My Style Epiphany — Why I Learned To Dress Well And Why It Matters To You

The first time that I experienced serious failure was when I was rejected by the Army to become an Army Officer. Straight after University, I went to Selection which was a two day assessment. I was confident that I would get through to the next stage: a four day assessment. Looking back I was confident because I’d come from a top university and graduated with a strong degree. I thought that this would be enough to get me through. Arrogant? Possibly. Naive? Definitely.

I remember being in the Major’s office when he said that I had failed. Worse, I wasn’t being given the opportunity to return for a second chance. I didn’t hear a lot of what he said after that. My head was swimming. I couldn’t concentrate. I’d wanted this for a year. I thought I was going to walk in. I had the door closed in my face.

The train journey home was a long one. There were other candidates on the train. Many had got through and were in fine spirits. I could spot the candidates who didn’t get through instantly. Their heads were down and looking at their feet. They looked like misfits, not leaders of men. They didn’t look the part at all. They would have been as crushed as me. All I could think when looking at their appearance was “why did they even try?” What I didn’t realise at the time was that they were me.

Over the next couple of months, I reflected on what happened. My Dad was obviously sympathetic. However, he did say that, on one level, he wasn’t really that surprised because of my very closely cropped skinhead, a haircut I’d had for several years. I spoke to a friend’s dad who’d been an Officer in the Royal Air Force and he was astonished that I’d not polished my shoes properly before going to the assessment. I was wearing a badly fitting suit, a terrible light blue checked tie and a shirt that had sleeves that were just a bit long, as well as black shoes that were just functional. They were black shoes and nothing else.

It slowly dawned on me that I’d not really prepared properly. Whilst it wasn’t the full reason I didn’t get in, it was clear that I didn’t look the part. I didn’t look like I could lead and inspire a platoon of battle-hardened troops. What makes me shake my head looking back on it, I can’t believe I thought I looked like a potential Army Officer.

I was a bit lost after that. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was sure however, that I would not make the same mistakes again.

I wanted to look credible. I wanted to be taken seriously wherever I went and for whatever I went for. I went to Law School before going to Bar School and I needed suits for internships, mock trials and work experience. I decided to get the best suits I could afford and this time, I took guidance from observing the best-dressed people in this industry. Their suits were made from high quality cloth and with a conservative cut. I bought the best English shoes I could afford. I knew I looked the part.

This had knock-on effects. I felt more confident. I felt I gave a much better first impression. I felt I was taken to be credible. This fed into interviews. I was confident and this helped me to relax and give the best account of myself. After Bar School, I worked in banks like Goldman Sachs and ING, then a hedge fund and a fund manager. Since I learned how to dress for work situations, I’ve always felt confident when interviewing. I dread to think what would have happened in these interviews if I hadn’t learned to dress much better. Communication is 80% non-verbal and dressing well communicates that you are credible, presentable and someone who understands that appearances count.

I’ve reaped the benefits of dressing well outside of work too. Whilst I don’t wear suits that often in non-work situations, I do have a dapper style. Jackets, dress shirts, nice shoes and a decent watch. I’ve found that people notice and I give a strong first impression. I find that people are less likely to mess with you or brush you off when you’re well dressed and actually are more likely to be well-disposed towards you.

In terms of dating, I’ve never been a natural. I have noticed though that dating is much better when you’re well dressed. Why? In a nutshell, you feel confident in how you look and this translates to how you behave, your gestures and your general demeanour. It’s a cliche that women like confidence but no less true for that. To her, you are a confident man who has a strong sense of style and a strong sense of who he is. A pretty good result of being well dressed.

I’m not saying that being well dressed is a magic bullet to achieving worldly success. What I am saying is that being well dressed will help you become much more confident in all situations as well as resulting in people being much better disposed towards you. Think about how much that would mean to you.

That’s me with a cheesy grin enjoying a nice cold glass of manzanilla sherry! (Credit: Angelique Vu)

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