You’ve Got the Look

button down shirts in closet

Before COVID, I spent a lot of work time in the field in a lot of public places: offices, retail stores, shopping malls, parking lots.

Especially parking lots.

I joke that I have two offices: my home office, and the Tim Hortons parking lot on 39 Ave NE in Calgary where the Wi-Fi signal is particularly strong. But I digress.

When I’m out and about, and I’m in the field I like to play a game called “Spot the Sales Rep.” You can always spot them. Sorry, I meant “you can always spot us.” It’s not unusual for my customer visits to happen at the same time as other reps’ customer visits. Over time and running into one another you get to know one another, even if only casually.

Even if their company doesn’t mandate a uniform, somehow sales reps for different verticals or channels all end up dressing similarly to one another: a uniform of sorts.

For example, vendor reps for manufacturers and distributors mostly seem to wear a branded golf shirt with their vendor’s brand and slacks. There’s some variation: Vendor reps for tool companies will keep the branded golf shirt but swap out the slacks for Carhartt dress casual work pants. In case other sales reps are playing the same game, it’s best sometimes to rock the latter look just to keep people guessing.

In telecom, there’s a juxtaposition: the B2B salespeople of my dealers’ corporate sales teams mostly wear business formal — suit and tie. At the same time, the RSMs (regional sales managers) for the telecom carriers whose job it is to liaise with the B2B telecom dealers almost always wear the default branded golf shirt/slacks combination.
For some reason all the sales reps for camera companies that I’ve encountered all look like they work for Eddie Bauer: plaid short sleeve button-up shirts (no tie), slacks and carry a large satchel/camera bag around, which makes sense, I suppose.

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Aside from the B2B telecom corporate reps, the only other reps wearing a suit and tie in the wild are pharmaceutical reps. The industry standard for pharmaceutical reps is to dress like the Men in Black (yes, the Will Smith movies): black suit, white shirt, black tie. The reason why I, a tech manufacturing/distributing rep, spend time rubbing shoulders with pharmaceutical reps is not one I feel like elaborating on right now — it’s a whole column in itself.

Anyway, I’ve seen more than a few articles in the business press about the decline of either the suit, the tie, or both in the business world post-COVID. Me, I was ahead of the curve. I haven’t worn a suit since I worked for Sony.

There are two key reasons why I don’t wear a suit. The first is easy: I’m not required to. The second reason is much more important: I avoid wearing a suit because when I do wear one, I look like a hitman.

Someone once said something to me that’s stuck with me all these years: The way you dress indicates the respect you have for others. Related to that point: One of the B2B teams I look after had a full-length mirror in their office with a sign above it that read “Are you presentable to see clients today?” as a reminder of the importance of looking neat, tidy and presentable.