I asked the people around the lunch table at Emily Post today, “What’s your pet peeve?” Interestingly, it was one of our interns whose answer surprised me.
“The clothes people wear to class,” she said without hesitation.
I picked my jaw back up off the floor and asked, “What kind of clothes?”
“Baggy grey sweatshirts and sweatpants and pajamas” she replied.
Interesting. Now that I think about it, pajamas have moved out of the bedroom and into everyday life as basic clothing. The way the TSA scans you and has you remove layers of clothing, my wife often comments that it would be easier if she simply wore her flannel pajamas. Board a plane and inevitably you’ll see someone dressed in what can only be termed pajamas. Seems more people act like my wife thinks than I ever would have guessed.
“Well,” I queried the intern, “what kind of clothes would be acceptable?”
“You should look presentable, like you would for work.” She was clearly thinking of a business casual workplace like The Emily Post Institute, not a business formal place. As the conversation progressed, the gold standard became clear: Your clothes should reflect positively on you.
And that’s not a bad way to think about your clothes and your image every time you step out. Like it or not, your clothes clearly impact the image people have of you.
I’ll never forget the Saturday I wore a wrinkled linen shirt. I couldn’t be bothered ironing, and it was Saturday after all. As I was out and about, I ran into a fellow who is on the board of a company I did business with. He didn’t waste a second before he wondered how I could be dressed in such a wrinkled shirt. Regardless of my opinion of that shirt or of him for saying something about it, his image of me as an etiquette expert took a small hit.
You may not really care what you look like when you’re boarding an airplane on a personal trip, so maybe the pajama-type outfit works even if you are in public. But, when the opinion of the people around you matters to you, then the image you convey by the clothes you choose will make a difference.
That was the point the intern was making about what people wear to class. How you see yourself certainly matters. But the perception of the professor or teacher matters, the perception of a fellow classmate matters. And, perhaps most important of all, those opinions could matter not just today but maybe even in your future, too.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."