My mother wanted to get me a suit when I was about 16 or 17 years old. She commented on how another boy my age always came to church in a suit and that he looked more handsome and grown up because of the more formal attire. However, I refused to get and wear a suit at that time in my life. I felt it would make me look old and obnoxious. Two years later, I found a couple suits at an estate sale. I was proud to wear them. They were old, three-piece suits made from heavy wool fabric. One was navy blue with pin stripes, while the other was a pale bluish-grey with pin stripes. Neither suit fit me well–which is common due to my slender frame–and I ended up wearing those suits for less than a year. When it came time for me to go on a two-year service mission for my church, I received two new suits from a retail store. This was before slim fit suits existed, which meant that these new suits did not fit well either.
After spending two years in ill-fitting suits, I returned to my old style of baggy dress shirts, baggy jeans, and what was a cross between a dress shoe and a fashion sneaker. My style would change multiple times over the next several years. I started wearing graphic tee shirts and jeans, then back to dress shirts and jeans. I settled on henley shirts and jeans with sneakers, which I would eventually cover up with hoodie almost 100% of the time.
I was 28 years old and had been married for a few months when I came to this realization: I look like same as I did 10 years ago. When you have a Bachelor’s degree from a high ranked private university and are trying to get accepted to a graduate program, looking like a kid fresh out of high school is not very appealing to universities and employers. It also does nothing in terms of building self-esteem or motivation. I quickly decided to change my style, and within a few months I was dressing more professionally and getting recognized as the best dressed person in the office.
When is it time to start dressing like a professional man instead of a grown boy? The short answer is as soon as you graduate from high school. The long answer is a bit more complicated.
Dressing like a professional upon graduating from high school will give you that needed leg up on the rest of the pack entering the adult workforce. You appear to be more serious and career driven. You appear to be more trustworthy and responsible. Opportunities will increase. All of this is dependent on the fit of your clothing and your job performance. Poor fitting clothes will typically not achieve the goal you hope it will, and dressing well will never compensate for poor job performance. Similarly, over dressing for your job or desired social circle can have a negative effect. Suits are not suitable for McDonald’s, and dinner jackets and suede loafers are not going to work for a night with the boys.
Dressing well can bring both positive and negative consequences during your college years. Professors are accustomed to greeting students who wear pajamas and slippers to class. They have probably seen students where such outrageous and sloppy clothing that they wouldn’t look twice unless you came to class in your underwear (although, some active and sleep wear worn by students might make professors desensitized to students showing up in their underwear) or came dressed as if you had their job. Other students who dress sloppily will generally view you as pretentious if you come to class well dressed. However, coming dressed as if you were a professor will immediately get you noticed by professors. You will be taken more seriously and professors will be more inclined to help you understand course material and provide you with valuable resume boosting opportunities.
Upon college graduation is when you must start dressing like a professional. Suits, sport jackets with odd trousers, or dark denim with fitted shirts (dress shirts, polos, or henleys)–depending on the place and occasion. However, you should start dressing like a professional upon graduation from high school. The pros far out weigh the cons. If you have confidence in your appearance, and know what fits you and how to match items of clothing, then only positive reactions can take place. The people who think you don’t look cool when you dress professionally are not the type of people who are going to help you become successful. It is far better to look like a grown business man at 18 than to look like a slacking 18 year old when you are 30. Dress like a professional early. Dress like a man, not a boy.