Dress, Grooming, and The Effect on Attitude

It seems that shorts, a T-shirt, and “flip flops” are now considered appropriate wear at just about any public place. How did we, as a society, get to this point? When did “being comfortable” become more important than self respect and respect for others? Our society seems to have lost what was once common knowledge – that our outward appearance has a major impact on our attitude and on the attitude of others.

We have probably all seen the advertisements for a “Work at Home” income. Aside from the fact that they are almost always a scheme to separate the gullible from their money, they also usually paint a picture of working while wearing pajamas and slippers. Perhaps there really are some people who can work that way, but my experience has shown just the opposite.

I have worked from my home, full time, since 1995. I am what many would consider an entrepreneur – I started a business after designing and writing a software program that turned out to be very popular within its niche. I have seen less than a half dozen of my customers face-to-face, so I could easily get away with spending my days unshaven and wearing whatever seemed to be most comfortable. While I have done just that for very brief periods, the effect it has on my attitude has proven to me that good grooming and dressing well are every bit as important – if not more so – than in an office filled with co-workers and clients.

While I sit in my office at home, I make sure than I shave each morning and put on nice dress clothes. At a minimum, I wear dress pants and a long sleeve white dress shirt. On occasion I will even wear a coat and tie. I have found that it has a profound effect on my productivity, my level of professionalism, my attentiveness, and how I deal with my customers on the phone. All are greatly improved as a direct result of my outward appearance – something that typically only I and my wife will see.

(Originally posted on May 27, 2010 – re-posted on June 30, 2011)

About Stephen Clay McGehee

Born-Again Christian, Grandfather, husband, business owner, Southerner, aspiring Southern Gentleman. Publisher of The Confederate Colonel and The Southern Agrarian blogs. President/Owner of Adjutant Workshop, Inc., Vice President - Gather The Fragments Bible Mission, Inc. (Sierra Leone, West Africa), Webmaster - Military Order of The Stars and Bars, Kentucky Colonel.
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7 Responses to Dress, Grooming, and The Effect on Attitude

  1. Cleophus says:

    While I agree with the sentiment of your argument, I’m afraid that I can’t go along with the practicality of it. Not everyone is blessed to be able to work in a position that allows the wearing of “dress clothes” on a daily basis. There are those of us in the world who must, unfortunately, earn our bread by the sweat of our face; which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is simply not conducive to the wearing of a suit and tie. As I said, I agree with your basic premise that the American population has gotten entirely too obsessed with the comfort aspect of dress, and have allowed the bar of what passes for self respect to dip perilously low, but you must also see that “self respect” and the fulfillment of the social contract, can also be generated in a pair of good, neat overalls as well as a Brooks Brothers suit.

    When I was a boy, my Daddy instilled in me a philosophy about such things that can be summed up with the following axioms:
    “Never be ashamed of being dirty if you got that way from honest work.”
    “Poor doesn’t mean dirty.”
    “A bar of soap only costs a nickle.”
    And, when I was complaining about a pair of particularly well worn blue jeans I was wearing:
    “It doesn’t matter if they’re patched…..as long as they’re clean.”

    Pride and self respect are things you wear inside, you can’t take them off and hang them on a hook.

  2. Thanks for writing, Cleophus. I think you may have read something into the post that wasn’t there, or at least wasn’t intended. The point was not about wearing dress clothes – it was about understanding that our outward appearance greatly affects our inner self. That’s largely because how we dress and present ourselves to others is a direct reflection of how we view ourselves.

    What matters is dressing appropriately to the situation. Two jobs before I started my software business, I worked in a factory where we spray-painted plastic hub caps for cars. That meant coming home with wet silver paint on my clothes (it was UV cured, so if it hadn’t gone through the curing oven, it remained wet). When the plant was shut down, because I was on salary and they were paying me anyway, they had me and the other supervisors clean out the paint booths. To keep the paint from sticking to the equipment, everything was smeared with a thick coat of axle grease after first using a putty knife to scrape the old paint and grease off. Coming home from that job meant being smelly, filthy, and dirty every single day, so I certainly didn’t wear a coat and tie to work. On the other hand, I didn’t wear T-shirts with images and text with profanity or any of the other garbage that is so commonly seen today. I wore only what I knew would never again be worn in public, mostly once-nice clothes that were no longer in decent shape.

    One really good benefit about that job – I so hated being in that filth (and I also speak of the general character of some of those who also worked there) that I made sure that I was always clean and well-dressed when I was not at work, and I paid much closer attention to always keeping the house clean.

    All that you said – and the axioms that your father passed along to you – are as true today as they ever were.

    I am currently working on another article on this topic, only more specific regarding clothing. A major part of that article will be pointing out the non-clothing parts of appearance that are even more important than the choice of clothing – personal hygiene, good grooming, and good posture. Done poorly, even the finest-dressed man will look like a slob. Done well, even wearing the oldest and dirtiest clothing will make a man look like a Southern gentleman – even with silver paint and axle grease. Keep checking back and be sure to let me know what you think of it when I get it finished and posted.

    Again, thanks for the comment!

  3. Rachael Polizzotto says:

    Dressing down in the name of comfort exasperates me. Properly fitting, appropriate clothes are affordable to everyone. Wearing tennis shoes to a kaffeeklatsch is like wearing heels to play tennis – just plain silly.

  4. Edgardus de la Vega says:

    My traditionalist Catholic Andalusian father cultivated me on how to dress for what occasion. Hence, I’ve tended to ‘stick out’ somewhat as a kind of novelty even in the most informal of settings. Unfortunately, the gradual devolution of our dress code has been the primary sign of an overall demise (e.g. architecture, music, civility et cetera).

    Manners and protocol of dress were once the methods for an organised life. We’ve lost much of it these past 40+ years. However, I have maintained hope for our pan-European world as to recovering all basic rules of necessity.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the article.

  5. Social matters tend to run in cycles. I too, have hope that as everyday life continues to degenerate, people will look for ways to hold onto tangible bits of civilized life. One way would be to simply dress nicer. Nice clothes don’t cost any more than the pre-trashed clothing that is so prevalent today, and it costs very little to keep them clean and neat.

  6. Edgardus de la Vega says:


    You’re absolutely right; it doesn’t cost a fortune to basically dress well. In lieu of frugal times ahead: austerity is the only way to rehabilitate disorderly souls. For years, I’ve been waiting on this new era now upon us. As generally stated by you: a new cycle has begun.

  7. A “new cycle” has indeed begun. I keep wondering when the majority will truly understand that this is not just a passing business cycle, but the current “the new normal” is merely a point on a downward slide. I have read that the “Great Depression” (the first one) had been going on for a while before the population generally recognized that it was not just the bankers and investors who were affected. It is interesting times that we live in.

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