Back when I first entered the workforce, the slogan “dress for success” was still a popular phrase printed on business invitations. I am not sure how popular it is today. After all, in the era of workforce perks, flexibility and remote-work arrangements, we’ve all heard stories from Silicon Valley about the extravagance of going to work in shorts and sandals.
But in my professional experience (which started in news media, moved through real estate, business, and later evolved into public relations and leadership development) a good old-fashioned suit still is key to professional success. And is not that a suit can guarantee one’s success. It can’t. A suit is nothing but a garment, but when that suit is worn by someone who has prepared him or herself professionally and taken on the life-long commitment of building a virtuous character, that suit can be a conduit to great professional opportunities.
Today I am a person of faith. So, I can appreciate the powerful message that a priest’s cassock or a nun’s habit can send, without saying a word, when they are accompanied by exemplary behavior. What is it that their clothing suggests to the world? Well, among religious and theological implications, it says that they are servant leaders. The clergy’s garment, whatever it may be, signals to the world that those who wear it have a supernatural mission on Earth, something beyond themselves.
I would like to make the case that a business suit–when worn with intentionality–can be the laity’s cassock or habit. We too can tell the world we mean business, God’s business. This is the case when we glorify God through our work and see our work as our ticket to Heaven. Particularly when a Catholic lay person has formed him or herself, worked to develop a virtuous character and received the adequate professional education, a suit can be that person’s entrance to a world of possibilities that, quite simply, a lack of professional appearance would otherwise deny.
You may ask, “So, what about Christ’s call for humility?” “What about it?” I reply. When I talk about a suit or business attire, I am not referring to brand names or luxury; I am talking about professionalism. It is not the cost of the suit which brings out professionalism; it is the way a professionally dressed Catholic man or woman conducts him or herself. It’s who they are and what they do while dressed well that matters. This is not to say that a preoccupation for professional appearance should occupy too much of our time. It shouldn’t. Just like nuns and priests don’t really think much of apparel; they simply wear the garments in accordance with their state in life. So should every lay Catholic professional do as well. Professional appearance is an effective means of witnessing to others and influencing them for Christ, and so, should not be neglected.
There are no limits to the ways in which we can glorify God, when our intentions are pure and our actions are consistent. Appropriate professional attire–in many cases a business suit–can and should say to the world: I am a child of God, a mirror for His light to shine through my life, with my eyes placed firmly on the price, which is Heaven, and my hands firmly on the means, which is holiness. That, my friends, is what I call being dressed for success.
“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31
P.S. In the lines above I referred to a suit as the epitome of professional attire. I have done that out of convenience. Does that mean women cannot dress professionally? Not at all. As I tell the female participants of our leadership program, “I don’t know what the equivalent of a man’s suit is for you ladies, but I know there is an equivalent. Wear that.”
So, what do you think about professional appearance? What difference do you think it makes in your career? Please write your comments below…