Do you need to wear a suit to be seen as successful?


I attended a “speed networking” event recently. This was a fundamentally new experience for me (both the “speed” and the “networking” aspect) but it was hosted by a guy I knew from the Art of Non-Conformity community, so it seemed pretty well vetted to me.

The event went well, with some interesting combinatorial planning involved to make sure that all twenty or so people had a chance to chat with each other (try this yourself if you think this is easy). I found the most useful part of the event was not specifically any of the people I met (though everyone was quite cool and supportive), but the practice in giving my elevator pitch. Having to give it over and over forced me to get that much better at it. I feel like my elevator pitch now requires fewer floors now, as it were.

Out of the all the people I talked with, though, one person’s conversation in particular stuck out to me. After I pitched my offerings for the 15th time, he gave me some feedback. And while he wished me luck, he excused himself but said that “if I’m going to want financial help from you, I’ll want to see you in a suit. I look at you now and I don’t see financial success.”


What does success look like?

First, let’s all recognize that the visual is important. The way a person looks does convey some things about them. I bet some of you have chosen to use a particular website because of how it was designed, a restaurant because of its decor, and a shop because of its cleanliness. We all judge by surface features to a certain extent. I get that. But I reject the idea that one needs to wear a suit to be seen as successful.

For reference, here is me modeling the exact outfit I wore on that evening:

Would you trust this guy to give you financial advice?
Would you trust this guy to give you financial advice?

From what I gather, the price for a good suit will set you back maybe around $500. Do you have $500? You would if you had a good savings, but if you didn’t? You could put it on a credit card. I’m sure most of you are $500 below your credit limit. So bravo, you put the suit on the credit card, and congrats, you’re successful! Who knew it was so easy?

And why stop there? Do you want to be seen as really successful? How about you go out and buy a Lexus or a BMW. Can you pay cash for it? If not, no problem, you can just sign up for financing on the five-year plan. The payments are pretty affordable. And for bonus points, lease it so you can get an even newer car every few years! This looking successful thing is easy! Thanks, credit card companies!

You can be rich or act like it, but not both

I think some required reading for everyone (and it may show up in a future Bookshelf) is the work of Tom Stanley, author of “The Millionaire Next Door” and “Stop Acting Rich!” These books are excellent for completely torpedoing conventional wisdom about how rich people look and act. I know I’m giving away spoilers here, but the average millionaire doesn’t look or act like you would expect them to look.

Do you think a millionaire would be more likely to drive a Lexus or a Toyota? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not a Lexus. Why not, if they are a millionaire and can afford flashy cars? Because people who are wealthy do not feel the need to show off their wealth. Conversely, people who aren’t wealthy feel the need to show others how wealthy they wish they were.

This is important, because making financial decisions based on how it makes you look will inevitably cause you to spend more money, thus making you less financially successful, and so less likely to be able to have just those things that you’re trying to flaunt. And as a bonus woe, you’ve now tied your self-worth to your stuff! Nothing good will come from this.

I can buy lots of suits, of all the finest Italian silk, or whatever it is that expensive suits are made of these days. But here’s the thing: I don’t like to wear suits, so I don’t, unless I’m forced to by circumstance or convention (a wedding, say).

So do I need to wear a suit to be a financial coach? Not only do I not need one, but not wearing a suit is part of the messaging in some ways. That doing something just to impress other people is a recipe for financial ruin.

You need to become comfortable in your own skin and in your own ways. If you like suits, that’s great. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re a success because you wear one. Your success is based on many factors, and none of them are how you look to others. And if some people can’t look past how you look? That’s fine, they probably weren’t a good fit for you anyway. Move on, wish them well, and leave room for those who are. That’s what I did.

But enough about me. Do you think it’s important to “look the part” of being wealthy for others?


  1. Dave Markowitz

    Wow, that guy sounds like an ass. Oh, wait, that was me!

    My apologies for sounding judgmental; maybe I had this scene from Curb Your
    Enthusiasm in mind:

    I get your desire to be different, and as someone very in
    touch with my inner punk from 30 years ago, can actually appreciate, support,
    and relate to your desire to be radical!

    To support your theory, or perhaps challenge my own and that
    of may others (perhaps), there’s the story of going into a barbershop and
    seeing one well-groomed barber and one sloppy barber. Who would the mind wish
    to go to first, until it/we realize it was the sloppy barber who likely cut the
    well-groomed barber’s hair?

    On the converse, I had a college professor, easily near 300
    pounds teaching a class called Condition and Weight Control. Did he known a
    lot? Apparently enough to teach at a college. Did he inspire me to be more fit?
    Not really. And that’s my stuff. I own it, and I also own my judgmental
    reaction to you.

    It’s subjective, relative; open to interpretation. If this
    look works for you and attracts the right clients for you, go for it!

    I thought I shared out of genuine concern for a fellow WDSer achieving something
    grand. I can see it was not seen that way. If that exchange ignites anything,
    even if it’s just this column all the way up to opening a deeper conversation, so
    be it. Not attached.



    • Mike

      Hi Dave. Nice to hear from you.

      Our brief conversation turned out to be by far the most interesting and thought-provoking of the entire evening. (Notice I haven’t written about any other conversations I had that night!) You made me think about things I hadn’t thought about before, so I appreciate that very much.

      No hard feelings on my end and certainly no bad feelings intended. Apologies if it came out that way. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Dave Markowitz

        Good to read that, Michael.


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