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Suit1(1)The Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus states, “Know first who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.”

I don’t think entrepreneurs pay enough attention to their attire. Call me shallow.

Potential clients and customers make quick assumptions about you when you enter a room before you say a word.  Your clothes can make an eloquent statement about who you are and what you represent before you open your mouth.

There is a famous German novella I read in college called Kleider Machen Leute by Gottfried Keller.  (It is usually translated as Clothes Make the Man.)  It’s about a poor tailor who takes a coach journey and, through an odd set of circumstances, he’s dressed in a fur trimmed cloak much above his station in life and his real ability to pay for.  He is mistaken for a rich man and the results of this misidentity and various people’s reactions guide the tale.

Most of us spend large amounts on branding, marketing, and advertising to create the apt image for our firms.  Yet it constantly amazes me how little thought owners give to how we present ourselves sartorially.  In fact, it can be an inexpensive way of personal branding.

epictetusConsider Steve Jobs.  He wore black turtlenecks.  This said a great deal about who he was and the user-friendly elegance of his products.  It spoke spartan simplicity.  He was who he was.  He was sincere, direct, essential, serious.

Or take my own company, Corporate Rain International.  Clients use us to initiate discrete, high-end business with c-suite people.  I need to look like I belong.  I want to create the visual assurance of stability and dependability.  I invest in expensive, highly-tailored suits and cultivate the look of a banker or a white shoe lawyer.  (The truth is I’m an old hippie who has lived a quite bohemian, unbusinessmanish life.)

Furthermore, your clothes often affect your own state of mind, your internal identity.  There was an interesting article a couple of years ago in the NY Times  (4/4/12, Sandre Blakeslee) entitled “Mind Games:  Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat.”  The article cited a study by Adam D. Galinsky of the Kellogg School at Northwestern concerning enclothed cognition:  the effects of clothing on the cognitive process.  Dr. Galinsky states, “Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.”

For example, in one of Dr. Galinsky’s experiments, when a subject wears a white coat that he believes belongs to a doctor, his ability to pay attention increases sharply.  But if he wears the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, he will not show improvement.  So our clothes tell ourselves who we are as well as other people.  They define us for other people, but they also define us for ourselves and can effect our inner efficaciousness.

Unknown_Photographer_Gottfried_Keller_1870You don’t need to hire a personal stylist or to be a fashion plate to accomplish inner and outer personal branding.  You just need to think about it a little.  It’s mostly common sense. If you sell beer, you may want to dress like a guy comfortable in a bar.  If it serves your image to wear t-shirts, wear t-shirts.  If it serves you to be elegant, be elegant.  (I’m sure Anna Wintour spends extensive time each morning ensuring her personal clothes visually reinforce her image of fashion leadership as editor of Vogue Magazine.)  If it serves you to dress in drag, by all means, dress in drag.

As Shakespeare says in Hamlet,  “The apparel oft proclaims the man.”

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There is a famous German novella I read in college called Kleider Machen Leute by Gottfried Keller. (It is usually translated as “Clothes Make the Man”.)  It’s about a poor tailor who takes a coach journey and, through an odd set of circumstances, he is dressed in a fur trimmed cloak much above his real ability to afford and his station in life. He is mistaken for a rich man and the results of this misidentity and various people’s reactions guide the tale.

This novella is highly applicable to entrepreneurs. I believe many of us entrepreneurs don’t think enough about clothes in business. And we should. Here’s why.

Most of us spend large amounts on branding, marketing, and advertising creating the apt image for our firms. Yet it constantly amazes me how little thought owners give to how they present themselves sartorially.  It is relatively inexpensive personal branding we’re talking about here.

This most certainly does not mean an entrepreneur needs to be a fashion plate. Any styling from the funerial to the flamboyant can be appropriate, but it should be consistent with your chosen messaging and branding. Making strong, identifying statements through your attire can create a defined presence before you say a word. It can telegraph a context and corporate definition.

I’ve had clients who accomplish this bespoke branding very well in t-shirts. Some of my creative clients will choose bold colors. If you sell beer you might want to look like a guy who is comfortable in a bar. I am sure Anna Wintour spends extensive time each day ensuring her personal clothes visually affirm her authoritative fashion leadership as editor of Vogue Magazine. Personally, I try to look like a banker. My company Corporate Ran International is mostly known for creating high-quality meetings with real financial corporate decision-makers. My clients often entrust me with their most proprietary information and secrets. So, even though my personal history and proclivities are quite bohemian, I want to create assurance of stability and discretion. I do this partially by investing in expensive, highly tailored suits and by insisting that my associates always dress high when meeting with Corporate Rain clients.

You don’t need a personal makeover to brand yourself through your apparel. You do need to know what you have to offer and who you are. Then sartorial branding becomes simple common sense.

As the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus states, “Know first who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.”

Thank you, Epictetus.

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