What Do Your Clothes Say About You?

Happy Fashion Week everyone! In honor of my favorite week of the year, let’s discuss last week’s biggest fashion story, President Barack Obama’s “Suitgate.” Last week, President Obama wore a tan suit to his press conference about foreign policy in Iraq. While one would think there were more pressing issues at hand than what color the president’s suit is, and Obama is hardly the first president to don tan, journalists, politicians and social media enthusiasts went nuts, hardly the response past presidents received. Some praisedObama’s summer style, others were highly critical of his choice to wear such a distinct outfit to address a serious issue. This is not the first time Obama’s fashion choices have been questioned. From his choice to not wear an American flag pin in the primaries, to the mom jeans, to his tie-less work outfits and their impact on the tie industry, Obama’s style in under constant scrutiny.

While presidents are constantly measured against one another in political stances and otherwise, Obama is almost always likened to John F. Kennedy. Their similarities are apparent, and easily extend to their impact on fashion, and fashion’s impact on their brand. In 1960, the first televised debate took place, between Kennedy and Nixon. Radio listeners were convinced Nixon won, while television viewers thought Kennedy took it. Many believed the reason for this dissonance was that Kennedy looked more dapper in his tailored suit and thus exuded confidence. The following year, when Kennedy was inaugurated, he made what was a bold fashion statement back then, by not wearing a hat. Many believe Kennedy’s hat-less speech essentially ‘killed’ the dress hat industry, not unlike what people are saying about Obama’s tie-less style.

While certain prominent, often polarizing, male figures like Kennedy and Obama have faced sharp fashion critique, every female politician faces this type of evaluation, every day. Hair too long, too much makeup, not enough makeup, skirt too short, lipstick too bright etc. etc. The slightest slip-up can have a huge impact on a female politician’s career. While I am no expert in women’s fashion, I can see that the double standard is clear. It’s 10 times more difficult for women. That being said, Obama’s and Kennedy’s spouses, Michelle Obama and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis have both been praised for their fashion senses.

I had the pleasure of meeting President Obama a couple of years ago. I also happened to be at the White House last week, honoring some incredible veterans. While I didn’t meet with the president again, I like to think that knowing I was there, combined with some late-night Shark Tank re-run binge sessions, may have inspired him to wear the tan suit (haha! *wink wink*).

I enjoy it when people make bold fashion choices and I like to make them myself. I select the brands I wear with care. When I wear Gucci or Dolce and Gabbana it’s because of the way that they integrate certain features from military clothing into some of their styles. It takes me back to when I used to wear army fatigue streetwear. I like those brands, because they allow me to show that I still have an edge. Conversely, when I wear my Tom Ford, Brioni, or Neil Machlovitz suits, I’m showing my refined, opulent side. Sometimes I wear my FUBU suits, which are less than $200 each, to show that it’s not about how much you spend on something, it’s how you wear it. I have worn suspenders with no jacket several times on Shark Tank, this is meant to imply that I’m taking off my jacket, rolling up my sleeves and getting to work, like the real “people’s Shark.” I have also been known to wear a three-piece suit. I don’t see any other sharks doing that, Robert.

When I wear my flashy cufflinks, I’m showing that I’m still the fashion guy who has flare and understands TV. The trend I am most known for on the show however, is the double Windsor knot I use for my ties. People often criticize this choice, as Windsor knots are an old style, and not particularly fashionable at the moment.

What people don’t know is the meaning behind this choice. When Shark Tank began in 2009, we were going through the recession. The thick Windsor knot is known to represent wealth coming back into the market. I was choosing to make a statement about our economic troubles and my ambition to help remedy them.

What are you saying with your tight shirts (“I’m sexy?”), slim jeans (I’m trendy?), sagged shorts that show your underwear (“I’m going against society’s rules” “I lost a lot of weight?” “I can’t afford a belt?”) Etc.? What are they saying about you?

I’m just using the president as an example, regardless of your opinions on the president’s suit or your political stance, the fact remains: whatever you wear when you leave your house makes a statement about who you are. The question is are you controlling that message? As consumers, I encourage you to think about your fashion choices. Be conscious of what your style is saying. Maybe your style is to have no style, people are still judging. So if you’re wondering why this is important to you, think about this: If the president of the United States, one of the most powerful men in the world, is on TV addressing an extremely sensitive political and humanitarian issue, and all people want to talk about is what color his suit was, imagine how quickly people are assessing you when you walk into a room or post. Sure, you don’t have to appear on television in front of millions of viewers but given the modern nature of social media, that sloppy looking shot that remains your profile picture for six months makes a bigger impression than you may think (Unless your look is “starving artist” or “grunge band drummer). People believe due diligence is done after a deal is agreed upon, when in reality, due diligence begins the first time we pick up the phone or meet a person. Nowadays with the popularity of social media sites like Instagram, we have become a more visual society. Due diligence now begins when we type in a name look up someone’s avatar. It’s well known that over 60% of our communication is body language, but unlike back in the days when due diligence began with accessing body language, people are judging you online before they even meet you. It’s a one-way visual relationship. That being said, you don’t need to look like a runway model, or spend thousands of dollars to make a good impression, you just need to dress in a way that represents you in a way that is authentic and flattering. You wouldn’t hire an accountant who posts pictures of his extravagant lifestyle to manage your money, nor would you invest in a female entrepreneur who seems to have a new Gucci bag every week, or a web coder who dresses like a mobster. Dressing the part is key. It can even work in people’s favors when they are up to no good. Conmen are masters of wearing certain styles to elicit specific reactions. You can use this skill to make the impression you’d like to make, and you don’t have to break the bank to do it. Trust me, I’ve seen people in $10k outfits that aren’t helping them at all. Exercise the Power of Broke and get creative. There are tons of books on how to dress for success. Pick one up. You might not be trying to make a fashion statement, but fashion is making a statement about you, make sure it’s saying something you like.

For all of the students who read my blog, what are you trying to say to your professors and fellow students with your back-to-school wardrobe? Professionals, now that summer Fridays are no more, and work is back in full swing, what are you trying to say to your boss and colleagues? Happy fashion week to all of the incredible designers out there with dreams of dressing the world! If you’re in NYC for Mercedes Fashion Week, I’ll see you at my Andiamo event tonight!

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