Clothes to confer professionalism
February 7, 2012 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Clipboards, tight leather gloves, smart briefcases - what other accessories or clothes confer an air of authority and professionalism?

I recall recently cabin crew donning smart leather gloves just before landing. I thought this was a nice touch and added a special something. I got to thinking about this, and people who mean business in films often seem to wear leather gloves, or carry an aluminium briefcase, or a clipboard.

What other accessories and indeed clothing styles give off an air of professionalism, "here to get the job done"?

Do you carry or wear something that you feel gives you this?
posted by stenoboy to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (29 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Lab coat. Doubly so if it's embroidered. (Along those lines: stethoscope, other doctorly things.)
posted by supercres at 8:37 AM on February 7, 2012

Expensive, well-maintained shoes.

Perfectly tailored clothing.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:38 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

horn-rim glasses? high-and-tight haircut?
posted by j03 at 8:38 AM on February 7, 2012

Polished boots, or shoes that "click" when walking down a hallway.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:38 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A well-tailored suit.
posted by valkyryn at 8:39 AM on February 7, 2012

Well cut suit. Nice shoes. Smart watch. Cufflinks. Pocket square.

Of all of these, I go only for the nice shoes, generally.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:40 AM on February 7, 2012

I wear high heels when I have important meetings or presentations. Definitely make me feel professional and competent.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:40 AM on February 7, 2012

People who use a specific, expensive pen every day - Parker fountain or rollerball pens, that sort of thing.


Matching underwear (for internal confidence, obviously).
posted by dumdidumdum at 8:41 AM on February 7, 2012

If you wear spectacles, a stylish expensive-looking pair goes far, as does a sleek haircut.
posted by smirkette at 9:07 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

It depends on the work that needs to get done. At a construction site, hard hats, work boots and a tool box say "Here to get the job done". A nice suit and leather gloves say "Here to get in the way."

So, really, any quality example of the clothing or tool(s) appropriate for the job at hand gives off an air of a professionalism.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:08 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have noticed a great deal more professional respect from people when I am wearing my plain black eyeglasses and mininalist makeup. Pinstripes, especially on women, also make me think terribly competent.

Supersquirrel has a good point too. Context is important. Dirty workclothes can also mean "I know my shit." A hard had with a few scratches and a seriously worn, well cared for leather tool belt also say srs bzn to me when dealing with tradies. Techies in black jeans and a black t shirt also inspire confidence, especially if the shirt has an obscure nerd joke on it. Scientists with weird hair (I don't know how that is a thing, but an awful lot of them have better things to fuss over than their hair and wind up with some lovely tresses). Um. Musicians with serious callouses in obscure places. Dancers you can pick by the comfortable shoes off stage.
posted by Jilder at 9:15 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I suppose it's funny but the opposite is true of hard hats as is with nice shoes.

Hard hats/tool box/radio/boots are only going to confer the desired effect if worn, beaten, and distressed with countless stickers and safety decals.

Nice shoes/horn rims/gloves/overcoat are only good if flawless and prepped to perfection.

There's a lesson somewhere in there...
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:18 AM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

*sigh* Great minds and all that Jilder?
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:19 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wear a Sam Browne belt sometimes.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:23 AM on February 7, 2012

'50s Engineer look: Crew cut, black pants , white shirt, tie
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:36 AM on February 7, 2012

Agreed that much depends on context, and sometimes it doesn't take much. I go to a lot of lodge meetings where guys are wearing suits or jackets & ties, with officers often wearing tuxedos. You'd be pretty surprised how many guys manage to look dowdy in a tux! (Worn out shirts, rumpled dinner jackets, clip on bow ties, etc.) So in that context, being able to tie your own bow tie engenders an almost comical amount of awe/respect.

In a more generic "world at large" sense, I think that being overdressed is the single easiest way to look like you've got some kind of edge. I have noticed that I get addressed as "sir" quite a bit more at the gas station/grocery store/restaurant/wherever if I'm wearing a jacket and tie than I do if I'm wearing jeans and a t-shirt. But be prepared to receive many "Whatcha all dressed up for?" comments as well.
posted by usonian at 9:54 AM on February 7, 2012

Mirrored sunglasses. Perhaps these have such a strong association with fetishistically authoritarian motorcycle cops. And sunglasses in general render all wearers harder to read because you can't see their eyes, which I think means we instinctively react more cautiously toward the wearer.

