Friday, April 2, 2010

Clothes Make the Man: The Psychological Power of Suits

A friend of mine recently asked me if I thought activists would be taken more seriously if they wore a suit. Any douchy magazine can tell you "a suit symbolizes power and money and makes you look successful." That's the uninspired bullshit you can find in the back covers over comic books. This is how a suit really makes you the man.

The Blazer

The focal points of the blazer are the shoulders. The shoulder pads turn weak, round shoulders into broad, load bearing ones. Female politicians have already caught on to the idea. A firm set of shoulders portrays you as a stronger, more fit and generally more dependable person. The blazer also comes in on the waist to give a slim, fitted appearance that also makes your shoulders seem bigger by comparison.

The Tie

The tie is the colorful center of the suit. Its dimensions accomplish two things. First of all, it's a vertical line running down the length of your torso. Ever heard of wearing vertical stripes to make you look taller? This is essentially the same thing. A taller man is seen as a better leader. It's no coincidence that, of the past 27 US president, 21 were taller than the person they were running against.
The second function of the tie is to work in conjunction with the shoulder pads to make you appear broader. Ever walk around with a fat chick to make you look skinny? This works on the same principal. The eye is constantly comparing objects in its visual field to pick up cues of their sizes. The skinny tie in the middle of your chest works to makes you look even wider and more intimidating.

The Pants

Suit pants are, for the most part, pressed with a nice, neat pleat running down the length of the leg. This is just another example of vertical lines at work. The suit is actually quite good at creating straight vertical lines but why is it so crucial? It has to do with the way the human eye examines an object. The eye doesn't simply fixate itself at the center point of an object and, from there, scan it entirely. Instead, the eye fixates itself at various points of contrast on the object. The path the eye travels between points of fixation are called saccades. The pant pleats create a vertical line of contrast and ensures that the saccades are mostly vertical in their orientation.

The Shirt

The shirt, being the bottom-most layer, is the backup for all the other weapons in your arsenal. It is crisp, clean and bright so that it can accentuate the features of the blazer, tie and your face. The neck and collar, unlike any other shirt you wear, is made of straight lines. This is to contrast the angles of your chin and make it look more defined and masculine; a trait that is examined when you’re being judged on your attractiveness. More attractive people are generally assumed to be more confident, extroverted and better leaders. The solid color of the tie also serves to contrast the edges of the tie and blazer so that they can do their respective jobs.

The Watch

Some of you will be thinking that a watch isn’t part of a suit. Nothing could be further from the truth. The watch is a crucial accessory that not only allows you to display bling in a modest and classy fashion, but also send a strong message about who you are as a person. The watch sends the signal that you’re conscious of the time and you work on a schedule. It tell people that your life is organized because you manage yourself accordingly. It doesn’t matter if you have the time on your phone or iPod. You need to have a watch.

So, to finally answer my friend, absolutely yes. A well fitted suit makes you look bigger, taller, and more organized. So long as it is worn in the proper context, a suit is designed to enhance your masculine features and, in doing so, subconsciously demands respect and sets you apart from the shlubs who opt for the khakis and parka.