Lessons from Suits: Honest Body Language, Dress Sense, and Swagger

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Our non-verbal communication accounts for 93% of our total message that we’re sending to our recipients. We often think that it’s what words we choose that are the best tactic for effective communication, but it is in fact how we deliver these words, combined with how we carry ourselves and what we are wearing, that are most necessary to effectively deliver your message. Fortunately, the methods to achieving success with regards to effective communication are not that difficult. I’ll use the television program Suits to help illustrate how to use honesty in the way you portray and dress yourself, and how it can impact the message that you’re sending to your audience and impact your own self-confidence as well. I’ll start by analyzing the two main characters, Harvey and Mike, and then I’ll get into why honesty in your body language and dress sense can affect your self-confidence and the impression you’re giving off. Finally, I’ll bring everything full circle and explain how this concept affects your natural swagger.

In Suits, the show centres around Harvey Specter and Mike Ross, who are two lawyers at the firm Pearson Hardman. Harvey is a high-ranking Senior Partner, while Mike is a lowly, albeit brilliant, associate at the firm. The way that Harvey and Mike carry themselves reflects greatly on their character and their personalities, and the actors in the show do a great job portraying the specific traits of their character. The costume designers also deserve full marks for their choices. After all, with a name like Suits, your fashion sense better be top notch.

Harvey-Specter6

Harvey is a high-ranking, alpha male character. He is tall, handsome, and confident, and his body language and dress sense reflect this. He walks with his shoulders back, arms slightly swaying, and he’s always looking up.  When he sits down, he is at ease; he leans back in his chairs unless he is making a dramatic point, and his posture remains very relaxed despite the intense depositions or interrogations that he is often a part of. If you examine how Harvey dresses, his suit choices also reflect his character and mirror his body language, and the way he dresses and how he carries himself is an honest projection of his personality. His suits have a wider lapel, his shirts are almost always a wide, spread-collared style, and his tie knots are always a full Windsor, which is the largest of the common tie knots. The wide lapels accentuate his chest to make it look broader, and the large tie knots combined with the spread collars draw a lot of attention to his accentuated chest. This combination makes Harvey look how he acts: dominant.

Harvey, just sitting back and playing it cool.

Harvey, just sitting back and playing it cool.

Contrast this to the character of Mike Ross: Mike is a low ranking individual at the firm and still quite unproven in his career, despite his brilliance. He has a very skinny build and his lack of experience doesn’t yet lend him the confidence to be a dominant character or person. Mike walks a little more hurriedly than Harvey does, and when he walks, his shoulders are hunched forward slightly, hinting at some nervousness on his part. Harvey initially ridicules the way Mike is dressed, from his cheap suits, bad skinny ties, and shirt collars that don’t sync well with the size of his tie knot or the width of his ties. His dress sense remains the same throughout the duration of the first season because it mirrors the behaviours and inexperience of Mike’s character.

The character of Mike Ross is intentionally dressed in slimmer suits and skinny ties because they both match his body type, but they also match his character’s presence. His suits do not accentuate his chest as much as Harvey’s do, and his tie knots are much smaller, either tied with the 4-in-hand or the half Windsor knot. His shirts are standard point collar dress shirts, but the width of the shirt collar does not sync up to the size of his tie knots (as you can see in the picture below). This signifies a lack of experience with dressing in a business formal setting, and is a reflection of Mike’s lack of experience as a lawyer, as well as his youthful ignorance. Mike’s dress sense conveys that he is less dominant as a person and relatively young and inexperienced. This isn’t a bad thing, because his dress sense portrays an honest message about who he is as a person. As Mike grows and learns the tools of the trade and becomes more experienced and confident, the costume designers mirror his gained experience with a heightened sense of style, as you can see in the differences in pictures below. The first is from the first season, and the bottom is from the third.

Mike's sense of style reflects his character's relative maturity

Mike’s sense of style reflects his character’s  maturity…

...and has evolved with his character throughout the series

…and has evolved with his character throughout the series

So why does honesty matter when portraying your message through dress sense and body language? The metric behind projecting good body language to your audience is projecting honesty towards them. This could include: honesty about the message you’re delivering, honesty about your passion for the subject of your message, honesty about who you are as a person and how it relates to your message, and honesty about your intentions. When you communicate, you’re attempting to form a connection by delivering a message to your recipient, and if it’s dishonest, your recipient will detect that and respond negatively to you.