There's also in-group and out-group stuff that works here. Leather gloves and a clipboard might exude authority in a generalized context, but members of a group would pick up on whether a person has, say, the boots that are known to be the best boots for activity X. You show up wearing those boots, and members of that group will think either "he knows his shit" or at least "he knows enough to figure out what the right shit is." I guess that's more of a group identifier than a sign of authority.

And I too agree about context. If I see a high-riding 4x4 pickup where everything is gleaming, I think "poseur." If I see one that dinged and scratched, I think "that guy at least uses it."
posted by adamrice at 10:00 AM on February 7, 2012

being able to tie your own bow tie engenders an almost comical amount of awe/respect

+1 If formality is used to convey professionalism, style or taste nothing undermines it worse than revealing that a poor facsimile. I've literally had doors open for me because I tied my own bow tie.
posted by dgran at 10:08 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

For male academics, the traditional "tweedy blazer with elbow patches." As a female librarian, I often add a cardigan to my usual work outfit when presenting to students or at conferences.
posted by MsMolly at 10:14 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

> Scientists with weird hair

Vindicated at last! But seriously, the lab is another place where being overdressed is a sign of Manager Here To Meddle, or Clueless Newbie. Looking functional is the key: shoes you can stand at the bench all day in, close-fitting sleeves that won't knock stuff over, hair kept short or pulled back so it won't fall into the blotting tray, short fingernails that won't rip gloves, that sort of thing.
posted by Quietgal at 10:24 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clipboard says "support staff" to me. Judges's robes, vestments, powered wigs--but hardly practical in real life.

French cuffs with cufflinks on men usually means that these guys aren't rolling up their sleeves during the work day.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:06 AM on February 7, 2012

Blood on your clothes - pure authority and know-how, conveyed in a tenth of a second.

(Within work-related environments, of course)
posted by Kruger5 at 11:13 AM on February 7, 2012

Clipboard says "support staff" to me.

Agreed. One of the things you're missing is that "professionalism" depends on your profession.

I suppose it depends whether you want to convey professionalism or authority. Anything that says "costume" takes you down a few notches... the cabin crew all putting on leather gloves before landing kind of screams "chauffeur" to me.

Basically, though, good shoes. Nothing detracts from an "I mean business" look than seeing an adult in the office wearing sneakers.
posted by deanc at 11:41 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the office, man on the go, travel context: Put this On.
As for a small fourish that says well dressed: pocket squares take the day (this requires wearing suit jacket or a sports coat of course)
posted by FatRabbit at 11:56 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Riding crop?
posted by kjs3 at 12:32 PM on February 7, 2012

Glasses(non-frou-frou) confer authority. Serious hair - for men, hair that's not too long or short, for women, hair that looks well-maintained but not high maintenance. I think you want Dress for Success to get the language of professional dress. The author, John Molloy, gave up on trying to document what looks most professional for women - it changes too fast. last update was 1996.
posted by theora55 at 1:02 PM on February 7, 2012


Discreet ear piece.

(If you've ever been in the presence of the Secret Service you'll know they're very clearly there to get the job done.)
posted by Ookseer at 2:27 PM on February 7, 2012

As traditional as possible, and not ostentatious. Brooks Bros. specializes in the look. Not cheap but effective.

For men, get a dark red tie with small dots or other shapes -- the smaller the more powerful.

If you can afford it, get a MontBlanc ballpoint pen. Everyone you want to impress will notice it. For a lot more money, get a Rolex watch.
posted by KRS at 5:48 PM on February 7, 2012

This is an interesting question: before I turned thirty I used to do my Christmas shopping all on one day in mid-December. I would dress up more than usual -- topcoat, slacks, nice shirt and a tie -- and I ALWAYS got better treatment. Anyway here's my ideas:

A small notebook that is written in with careful concentration. If you must carry papers, a slim leather case is acceptable but a backpack is not.

Not a lot of stuff in your pockets…unless you're a paramedic, in which case the pockets on your cargo pants should bulge with handy stuff.

And one more vote for a real bowtie: whenever I wear one of mine -- especially the one that was my grandpa's -- it invariably get approving remarks. (I also pair it with a bright white shirt in rather heavy cotten.)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:55 PM on February 8, 2012

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