Management Tactic #34: Dress Up When You Go Up

People treat you differently depending on what you wear. Try going to a job interview dressed in slacks and a blazer, and then try the same thing in a nice suit. An interviewer knows that you’re taking him seriously when you dress in the suit, and he’ll take you seriously in return.

I consider airline travel to be one long job interview, one long series of first impressions. The security guard checks your ID against your boarding pass. The x-ray guard gives you the one-over. The gate agent tears your ticket. The flight attendant greets you and later serves you. The passengers around you size you up. It’s one person after another, one interview after another.

I’ve learned that the best way to pass those interviews is to dress up for flights. Rather, dress how you wanted to be treated–and judged. If you want to wear tight pajama pants with “saucy” printed on the butt, people are going to treat you…well, as somewhat who wants them to read your butt. If you want to wear a t-shirt and ragged jeans, people are going to treat you like a rebellious high-schooler.

For the most part, when I travel, I just want to be left alone. That’s my time to people watch and read and get to my destination without delay. That’s it. By wearing business attire when I travel, I hope that I’m conveying that I want to be treated professionally and courteously and without suspicion, thank you very much I’ll be on my way.

How do you want your interview to go when you travel? What do you wear to the airport?

18 thoughts on “Management Tactic #34: Dress Up When You Go Up”

  1. I have a hard time believing that you don’t want people to read your butt. You’ve just yet to find a pair of slacks that have “professional” embroidered accross your cheeks.

  2. Agree with the premise. Disagree with the conclusion.

    Agree that everyone you see evaluates (interviews) you constantly. So why would you treat flights differentlty than anywhere else?

    Your logic suggests that because people are constantly drawing conclusions about you, you should dress up everywhere you go. But you don’t wear a suit at Target or McDonalds, do you?

    I think that the common logic is that whether you are in the park, at the store, at dinner etc, you compromise between what’s comfortable, what’s appropriate for the character of the location, and you’re personal style. I don’t see the public at the airport or an the plane any differenly.

    There’s no way to say this without sounding like a D-Bag, but the purchase price of my ticket and associcated travel taxes pays the flight attendants, security etc. I do not feel the need to further impress them by dressing up. They wear uniforms because they are serving you.

    Besides, if everybody dressed up for the airport, wouldn’t people watching be boring?

  3. I see your point, but I actually think your restaurant analogy works in my favor. Perhaps not McDonald’s, per se, but say you go to a nice restaurant wearing jeans and a sweater. Technically you should get the same service as someone wearing a suit, but we both know that’s not the case most of the time. Just like on an airplane, you’re paying for the meal and tipping for the service. It may be more of a hassle for you to dress up, but sometimes it’s better to be treated like a highbrow customer even if you’re not going to order the lobster.

    Airlines take it a step further than restaurants. They have security measures in place. I’d rather get past security as quickly and easily as possible. If dressing up a little bit gives me a better chance to do that–to be treated like a professional–I’ll do it any day of the week.

    • I sometimes go an alternate route. Rather than dressing up, it’s just as easy to plant drugs on someone near you in line, then to say, “I think I smell weed on this guy.” When security finds the drugs on the person, not only do they treat you like a king and basically let you right through, they sometimes give you a really cool set of pilot wings to pin on your lapel. (Actually, to be honest, I don’t even know what or where a lapel is. I just know that pins go there.)

    • In an ideal world service should be universal. To paraphrase Dr. King, ‘I have a dream where all people are judged not by the color of their (clothing) but the content of their character.’ But, if your your proposal is the current state of out society, then:
      1) At what point in time did we decide quality customer service should no longer be the norm. Rather we now are impressed, and often pay additional money or compliments to people who did their job well. IT’S YOUR JOB! DO IT WELL! Hell, show off a little! It goes back to your premise in “Treat your customers like potential girlfriends.” The party providing the service should always be wooing the customer. I understand there are exceptions to the rule (new employees, generic bad day, etc) but we are way past that when we feel like we need to dress up to go impress the flight attendants.
      2) If wearing a suit gets you ANY benefit, that’s profiling and we all know that profiling is wrong 😉 In all seriousness though, if wearing a suit gets you past TSA any faster, then TSA really not doing the job they are there to do.

