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Did you ever see the movie “Catch Me if You Can” with Leonardo Dicaprio? The movie is based on the life of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who became a world-class con man before his 19th birthday. Abagnale posed as a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor and a Louisiana prosecutor. And one of the keys to his deception was how he dressed.

The 1960’s were the hey day of flying. It was a big deal to travel by plane, as most Americans normally traveled by car. Airline travelers dressed up to fly. And pilots with their sharp navy blue uniforms were the superstars of the day.

“I was always accepted at par value. I wore the uniform of a Pan Am pilot; therefore I must be a Pan Am pilot.” Frank Abaganale

A classic conversation between Frank and his dad, Frank Sr., made a big impression on him about the importance of dressing for success.

Frank Abagnale Sr.: You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?

Frank Abagnale, Jr.: ‘Cause they have Mickey Mantle?

Frank Abagnale Sr.: No, it’s ’cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.

If you feel you are well dressed, it increases your confidence. The clothes you are wearing makes you behave accordingly.

The following anecdote came from Jim Smith (not his real name; my source has asked for anonymity, as he did not want to appear egotistical). Jim is one of the top salesmen and sales trainers in the U.S.)

“My first big break came a month after I had my first custom suit built. In retrospect it wasn’t a very good one. Cheap in fact. But it fit, side vents and all. I had an appointment with a woman who ran a division for a large firm on the East Coast. On the top floor of a fancy hotel, up where the luxury suites are, I knocked on a double door. They swung open symmetrically and an expensive woman in expensive clothes, her arms flung wide, stood back and stared at me for a full thirty seconds. Then she said, “You can come in. You are what I want my salespeople to look like.” From that point on I was hooked. I made a hundred thousand from that client.

“From ‘82 to ‘05, I located tailors, had clothes made, upgraded my knowledge and my clientele. Often, I found myself presenting in boardrooms and CEO offices. My mantra to my clothiers was, “I want to be the best dressed man in the room.” 

“During that time, my fee went from $3500 for three days to $30,000, teaching some of the largest consulting firms in the world. Plus $15,000 a day for consulting services.”

“There are three reasons for dressing for business: 1. To feel confident in environments that are specifically designed to keep you in your reduced place, 2. To make more money because you look like a successful business person and 3. To have beautiful women hit on you.”

“To elaborate: When you present your expertise in the boardroom, you have never felt so alone. Looking the best in the room impresses management and makes you look like you know what you are talking about. They pay less attention to what you say than how you look. Sad but true.”

“Dress as well as you can. Study dress and appearance just like any other science. And get some social skills, for goodness sake. There are thousands of MBA’s out there…only 5 or 6 can hold a civilized conversation.”

Dressing well made me ten million dollars.”

Don’t judge a book by its cover? It’s just the opposite. Your prospects don’t have time to get to know the “real” you. Studies show that the people make a decision about you in the first 5 to 7 seconds…some, like author Malcolm Gladwell, say people make a judgment in a Blink (Blink is the name of one of Gladwell’s best-selling books). People judge you instantly by what our image projects.

And I’ll bet you look good in pinstripes, too!


Image courtesy of 2ose