For my final project I decided to change my appearance by costuming myself in a business suit. I decided to go with a business suit because I wanted to create an alter-ego that was furthest away from my own appearance. I would consider my choice in fashion to be more laid back with a touch of style. As an artist and merchandiser my professional attire reflects more of my asthetic style. This allows people to get a sense of what I represent much easier than the hegemony views of what professional attire is, the business suit.
These are photos of me at several different Art Shows that I hosted for Eden Boutique as their Marketing Manager. You can see that all though I have a little bit of a different style in them, my fashion sense is much different then the typical business suit. According to the article The Psychology of Business Suits by Gino Hitshopi, the business suit is “…for business, and should not be a fashion statement, except for in the tiniest ways.”
The business suit became most popular shortly after the rise of the aristocrat and the fall of the “old money.” This was the time around the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century. With the rise of the aristocrats and capitalistic gains the business man became a huge part of society. Thanks to mass production of clothing around the turn of the 20th century business suits were made ready-to-wear making this the staple look for every business man.
The business suit is supposed to represent affluence and power. It is an instant way of letting others know that you are about business and making money. It represents your professionalism and lets people know you are organized and serious. The nicer the suit the more power it possesses. The suit is a way to gain respect in the professional world and to separate oneself from nonprofessionals. It is a way of saying, “listen to me, I know best.” It also can make people feel more important than. It can be viewed as narcissistic and give people the illusion of being better than. From this I want to record my own psychology behind the business suit. Do I feel separate, better than, more powerful? I also want to observe the difference in how people treat me. Will I notice a different in respect? What kind of attention will I get and from whom? Will I be treated differently by people?
According to the book in the chapter Manliness, Modernity and Male Clothing, ready-to wear suits lacked the custom fit of personalized tailor suits. This led to poor fitting suits which set the difference in the status symbol amongst suit wearers. I would like to compare the response to my alter-ego by those who are also wearing a business suit and those who are not. My theory is that the people wearing suits will be able to get a better understanding of my status just by the choice of suit that I wear compared to others.
Here is my Plan:
I plan to wear the business suit during routine activities in order to get the best observation of differences amongst the different people I encounter on a regular basis. These places include the train, school, eating out, hanging with friends, and possibly a night out.
I will follow the instructions below provided by ehow.com to correctly fashion my alter-ego behind the costumed business suit.
Wear a suit. Nothing says professional like a conservative suit. You need something in navy, black or gray with a traditional notched collar jacket and cuffed trousers or a straight skirt. You may stray from these three colors, but keep the suit dark. When choosing a suit, consider whether a man in your office would wear a suit just like it.
Pair a suit with a white blouse. To keep the look professional, put a white or off-white blouse with a dark suit. Stick with basic cotton button-down blouses without ruffles or other embellishments.
Combine a dress with a jacket. A dress can be professional if paired with a suit jacket. The dress should be at least knee length and in a dark to medium color. A print dress is fine if the print is muted and conservative. When choosing a print dress, consider whether a man in your office would wear a tie in the same print.
Stick with pumps or flats. Pumps are the quintessential business shoe for women. Choose a pump with a closed toe and a two- to three-inch heel in black, brown or navy. As an alternative to heels, and to wear with pantsuits, flats are a good choice. Again, a closed toe is appropriate here. Your flats should look like a man’s loafers.
Style hair conservatively. A professional woman’s hair does not provide distraction to herself or anyone else. Long hair should be pulled back or put up and secured in place. Short hair should be neatly styled out of the face.
Choose jewelry carefully. Too much or too big jewelry could take the professional edge off of your look. A wristwatch and wedding rings are acceptable and one pair of non-dangling earrings.
Here’s to the Business Suit!
Working on a budget I wanted to find a business suit at a reasonable price, I ended up going to Ross. They carried name brand and off brand suits. There were pant, skirt, and dress suits. If I wasn’t on a budget I would have went with a black pant suit by Calvin Klein that I found for $59.99 with a original price of $179.99 but I ended up going with a skirt black pin striped suit for $13.99. The fabric and construction of the Calvin Klein suit was better quality. It also had small zipper pocket detail on the jacket which gave it a more modern and designer look. I also purchased a white button up blouse with little detail in the front at $12.99 and some loafer pumps on sale for $9.99. Overall my business suit cost about $40.00. Not bad!!! I finished the look with my hair pulled back.
I have a pear shaped figure and this made it difficult to find a suit that fit me perfectly, either the jacket was to big or the skirt to small. I ended up going with the skirt being a little tighter then I would have liked because the large jackests made me look like I was being swallowed.
When I was trying on the suits I was wearing a beanie. I had to go out of the fitting room to exchange one suit for the other. The lady working the fitting room giggled at me and said that the beanie and suit just looked silly together. I thought this was interesting because it was a clash of two types of style…laid back vs. up tight. It did look silly but it was the suit not the beanie that made me feel.
So Friday night my husband and I went to hang with our friends Kris and Sandra. Usually we just hang out, shoot the shit and drink some beers. Normally when we go to visit we are extremely laid back. All of us have just finished a long week of work. The men work blue-collar jobs, one in a warehouse and the other in air conditioning, Suits are just not our thing. When they first saw me they took a second look because they did not recognize me right away. They laughed and ask what’s up with the suit. I explain to them that I am doing it for a project. After that it was back to normal as if I didn’t have the suit on at all. I think this is because I have a very strong personality and even behind the suit it shines through.