Think of one of the first things you do when you meet a person: the handshake. A good handshake confirms that you have honest intentions and that you’re not hiding something (such as a weapon) from your recipient. As the interaction evolves from here, your honesty and intent should remain apparent to your audience. When you stand with your arms at your sides or slightly raised, you’re conveying that you’re not out to harm someone, and that you’re not defensive; you’re trustworthy. If you were to have your arms crossed or if you had your hands right out in front of you, this conveys a dishonest and defensive persona, and your message will not be received in the manner you intended. If you maintain eye contact, then you’re comfortable talking to the person, which also conveys honesty. If you avert their gaze, perhaps you are hiding something or are too embarrassed to maintain eye contact, which again displays a dishonest message.

As much as you might not think, what you wear can have immense effects on your confidence and your overall body language. This is why it’s important to make sure that you are dressing in a way that’s comfortable for you, and that’s not just limited to physical comfort, otherwise the world would be overrun by people in sweatpants. You need to have a certain psychological comfort in what you are wearing and how you are portraying yourself, otherwise you are being dishonest to yourself, and this message will project outwards as well. Just because a magazine or the Internet tells you that you should wear something, take a moment to do a little self-examination.

Does this certain item or certain style mesh with your personality?

Do you act in a certain way that will reflect well on what you’re wearing?

Can you see yourself being confident wearing whatever is in question?

If you answered no to any of these questions, perhaps that particular style isn’t for you, and that’s ok. I feel as if more people need to embrace different personalities and aesthetics that are portrayed by the various types and styles of clothing, and start understanding what kind of image they should be projecting. Don’t just go wearing what everyone else is, especially if you’re not crazy about it. Your clothing choices should be an honest reflection of your interests. A lot of people are faking who they are and conveying a dishonest message, and you’d be amazed at how many people can see right through it. If you know what type of person you are, what to wear to best reflect that, and are comfortable with this reflection of yourself, then you’ll notice that you will naturally become more relaxed and confident on a day-to-day basis.

Two men: vastly different in their roles, but both equally comfortable in them. Swagger at its finest.

Two men: vastly different in their roles, but both equally comfortable in them. Swagger at its finest.

This is essentially the basis for swagger, which is something that cannot be purchased or faked. True swagger is about portraying yourself through honest body language, honest style, and honest action. A double-breasted pinstripe suit with peak lapels isn’t for everybody, and simply buying one will not make you instantly become “a boss” (or a bawse, if you prefer).  Despite what a lot of songs or magazines will have you believe, buying expensive designer items doesn’t maker you cooler and give you swagger – in fact, it often makes you look worse, because people detect the dishonesty portrayed by it.

This is the same reaction you might get if you discover that someone owns a counterfeit designer handbag or sunglasses. They’re being dishonest about their income, and no one likes a liar. This is often why you hear fashion magazines preaching about ignoring clothing with a lot of external logos when you’re investing in a grown up wardrobe. Buying clothing based on solely the logo is largely a dishonest motive, because it shows that you aren’t truly thinking about who you honestly are as a person before you purchase it; you’re simply buying it because of the label. What a lot of people fail to realize is that no one cares how expensive your clothes, watch, or shoes are, because if it doesn’t sync up with who you are, it will simply draw negative attention towards yourself. This is why buying a Rolex – real or fake- will never be directly responsible for getting you laid.

Learning what works for you and what style best suits your personality is definitely not an easy task, but once you have established this, I guarantee that your life will be positively impacted.  To use an example from Suits, Mike often experiences difficulties whenever he tries too hard to be too much like Harvey instead of embracing his strengths as a person. He was essentially trying to fake it till you make it, but that never works. Understand what type of person you are and align that with the image of yourself that you’re projecting to the world. Your personal brand will be much easier to identify, you’ll make more memorable impressions on people, and you’ll be a lot more comfortable in your own skin. After all, that’s what true swagger is all about.

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3 thoughts on “Lessons from Suits: Honest Body Language, Dress Sense, and Swagger

  1. Pingback: 7 Fashion Tips to Help You Feel Great and Look Your Best | Thoughts.

  2. Pingback: How to Network Properly | Thoughts.

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