  4. I like wearing a hoodie, jeans, and an ipod so no one will talk to me. If I dress professionally, people always feel that it’s necessary to strike up conversation regarding what I do or where I’m going. Different because I’m female?

  5. Another sleepless night. You hit on one of my personal pet peeves in general, airports and McDonalds alike. WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING OUT AND ABOUT IN YOUR PAJAMAS ANYWAY? Why do we even need to blog about people wearing (sorry Jayme) Juicy track suits ANYWHERE but the gym? (And then — why are you spending $200 on something to wear to the gym?)

    But as for the airport, specifically… I am a fairly casual dresser in my personal life, but professionally, I like to make a nice impression. And when I travel for business, I may just end up on an interview. TSA and flight attendants aside, I might find myself next to the editor of Redbook or a talent scout for Hearst. You just never know! And can you imagine if I’m in sweat pants or jean shorts? I’d die. Actually – I would probably elect to bypass the opportunity of a lifetime to speak with one of these people because I would be better off to hope our paths would cross again in the imaginary future than risk them forming an impression of me in my pajamas. But that’s just me.

    • According to your blog, that’s your fourth sleepless night in a row. How are you still able to write?!

      I appreciate you supporting my point (in a slightly different way than I put it). The common ground between our arguments is that life is an interview. And when you’re traveling, not only are you coming in contact with a ton of people, you will sit next to at least one person in a very tight space for several hours. For the most part, I prefer not to talk to anyone on the plane. That’s my downtime. But there’s a chance that you might meet someone who will actually be a fantastic contact or future employer. Why not dress the part?

  6. what do i wear airport?
    well, i wear what i feel like wearing. the other day, it was neon green leg warmers, some leggings, and i don’t even remember what else.
    here is my theory:
    the airport security sees hundreds, if not thousands, of people walking through the airport everyday. i guarantee that they don’t care about what you are wearing, nor do they care about you. unless, of course, you hold up the line or have weed in your back pocket. Furthermore, if you are concerned with what fellow travelers are thinking about your clothes, don’t be. They don’t care either. You are traveling. There is nothing wrong with choosing comfort over class.
    If you are sitting in seat 8A and your future employer wanders into seat 8B, dazzle him with your mind, not your Dolce and Gabbana suit.

    • That’s a darn good theory, and I’m glad you wear whatever you want to wear. However, I don’t think I’m going to dazzle any future employer if I’m wearing neon green leg warmers and leggings. That’s just a guess.

      • you just might. what happens if your future employer is a leg warmer aficionado (like myself) or his or her favorite color is neon green? they would be a great conversation starter/ice breaker. They may be a little eccentric, but they are practical (they keep my legs warm). Also, i think wearing something you normally would wear shows who you really are. If you are person that wears suits all the time, then by all means, suit yourself <– not as funny as i thought it would be.
        But i wear neon green leg warmers. i'm not going to wear a dress if i don't feel like it just to make sure i get treated right. if people don't treat you how you want to be treated, be assertive. say something. if nothing changes, they aren't worth the worry. but most people will respond to confidence.
        the key is confidence. if you wear your pj's to the airport, whatever. you payed just as much as the next person to be on that flight. work those pj's.
        likewise, if you want to wear a suit to the airport, do it. i just don't think people should have to put on a front to get treated how they want to be treated.

  7. i highly doubt that anyone will read this but its cool and i thought of this post almost immediately after it happened.

    i was on a plane sitting next to some guy that i assumed did not want to talk to me (and to be perfectly honest, i didn’t really want to talk to him either). but he pulled out a kindle and i couldn’t help but ask how he liked it and things like that. turns out he was a really nice, smart guy and we got to talking and eventually he asked me where and what i was studying blah blahh. he was a professor at harvard and he gave me his card and told me to contact him for research opportunities in the summer.

    i was wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt and i even had my tattoo showing on my wrist. my hair did look really nice though. but chances are, he doesn’t look for researchers with nice hair. just a hunch.


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