André Grinston shares what it means to look polished and professional. 

Andre Grinston

I have a confession. As my wife will probably tell you, I love a quality business suit. Pinstripes, herringbone, black, blue, navy, gray, or even seersucker, it doesn’t matter. However, COVID-19 and business casual workplaces have dramatically changed the rules of the office. After moving from the formal office to casual Fridays to Zoom meetings, the modern worker has seen suits become more of a rarity as people shed their ties and button-ups for khakis and knits.

As we navigate office closures and stay-at-home orders, I’ve had more time at home to ponder the deeper things of life — you know, confounding philosophical issues like, “How often does grass need to be watered?” Or, “Are my kids louder than Arrowhead Stadium?” I’ve also been pondering the meaning and significance of a business suit, which I’ve had fewer occasions to wear. 

After months of deep thought (thanks COVID), I’ve come to believe business suits still hold meaning in our society because of what the suit represents, and not because of the actual suit itself.

For some, a business suit still represents power and authority. A man or woman in a business suit may be taken more seriously or immediately afforded a level of respect or prestige. Think about it. If you’re in a room and need to find the person in charge, you’re probably going to start with the person in the suit. In other areas, a business suit is viewed as a sign of self-respect or even a representation of an individual’s core values. The better groomed or dressed, the more favorable or moral a person is perceived by many.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a chance to test this theory. I’m usually in a business suit from Monday through Friday. However, you’ll probably see me in track sweats and a baseball cap after-hours or on weekends. I’ve experienced occasions where I’ve been treated vastly different when I was casually dressed than I was wearing a normal business suit. In some instances, the different treatment came from the same people! For example, I’ve gone into places where I’ve received a warm reception and a smile in a business suit and later been ignored or treated suspiciously by the same person when wearing track sweats and sneakers.

While my professional attire of choice may be a business suit, the rules of engagement have changed. And perhaps they should. The truth is that external attire should never be used to determine an individual’s worth, value, or internal ability. We run the risk of undermining valuable connections and relationships when we make judgments based on what we see and not on who people are. People may not always fit our molds or preconceived notions.

Don’t get me wrong. A business suit is still appropriate in some settings and should be expected. However, we shouldn’t be so focused on what we or others wear that we forget the more important aspects of self-care and self-respect.

I challenge you to think of what matters. Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg said, “It is so important to take time for yourself and find clarity . . . the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself.” 

Take time to focus on your mental, physical, and spiritual health and wellness. A suit may help you close a business deal, but the suit is meaningless if you’re not taking care of you and doing whatever it takes to feel as good as you look.

Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed with intention and ambition. Be intentional and take time for yourself and for the people and things that bring meaning to your life. Know your worth, no matter what attire you choose to wear. Who you are should not be open for compromise or disrespect, no matter how you present yourself. Someone said that we train people how to treat us — so don’t let anyone define, limit, or label you based on trivial, external things.

You’ll still see me in a business suit. However, my context and perception have changed. My wife and I have a deal. She’ll continue to ignore the additions to my wardrobe, and I’ll pretend not to see the mysterious shoeboxes multiplying on her side of the closet. Just remember the suit never makes an individual; the individual always makes the suit!