I will never forget the time I walked home from work in a suit. It was early in our marriage and we had just purchased our first home, and so did not have money to buy a second car. Fortunately our house was exactly one mile from where I worked, so I was able walk to work for the better part of a year.
During that time I received offers on occasion from coworkers for a ride either to or from work, but these were few and far between. The day I wore my suit, however, was a different story.
As I prepared to leave the office, a coworker offered me a ride home. I told him that I could manage but “thank you anyway.” As I walked downstairs and out into the parking lot another coworker offered me a ride. I once again declined, “thanks, it's only a mile I can manage.”
That alone was uncommon. But as I walked home, a van pulled into one of the parking lots and rolled down a window, and a complete stranger offered me a ride home. It was all I could do to keep from laughing. Again I declined and said “no thanks, I got it.” They offered once again, and I told them I was almost home anyway.
This got me to thinking about how appearances change the way people behave towards us. And I was reminded of a story my father use to tell when I was a kid, again involving a suit.
He had been doing some home repairs and ran into town to drop some garbage at the transfer station. It was then he realized he was almost out of gas, so he stopped at a gas station. This was before the time of "pay at the pump" and for whatever reason he had his driver's license but no money to pay for the gas he had pumped.
He went into the gas station in his torn up jeans and his shirt that was covered with paint and sheet rock dust. He offered to leave his driver's license as proof that he would come back and though the clerk was skeptical he agreed.
That evening my father was headed to a religious meeting and was dressed up in his suit and tie. When he went into the gas station to pay the bill, the clerk did a double take and scrutinized the driver's license carefully. Once he realized that the man in torn jeans and the one that now stood before him were the same person, he handed the driver's license back to my dad who then paid the bill.
What is it about a suit that makes people respect you more? It is interesting to me how much our behavior towards other people hinges on appearances.