JB Fuqua and the Trappings of Success – Do You Need Them?


I've never bought into the whole "it doesn't matter what you wear" theory at work. Right or wrong, people judge you by the way you look, so you need to dress with that in mind. There's obviously a limit on both sides of thought. Even people that think it's fine to wear shorts and flip flops to work usually wouldn't look like the slob in the picture. But where is the limit on the upside?

Several years ago I read the biography of JB Fuqua, and I remember him saying that he always bought the best suits, even when he could barely afford it, because he wanted to convey success. I wonder if that is taking it too far. Or maybe that's one of the reasons he was so successful.

I think about this a lot as I drive to events around town in my relatively beat up Nissan Frontier (that was paid off years ago). I wonder if it would make a difference if I showed up in a shiny BMW. Knowing my age, what I make, and my financial situation, I tend to be a skeptic when I see people in flashy clothes and cars, assuming it's all debt that will come back to bite them. Or is it an investment? Is it an investment in social perception? This is the issue I struggle with sometimes. Does the image of success actually drive success? Does it influence others enough to make it worthwhile? Was JB Fuqua right or wrong? If you have an opinion on this, I'd be very interested to hear it.

  • Absolutely! You should certainly take steps to sabotage your own self-image, especially when these steps help to save money in both the short-run and the long-run.

    Everything that happens is caused by action, and a shining image is not a prerequisite to action. A shiny car is also not a prerequisite to action, unless that action is taking a drive in the country. Sometimes a bicycle will do the trick.

    A wife and family is (usually) not a prerequisite to action. However, a wife is still a prerequisite to family in most circles.

    Even a decent credit score is not a prerequisite to quick, decisive action. Liquid assets and self-control are the only prerequisites to freedom of action.

  • Ivan

    I think that it depends. When trying to impress people at a social event, it certainly pays to be well-dressed. On the other hand, if my financial advisor is driving a porsche and wearing a rolex, I run because, well, “where are the customer’s yahts?” Also, when college students drive beemers, my first question is, “daddy or the bank?” So, it depends. Dressing cleanly is important because it conveys attention to detail and image. But dressing with all the most expensive brands conveys irresponsibility and lack of actual product. The most successful people I know dress cleanly, but don’t wear designer suits unless at a very formal function.

  • Great comments Ivan and Kingdon. But it’s not as easy as Dress for Success!
    People do judge you (8 different decisions) in the first few seconds so you have to choose the right packaging. But “what’s right” depends on many factors.

  • Good question. Sam Walton was a jeans and pickup truck kind of guy. God knows Bill Gates didn’t get where he is because of how he dresses. The book the Millionaire Next Door certainly implies that in a typical group of millionaires you’ll find a lot more khakis and Tahoes than designer suits and BMW’s. That’s consistent with several local millionaires that I know. Those who have flashy cars and boats bought them LONG after they could truly afford them.

    Certainly it’s important to know how to dress for the occasion and a ’72 Pacer won’t win you any fans in the valet line but I’m not convinced that clothes make the man.

  • I don’t buy my tees at Nordstrom, but the Old Navy tees that I do wear are clean and ironed and lint-free. I don’t drive a BMW, but my little Ford Escape is clean and the AC works, so I would feel just fine picking up a client or my boss from the airport in it.

    My point: I think it’s all about presentation, not the brand wrapped around the presentation or the money behind it.

  • Rob,

    I read someplace long ago that you should dress to meet or exceed the expectations of those around you at any given time. So when I worked for a public utility, that meant ties and jackets. At Starbucks, dress slacks and shirts with collars.

    As an entrepreneur, I maintain that philosophy. In the office, I wear jeans. For meetings, I research the company dress code of the business executives I am meeting. For chamber events, dress slacks, dress pullover and a jacket is just about right. And so on and so on.

    Whether or not we like it, we are judged by the way we look. If business success is a goal, we need to dress accordingly, which isn’t easy for this aging former hippie. But even hippies grow up and become adults.

  • Sergey

    Dressing a little bit too casually when going to meet a client can help filter the ones who care about all the wrong kind of things (like looks). It might seem like losing some business, but I’d rather not have any business with certain types anyway.

  • Dressing well and having a nice car are two completely different things.

    I agree that dressing well makes a difference. (Wearing clean, well-fitting clothing is more important than wearing a designer suit though.)

    Your car, however, need not be a BMW. A clean, well-maintained car is all you need to make a positive impression. Many people appreciate a touch of frugality anyway. Your car does matter, but the original list price isn’t really that important.

  • This is a very interesting question that we have wrestled with at our company. Dress represents who you are. By dressing a certain way, you will attract a certain kind of person. It is up to the individual to determine what and who they want to attract and behave accordingly. For our business we felt to achieve success we needed to look sharp, so we dress this way every day. Do I get more accomplished? Am I any more successful? I don’t know. When I dress this way I feel more successful and comfortable and I think that emanates. Michael Jordan used to wear new shoes for every game. “There is something about new basketball sneakers that makes you feel better and play better,”.

  • Great comments Ivan.

  • It’s easy to make this into some kind of moral issue, but the fact is that when people meet you, the very first impression is often conveyed by how you look. They grade you on whether you look like what they expect, whether you look like them and whether you look “right.” This is a human thing and mostly an unconscious thing. I had a business in South America for a while and in the area where I was, no businessmen wore suits except indoors. Outdoors, the people with power and success wore long sleeved shirts with the sleeves rolled down. I was very much better received when I started doing the same.

  • dale starnes

    interesting. …my father worked with mr fuqua right out of college, his first assignment was creating a cable tv system (in charleston, i think) even though they didn’t have the city’s license to do it. a savvy man, and yes, always well dressed, as i remember. …as a part of his social circle, i would say that it would not be the make, or year of a car, or suit, that one would drive/ wear… but it would very much be “of what condition is it, or is it kept” that would be the priority. …my father came from as poor of a background as jb himself. and that cable tv system assignment was straight out of college. what they had in common, though.. and what i believe jb must have trusted in my father, was that he was kept and presented himself sharply, from car to dress… and, of coarse, he was both confident and assertive about his abilities. …in other words, rather than using a brands to support a “purchased” ego, he would actually have a generic, yet truly “bull-dog”, well presented, confident ego. …i;ve been fro coast to coast, finding no other folk that match the curiously capable sensibilities in business that i’ve known in my father’s circle, that included jb fuqua.