I had the wonderful opportunity this past Wednesday to spend the day with about 50 college students looking for internships with my company next summer. They were all juniors in college and quite impressive. I ran case studies with them all afternoon basically gauging how they think and communicate, and again, was blown away. I took a quick break later on in the afternoon and then met back up with everyone for an evening reception where the students could get one-on-one time with me (and others) to ask any questions they might have about anything.
The very first question/statement I got was from a young man who had been in one of my case studies, and he said, “You don’t look like a banker”. So I asked him what a banker was supposed to look like, and he said “clean-shaven, white shirt, navy suit, red tie”. So I told him very quickly that I never have and never will look like a banker, even though I have been in banking for 15 years. He was intrigued, and then informed me that I also had a big beard. I laughed and told him he was correct. This was all building up to him asking me what the dress code is for bankers these days. I told him that I was the wrong person to ask because I kind of do my own thing, but gave him 2 things to chew on instead. First, always be yourself. There will be dress codes and other codes that you have to adhere to, but there is an artful way to do things and still be in compliance. Second, I told him that contrary to the masses, successful people have something that is a little different about them. A particular skill. An attitude. A slightly different look. A way of talking to people. So on. And that working to develop whatever that may be will take you a long way in life. I don’t think he was expecting that answer, but real learning does deep, and I hope he will remember that.
If we had had the time to go over how to dress (i.e. his actual question) that night, here is what I would have told him. Fit is most important, fabric is second, and what it actually looks like (color, etc.) is last. When I’m shopping, this is always the order of importance. As an example, I get stopped a fair amount these days by people that want to talk to me about khakis. I want to make it clear once and for all that I could care less if you wear khakis, but please make sure they fit and are made of a reasonable fabric (cotton chinos for casual, a nice wool for more dressed up). If you look at the “About Benj” section on the website, you will see that I got the name “anything but khakis” because most of the khakis I see every day have weird pleats, don’t fit, are old as the hills, and so on. If a guy has a slim fit khaki-colored chino that actually fits, fantastic! But that’s not what I see in droves every day.
Since we are talking about pants, well, let’s talk about them. See the picture above, those are my khakis. Tailored. Cool pattern. Made of a heavier fall/winter wool. Look great. Feel great. Always get tons of compliments because they don’t look like everyone else. Otherwise, I’ve got a pair of blue jeans, pair of white jeans, and pair of tattered jeans. A pair of modern grey sweats, some crazy Christmas pants, and then about 10 pair of suit pants. These suit pants are primarily varying shades of blue, grey, and olive. But the key is that they have subtle (or not so subtle) stripes, fit perfectly, and are made of either wool, cashmere, or a blend of the two.
One final important tip on the way pants fit that the average joe doesn’t think about. When I say they need to fit, most people simply think waist and length. But equally as important is the leg opening at your ankle. If you look down when you are walking and it looks like you might be wearing bellbottoms because of all the fabric flopping around, go to a tailor and have them taper your pants leg to a narrower opening. Most guys I see every day miss this by a mile.
I really had fun with these young folks this past week, and I hope they enjoyed getting a little real life talk as well. This whole blog is about encouraging folks to find themselves and be themselves, so that message was an easy one for me. I know it can be scary to be a little different, but you gotta be you! I have been finding out so much about myself this past year at the age of 35, and it turns out that most of the things I do (weird, unique, etc.)…it’s just who I am, and so I’m going to embrace it. And on the clothes side: fit first, fabric second, color last.
Have a great week.-Benj