Monday, November 9, 2009

I remember that cold day in 1980. I was trainee in Chicago just a few months out of college and standing crammed in an over-crowded #22 Clark Street bus, wearing my winter coat, sweating through my shirt as the malfunctioning heater blasted hot stale air, with the predictable bus-ride headache brewing. My attention turned to the center column of my Wall Street Journal, which back then was where they ran eclectic human interest stories. It was the only page I could get to without elbowing the four people crushed around me.

The article was about how men should dress for work. Owning only a couple of “entry level” suits, five permanent-press shirts, a totally business-inappropriate plaid sport coat that I nonetheless wore once a week, and a pair of really bad dress shoes that I wore every day, I was sorely in need of the advice. “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have” was the main message. A sub-message was to avoid pale green ties that reflect an unhealthy pallor onto your face (I remember that part specifically because I was starting to feel like I could achieve the pallor without the tie). It was just after that ride that I invested in some cotton shirts and decent dress shoes like I had seen on the feet of the Vice Presidents around the office. And I stopped wearing that sport coat – not just to work, but to anywhere.

Fast forward sixteen years: I was now in charge of a department and a good man was in my office gunning for a promotion that was a stretch for him. We were in the advice-giving business where appearance matters when you’re trying to win clients’ trust. He obviously hadn’t read that WSJ article and nobody had ever said anything to him about his misfit wardrobe. It’s always hard to give dress advice in work settings, yet it’s sometimes the difference between deserved success and not-so-much. I finally decided to tell him he needed to invest in higher quality attire if he wanted a better chance at the job. He did invest – that same week – and sometime later he got the promotion he wanted. What’s more, when I spoke to him about his attire, he thanked me for being so candid and unexpectedly helpful.

Why is it that so many guys will invest maybe $1000-2000 for an impressive tailored suit, shirt and tie…and then finish it off with, well, really bad shoes? You’ve seen them, I’ve seen them, all over the country. Yet, their role models have usually figured out that good shoes complete the impressive look. If you’re a boss or mentor to somebody in cheap-looking shoes, maybe it’s time for some candid and helpful career advice.

Best wishes,

Paul D. Grangaard
President & CEO
Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation