When I was a cleaning contractor in the 1980s and 1990s, I had a steadfast policy: I always dressed in a suit and tie before meeting with my current or future customers. It’s the way I wanted them to see me, the image I wanted to project. Today the tie might go, but I would still don a sport coat and nice slacks for a client meeting.
Yet, that’s not the way things are for most people. Americans had already been dressing more casually for years, and then the pandemic came along. With so many people working at home, standards for acceptable dress went from business casual to shorts and pajamas.
Not long ago, most men dressed in suits and ties and women dressed in business attire if they worked in offices or schools. The big change happened in the mid-1990s when IBM announced—using a new communications medium called email—that employees could dress down if they thought it would make them more comfortable at their jobs and perform better. “If you’re comfortable, you can think better,” said Marge Robinson, an IBM administrative assistant at the time.
I’m wondering now if our casual dress may have gone too far. And as it applies to cleaning contractors, I’m also curious if dressing up and looking sharp might help us improve our marketing skills, make us feel more professional about ourselves and our business, and even win larger accounts. In other words, could dressing up be a door opener?
Dress for success
A few years back, I took an out-of-town guest to a popular steakhouse in Chicago. Every president since Harry Truman has eaten there, probably several times. I dressed in a suit and tie and asked my guest to do so as well.
When we got to the restaurant, many tourists were waiting to get in. Even though they had reservations, they were forced to wait outside. As you might expect, because they were tourists, most were dressed in shorts, t-shirts, and sport shoes.
When I gave my name to the maître d’, we were put into a separate line, away from the tourists. Shortly after that, we were given a table in one of the best sections of the restaurant. Slowly, more of the tourists were seated, but they were taken to the less-desirable back area of the restaurant.
I wondered why we were brought in ahead of others, even those who had reservations at the same time. And why were we seated in the best area? There was only one explanation: we were dressed up.
And because we were dressed up, the restaurant staff believed it improved the restaurant’s ambience and helped maintain the image they wanted to present: a steakhouse so famous that every president—and a host of other dignitaries—went out of their way to dine there.
But two other things were going on as well.
Dress for respect
First, dressing up is more welcoming. “Physically attractive people are pleasant to be around,” says Russell Smith, author of the book “Men’s Style: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Dress.” “[It’s just as] beautiful buildings are [more] pleasant to live in, and warm rooms are preferable to cold.”
Second, it shows respect. Wearing nice clothes shows respect for everyone working in the restaurant and the other patrons.
I suggest that cleaning contractors and other business leaders in the professional cleaning industry consider dressing up in 2023. Always put on business attire when attending client meetings. Remember: looking good is a door opener. It opened doors for me when I was in the business and I’m sure it will open doors for you as well.