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Much ado about clothing?

September 27, 2023 - 00:00
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Clothes make the man! Dress for success! I’ve heard those sayings all of my life. They’re words of advice passed on from mother to child to secure a successful entry into the workplace and society. Not so for Pennsylvania Democrat Senator John Fetterman who recently received a pass to work in the hallowed halls of the United States Senate in his trademark hooded sweatshirt and baggy gym shorts. Many of us of a certain age find his choice of apparel in the Senate chamber disrespectful to his colleagues, his constituents and to the process of running this country.

According to Forbes, Fetterman’s 2023 net worth of $46 million comes from his $210,000 congressional salary, a $19 million inheritance, an $11 million stock portfolio, 25-plus luxury watches, 95 cars, 11 houses and ‘other’ income so it’s safe to say a custom- fit Brooks Brothers suit wouldn’t break his budget.

A look at Fetterman’s life reveals a number of paradoxes. His comfortable childhood and the death of a close college friend appear to be catalysts for his early work with a number of nonprofits and his disdain for decorum, money and tradition.

As Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, Fetterman and his wife opted to live in a renovated car dealership as opposed to the State House. During his run for the U.S. Senate in 2022, the blue-collar, “everyman” look played well but the senator who favors a wealth tax seems to have no plans to divest himself of that which makes him a wealthy man.

While this dress code farce was playing out in the nation’s capital, it occurred to me that back in the real world, clothes can and do change lives. While Fetterman’s wealth, idiosyncrasies and perhaps a sincere but misguided sense of guilt allow him to thumb his nose at Senate decorum with impunity, such self-indulgence isn’t enjoyed by prison parolees, battered women rebuilding their lives or just plain folks down on their luck. Clothes DO make the man or woman and dressing for success can mean the difference between meaningful employment or reincarceration. The successful results of nonprofits all over the world contradict the message Fetterman’s clothing statement sends.

For example, the mission of Dress for Success, located in 20 countries and 41 states, is “to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.”

One Man’s Treasure is located in Dallas, East Texas and Tarrant County and provides clothing to indigent men released from prison to bolster their job search so they can lift themselves out of poverty. Six annual recidivism studies of One Man’s Treasure’s clients, three years after they were released, show that only 13% were re-incarcerated.

The Wardrobe in Philadelphia, in Fetterman’s backyard, believes that not having anything or the right thing to wear is a barrier to advancement. Tracking their participants to determine the effectiveness of their services, The Wardrobe found a 90% improvement in attitude, 75% increased job search skills, 75% continued engagement in job search, 60% employment success, and earning $15/hour or more as an economic indicator of success.

Taking it a step further, motivational speaker, author and workplace trainer, Chris Zervas, said, “You can influence the interview’s outcome if you show up dressed for success. It shows you take the position seriously. It communicates your professionalism. It implies you understand the company’s culture. It demonstrates respect for your interviewer.” There’s that respect again.

While Fetterman has the financial luxury to live and work unchallenged in his grunge-fashion world, the reality for those reintegrating into society is that clothes DO matter. The opportunity to dress for success can make the difference between returning to a life of crime and the inevitable re-incarceration or becoming a confident, productive, taxpaying member of society.

The column represents the thoughts and opinions of Connie Clements. Opinion columns are NOT the opinion of the Navasota Examiner.

Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and an award-winning columnist.