a clothing snob. Just because I nix flip-flops in the office and cargo shorts for Dress-down Fridays does not mean my idea of sartorial splendour begins and ends with Savile Row.

I will admit to a soft spot for black tie, a fondness for three-piece suits and a liking for tweed jackets with cashmere sweaters and cords, when the occasions arise. But this leaning towards tailored clothing doesn’t rule out hoodies and sweat pants — as long as they’re confined to the gym! Because when it comes to dressing down, I’m with Jerry Seinfeld. In the episode called The Pilot, where Jerry and George are pitching a TV network with their idea for a new show, Jerry wants George to shape up and dress the part:

“You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.’” Jerry in The Pilot

Jerry really got it right. Clothing does send a message. But there’s an enormous side benefit to a well-groomed appearance and general sense of “dressing up” — it gives you a lift. Big time. One of the greatest advocates of this philosophy is my friend Bill Shaddy. As former Senior Director of International Personnel Operations at Pepsi, Bill knows “the right stuff” when it comes to stocking his closet. These days, however, things are a little more complicated. For starters, he has all the buttons on his shirts replaced with snaps. Bill, I should explain, has been living with MS for the last 18 years and snaps are just easier than wrangling with a button and bitty hole. Rain or shine, Bill dresses up. His only concession is a stylish cane by his side.

After life in the fast lane — including overseas postings in London, India, Cyrus and eventually Corporate HQ, just outside New York City — Bill now lives in Sarasota, Florida. Naturally, the local “dress code” is far more casual than his habitual boardroom haunts. He accepts that a relaxed dress code makes sense in Sarasota’s climate and that it’s a lifestyle thing, too. It’s only natural that clothes reflect the laid-back culture of Florida but I can picture Bill saying; “Dressing up just makes one feel so much better!” His sense of well being reflects a keen level of attention to detail. Trousers need a little extra knee-room to accommodate his new, life-changing walk-aid (link) and there are the snap alterations on shirts. Actually, Bill has become adept at making adjustments:

“My left side is sort of ‘going for the tide’ so I need to request restaurant servers to be certain my food is cut into bite-size pieces.”

Certainly the greatest adjustment was his decision to leave Pepsi. It was an intense and dynamic environment. The focus of his work was building local business teams in critical, emerging markets while helping to drive Pepsi operating systems. An essential component of his mandate was fostering the company’s global, cultural values at a local level. There were some challenges during the earliest stages of his diagnosis, when colleagues noticed something was not quite right. Ultimately, despite encouragement to remain on the job, Bill made his move to medically retire and relocate to Florida, so he could better manage his health agenda. Today, his mandate, depending on how he feels, is to deliver Junior Achievement basic business programs to students at local middle schools.

When it comes to dressing up, Bill Shaddy and I are on the same wavelength. Merci Bill for sharing your point of view!

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