So I then decided to wear the suit while running errands. I needed to go to Target to pick up some things. I really did not notice a difference in my service however I did notice a difference in attention. There were more friendly smiles amongst other customers. The tapping of my shoes also created more attention. I was really uncomfortable and would have rather been shopping in my flip-flops and casual clothing.
Later Iwent to get something to eat at a local burger spot on a strip in Long Beach known as Retro Row. Here you will find a number of different vintage shops with a hipster vibe. I felt completely out-of-place. Psychologically I felt older and an outcast amongst the young hipsters.
Finally Matt and I ended up at the Yard House of Shoreline in Long Beach. We sat at the bar. I noticed that I was more aware of other professionals around me. There were a lot of men that seemed to have taken off their tie and jacket and opened up the top to buttons of their shirts. Matt again was in his casual clothing and sitting next to him just felt awkward, I looked like his boss rather than his wife. I noticed that when we were served there was more eye contact between me and the bartender rather than with Matt. I accidentally left my ID at home which I was happy about because it gave me an opportunity to do an experiment. Typically if I don’t have my ID they will not serve me alcohol, especially in a corporate restaurant such as Yard House. When I told the bartender that I didn’t have my ID she got her boss to okay it. I told the manager that I was 33 and born in 1979. After observing me he gave me the okay. I really don’t think this would have happened if I was in my normal clothing. I have a feeling that the suit made me look like I was more sophisticated, older, and possibly an important customer.
A Day at School
So I start my day by taking the Metro. When I take the metro I like to hide as much as possible. My clothes are usually layered, typically a maxi, t-shirt, sweatshirt, and a beanie. I try to not wear anything that is going to attract too much attention because there are a lot of crazy’s on the metro. During this particular trip I over heard a girl talking about how she stabbed a guy in the hand!!! This ride I had a man approach me and I had to make it clear that I was married. When on the metro I had another man offer me his seat. When I reach my transfer point in down town LA I am amongst many different professionals in business suits. Most of the time these professionals are in a hurry and rarely ever make eye contact. In a business suit I actually captured the attention of one professional that did a friendly nod and smile. This man was wearing a brown suit with a mix match jacket and pants although his tie brought them together giving it a cohesive look. Because I have researched a little about the business suit I was able to identify that this is not a power suit. This professional seems that he works with people and the suit is worn to give a perception of professionalism and knowledge. The colors are more inviting and less intimidating which is good for working with others and trying to get them to trust you. Along with the attention I received from other professionals I also received more attention from men. Whenever I wear more fitted clothing I seem to attract attention from the opposite sex. This is one of the reasons why I find myself wearing more relaxed clothing. I feel uncomfortable and prefer not to have the attention.
Once I was on campus I noticed that there were no other woman wearing a suit. I saw mostly young men close to the business building wearing a shirt, tie, and slacks but their suits were dressed down. Overall they still looked professional but it was obvious that they were just students. I did notice a women wearing a red dress that resembled a button up blouse with some nude pumps. This woman gave the impression that she worked in a professional enviroment although her color choice expressed more personality and drew attention, something that would not be found in a power suit. In the suit that I was wearing I felt like I looked more professional and more conservative than she did which is funny because I’m not at all. This is the illusion that the suit takes on and this shows how colors subconsciously effect our perception.
When in the library I typically go to the third floor where I can find a quiet place to sit down and study. I usually walk around the building until I can find a place to plug-in my laptop. When walking around once again my shoes made a click clack sound. The sound actually reminded me of the sound of teachers walking down the hall. I’m sure that the majority of people who could hear my shoes assumed that I was someone who worked in the library or a professor. Normally when I walk around the building I try to be very quiet in hopes of not disturbing anyone. With these shoes there was no way that I was not going to be noticed. Dressed casual and as a student if I’m loud I get occasional stair downs, in the suit students would just glance up and then go right back to what they were doing, most students did not even look up. I believe that in the suit the students assumed I had some type of authority or superiority. I’m pretty sure I got mistaken for staff.
After my study I have concluded that the business suit does give an illusion of superiority. There seems to be a separation between myself and others that I normally would associate with.
When hanging with friends I felt like an intruder in the business suit and silly because I felt as though the suit did not match my personality.
The tailored suit forced me to sit up straight and tall, a non-verbal indicator of prudence and confidence. The shoes were loud and the sound gave an illusion of confidence and demanded attention.
People that wear suits seem to respect one another more and feel comfortable when around other professionals.
The business suit may allow me to receive special privileges otherwise not given, such as a drink with no ID.
Psychologically I did not feel more professional and confident. I actually felt less confident and somewhat insecure. I did not like the way I looked and nor the fit of the suit, it was very uncomfortable.
Overall when wearing the suit I was uncomfortable, cold, or readjusting my ill fitted skirt. The suit felt boring to me and I couldn’t wait to get back into my normal clothing. I appreciate that in my typical clothing I am able to invite others that may have more similar interest. The false power behind the business suit is not worth the discomfort. I found the suit to be extremely boring!!!