This weekend, I had occasion to buy son No2 his first suit.  He has an interview for Uni and the sixth year school prom soon, so one that could be used for both purposes would be ideal.  As he was trying on various items, and grimacing at the discomfort, I distinctly recalled buying my own first suit for work.

I was still a teenager, but had been working in telesales for almost 2 years, in an environment where scruffy was definitely the order of the day. So when I got a job selling cable television on the streets of Drumchapel, a more appropriate ensemble was called for.  Now remember this was the 1980’s, and  I was quite used to wearing all sorts of outrageous clothes. It was quite normal to see me wearing a tails suit jacket, with black combat trousers and a white chef’s shirt. (we made our own fashion in those days).  As ridiculous as that sounds, I found it very difficult indeed to get used to wearing a business suit.  Accustomed as I was to wearing heavy jeans or army surplus gear, the paper thin trouser material of a suit made me feel naked and self-conscious.   Everything about it was strange; the thin trousers, proper shoes, shirt buttoned at the neck, tie knotted in a full Windsor, a jacket hanging over my skinny frame.  For a long time I had to sneak different sized suits into changing rooms in order to get the ideal combination of a 40” chest jacket and 28” waist trousers.

More than all of that, however, was the psychological effect of wearing a suit.  It may well have been a class thing.  I certainly didn’t know anyone personally who wore a suit to work.  Was wearing a suit, normally reserved for weddings and funerals, getting ideas above my station?  This may sound weird, but it was very real at the time.  In the course of the past 25 years I have counselled thousands of candidates on how to present themselves at interview.  I’ve loaned out my best tie, and even sent a few to Marks & Spencer to get black socks. There have been more than a few delicate egos that had to be massaged along the way.

Wearing a suit is like wearing a prescribed uniform.  We can feel coerced by convention, and naturally want to rebel against it a little. The purchase of your first suit is a milestone along the way to adulthood, and a very visible declaration of that.  It can often be easier to get others to accept your new sartorial elegance than it is in your own mind.  It can sometimes feel as if the suit is wearing the person, as opposed to the person wearing the suit.  Only when you have achieved the latter can you go on to achieve other things whilst wearing the damn thing.

No2 son

Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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