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Substance should always be valued over style

August 7, 2019

Pretty things are nice to ogle at but they’re seldom useful. Hence why most people place more value on substance over style. The way something looks is less important than the purpose it fulfils. I think most people would agree. Although, we all have a hankering for aesthetically pleasing content for our picture perfect Instagram…

So, why is it that style over substance still reigns true in some professional settings?

At the start of July, a newly elected Green MEP, Magid Magid, was asked to leave the European Parliament building in Strasbourg on his first day. He was sporting a yellow baseball cap and an anti-fascist slogan t-shirt. Tweeting in response to being asked to leave, he said “I know I’m visibly different. I don’t have the privilege to hide my identity. I’m BLACK & my name is Magid. I don’t intend to try fit in. Get used to it!”

Which sparks an interesting debate… should the clothes we wear have any bearing on our perceived ability to do our job?

Perception is key

Central to this debate is how people perceive certain professions should look. If you were facing an imminent life sentence and your lawyer rocked up in a pair of sliders and tracky bottoms, you might be forgiven for thinking you had no hope of beating the charges. But should it be that way? As long as your lawyer was clued up on the case, had a strong defence and conducted themselves like a lawyer, their clothing should have no bearing on the outcome of the case. Public perception must be challenged and altered.

We’ve been here before with tattoos

Tattoos have increased in popularity in recent decades. They’re less of an indicator to an ‘edgy’ individual and more a common sight among young people. This prompted the Met Police to backtrack on previous restrictions placed on body art; tattoos were once considered damaging to the image of the force, but this is no longer the case. New officers aren’t rejected by virtue of having visible tattoos.

Women are no longer expected to work in stilts

We haven’t achieved true workplace equality among genders but we’re getting there. One sign of this progression is that women in most – not all – professions aren’t expected to work in high heels. This relaxing of the female dress code represents a gradual but nonetheless significant shift in valuing someone’s ability over their appearance.

Just as all clothes come in and out of fashion, it seems as if the suit’s stranglehold on portraying competence and seriousness is loosening. Like many trends this one can be traced back to the tech gurus of Silicon Valley. They demonstrate that it’s possible to spearhead a multi-billion-dollar business while favouring polo shirts over the traditional shirt and tie combo.

When working for a company in a creative field, hairstyles or dress sense rarely enter the conversation when assessing a person’s ability to do their job. Yet, when we look at certain professions like law, medicine and politics, there is a pre-agreed ‘uniform’. Should anyone stray from this they’re deemed less capable than a suited colleague.

As with any significant cultural change, there will be scepticism, there will be resistance and there will be outcry. However, what we can learn from this is: playing your part and playing it well should consistently outweigh looking the part.

Why do you think people favour style over substance? Is it a matter of maintaining the status quo, or does it go deeper than that? Tweet us at @otbtweeter with your thoughts and if you think there are any professions that require a strict, formal dress code.


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