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April 04, 2011


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I wouldn't dress up when going to a bank or auto dealer or whatever. I've made an apprenticeship in retail and the thing they've taught us most, is NOT to judge any customer by his clothes. So when I go to somebody I want him to treat me like I am and not how I dress. Period. If the seller can't go beyond his selfish way of looking at others, he's on the way of losing this business with me... If he does treat me like I expect it though, I may be happy to pay a buck more than necessary just for feeling comfortable at the shop/dealer/bank.

Being an online worker who works out of a home office, it is rare for me to ever change out of my pajamas, but I too have an opinion so here goes:

What you wear depends on the situation and on your goal(s). There's no point in wearing a 'three piece suit' if you're obviously uncomfortable in one. Or, if you wear one and you haven't shaved for a day or two, you can come across as psychotic! On the other extreme, shorts and flip-flops may not go over real well when the arrangement is meant to be mutually beneficial (and trust may be involved), but may be ok when you're the one laying out the cash for some thing or service.

Anywhere where the rules are grey - such as a return to a store without a receipt or when, for instance, negotiating the fee for some contract/job and this has to be done in person - at the very least things require 1) a shave of less than 24 hours, 2) decent shoes, 3) good blue jeans and a button-down shirt. In fact, that combination works well in many situations where 'formal dress' is not required but where you may have some agenda, IMHO.

For shopping, I think it is almost always preferable to just dress comfortably, whether that be a business suit or pajamas. If someone isn't willing to take you as you are they probably aren't the best people to do business with.

Personally I've yet to encounter a shopping situation where I felt the need to dress up or down, and I'm not sure I ever will. Being comfortable when negotiating should be a bigger factor than how they perceive your success.

I dress for comfort but for me that doesn't necessarily mean pajamas. I would feel awkward out in public in my pajamas, just not put together. Jeans or a skirt and a nice top are my norm and I can't think of anything I would shop for that would need any sort of deviation from that.

I dress in slacks and a button-down shirt almost all the time. That was good enough to negotiate my last vehicle purchase. I didn't put on a tie or anything.

If I 'dress down', it's because I have something to do that requires more casual clothing. On Saturday I went rock climbing with a buddy. I had on cargo pants and a t-shirt. After we wore ourselves out on the crag we went to the sporting goods store because he wanted to buy a kayak. No change of clothes, no shower, even. It didn't seem like they minded...

Dressing down when shopping at yard sales can pay off. When my wife was pregnant, she would purposefully wear her most beat-up cloths. She got terrific deals on baby clothes and items. She would also take off her wedding ring, which gave her the look of a poor, single mom. That probably tugged some heartstrings...

You should always look good and be properly dressed. Everyone, regardless of training, judges you by your appearance. The car you drive, the cloths you wear, the shoes on your feet, the words you use, the style of your hair; everything is used to put you into a category. Everything you do sends a message to those around you.

If you want the chance for better service, success, respect, etc., you had better dress and look appropriate.

That being said, dressing down can also be to your advantage. A friend ran a very successful software company whose target customers were medium sized manufacturing companies. He drove an old beat up car to client visits and never wore flashy cloths. In his personal life, he drove flashy cars and wore nice cloths.

My rules of dress being someone who works from home:

Negotiating to purchase/sell (with cash)- casual as I want (try to look like I have less money than I do)

Purchase with no negotiation - casual as I want (hat, jeans, etc)

Dealing with Customer Service for a questionable return - nice casual/business casual (nice jeans/dockers, no hat, nice shoes).

Its better to be over dressed than under dressed in most situations and thank god for online shopping.

I typically purposefully dress down in order to find out if the sellers are quick the "qualify" me as worthy of making a purchase at their establishment. Often I am willing to buy, but I'd rather deal with non-superficial people when making a deal. Plus, I've always enjoyed the juxtaposition of someone in cargo shorts against someone wearing a nice suit.

It doesn't seem to matter how I'm dressed---if I'm trying to buy a big ticket item (car, home appliance) I get much better attention from salespeople if I bring along a man. Even these days! Annoying but true. It does make me wonder how such stores and dealerships can even exist.

I've always said that the dealership that stays opens on Sundays and treats women customers well would walk away with the market, but apparently I'm the only one who thinks that! Very strange.

I find that common courtesy matters more than what I'm wearing. Typically I am very polite and friendly, and I'll usually get that same level of courtesy back regardless of whether I am dressed up or just wearing shorts and a T-shirt. The phrases "Good Morning/Afternoon", "Please", and "Thank You" all seem to go a long way, and salespeople/clerks often go a little out of their way to assist me.

With something like a car -- a big ticket item that sellers expect you to finance -- DON'T dress down. It makes you look like a sucker. The dealership will think they can offer you a "low monthly payment", tack on a ton of fees, and come out way ahead. They won't offer you the best price because they think you're a chump who'll overpay.

Conversely, DON'T overdress. Don't wear anything that says "I'm willing to pay a premium to look good". Bling bling jewelry, an expensive silk tie, designer shoes or sunglasses, or other things of that nature are right out. That communicates to the dealer that you don't care about price, so they won't offer you a good one.

Instead, dress like you know what you're doing. Dress like you know how to do business, like you know how to negotiate, and like you expect to be treated with genuine respect. Dress professional, not flashy. Come with your research already done and in your briefcase or purse or on your laptop or smartphone. Be direct and concise; let the seller know that they have to make you the best deal, and then take their deal only if it's the best.

@ MC:

You're NOT the only one who has thought that! Strange that most of the auto dealerships are closed on Sundays!

I only shop at Home Depot, Costco, and local nurseries, supermarkets & drugstores and I don't think they care a rat's posterior what I'm wearing - the service is always the same - polite and cheerful. We like to dress nicely though when we go out to restaurants, even when they aren't fancy ones, likewise to the doctor or the dentist. I don't even own a suit, let alone wear one - I had enough of suits, white shirts, and ties when I worked for a living, they were expected back then.

When I was first looking for a house, I went to many open houses. The probability of a call the following week from a realtor was directly related to how I dressed for the open house. Well-dressed = call-back. Jeans and T-shirt = no call-back.

I have also noticed that with which vehicle I am in. I have an old beat-up Toyota Highlander and a shiny Lexus convertible. On the road, 9 times out of 10 people give way or move aside for the Lexus and totally ignore the Highlander.

It is also sometimes amusing to go to a car dealership dressed down. They make a LOT of assumptions based on dress, whether they have been trained to do so or not. Want to stand around and be ignored - dress down. Want someone to run to you - dress up.

This discussion reminds me of an old Cosby Show episode where Cliff dresses up like a bum at the car dealership. It seems to be working for a while, but then there is an unexpected conclusion. The scene starts at 0:50 and ends at about 5:50.

A very good friend of mine is the president of a local bank. He sees a lot of folks for commercial and personal loans of which he has done for 30 years. Evidently the rule of thumb is clothes don't matter but cars do. Typically if someone is driving a new luxury car they have less money in the bank than if they drive up in an older car. So they don't judge you buy your clothes but by your car.

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