December 29, 2012

Dress for Bias

Back in 1980, I read John T. Molloy's advice book Dress for Success. It was aimed at the large number of men who don't particularly care about looking good, but who don't want to look bad. It was nearly unique in that Molloy had done simple social science research before offering his fashion advice to men in the business world. What kind of unspoken prejudices do the public hold about men's clothing?

For example, he asked the cops at a New York commuter train station if they'd ever arrested a pickpocket wearing a tie. No. 

He then tried bumming train fare home to Connecticut by claiming to have lost his wallet. When dressed in a suit and a tie, he was remarkably successful, with some commuters even giving him extra money to buy a newspaper to read on his way home. When wearing a suit but no tie, he did okay. When dressed casually, he did poorly. 

He reported that his research showed that the hierarchy of suits in terms of perceived trustworthiness and favorability was blue > gray > brown > green. To the public, a man wearing a blue suit was seen slightly more favorably than a man wearing a gray suit. A maroon tie was best. In contrast, men dressed in (and my memory is murky here) green suits and/or bowties were assumed to be embezzlers, college professors, or alcoholics. Perhaps a green suit and a bowtie was assumed to be worn only by academics embezzling the departmental petty cash for cheap gin? 

All in all, it was very helpful stuff for a young man. 
'Dress for Success' Book Leads to Discrimination Suit
By Christopher Cornell
Friday, July 1, 2005

A former salesman for the Philadelphia Eagles Radio Network has been awarded $614,000 by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in a discrimination case that began after his supervisor handed out copies of a book, New Dress for Success, by John T. Molloy. 
In May 2001, supervisors at the radio network, which is affiliated with WYSP FM in Philadelphia, distributed the book to all its salespeople, including Shawn Brooks, 34, then the only African-American salesperson on staff. 
The book is a collection of advice on how to dress for business success, and in a chapter directed at minorities, it advises blacks selling to whites not to wear "Afro" hairstyles or African-style clothing. It also advises Hispanic salespeople  o "avoid any hair tonic that tends to give a greasy or shiny look to the hair; this also triggers a negative reaction." 
Brooks was offended by the contents of the book, and when he deemed the response to his complaints insufficient, he resigned and filed discrimination charges with the commission. 
Brooks found sympathetic ears at the commission. After reviewing the book, commission Chairman Stephen A. Glassman called it "the most egregious case of published documentation on stereotyping and bias toward race, gender and religion in the workplace the commissioners have seen in a long time." 
Viacom Inc. and Infinity Broadcasting, the network's parent companies, have appealed the ruling to a state appellate court.

Here are some offending quotes:
(i) “If you are black selling to white Middle America, dress like a white. . . . This clothing conveys that you are a member of the establishment and that you are pushing no radical or other feared ideas.”  

(ii) “Blacks selling to whites should not wear Afro hairstyles or any clothing that is African in association.  If you are selling to corporate America, it’s very important that you dress, not as well as the white salesman, but better than them.  You have to wear suits, shirts and ties that are expensive and more conservative than your white co-workers.”
(iii) “If you are white selling to blacks, you will fare much better if you dress in non-establishment patterns.  Black America is essentially divided into two camps, establishment and anti-establishment, and the divisions are not dictated by income alone. . . . Almost all members of Northern ghettos who are in the lower socioeconomic groups are understandably antiestablishment. . . . The black establishment includes all blacks who have made it along with almost all Southern, rural blacks, no matter what their position.  Southern blacks do not consider themselves disenfranchised . . . .”
(iv) “When selling to middle class blacks, you cannot dress like a ghetto black . . . .”
(v) “It is an undeniable fact that the typical upper-middle-class American looks white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.  He is of medium build, fair complexion with almost no pronounced physical characteristics.  He is the model of success; that is, if you run a test, most people of all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds will identify with him as such.”
(vi) “The two groups who have the most problems with their appearances are black men and Hispanic men.  It is unfortunate but true that our society has conditioned us to look upon members of both groups as belonging to the lower classes, and no matter how high a minority individual rises in status or achievement, he is going to have some difficulty being identified by his success rather than his background.  But clothing can help.”

Here's more on this case from Michael Smerconish, including an interview with Molloy about it, and some ironies.

I don't know what the eventual outcome of this discrimination case was. Typically these extremely egregious cases get sanded down in the appeals process. If I were Brooks' lawyer, I'd advise him to be happy with a settlement offer of, say, $100k.

P.S. Doing some more research, I find this 2009 Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision affirming the trial court's summary judgment against the plaintiff. In other words, assuming the case didn't go on to the Supreme Court, the black guy lost completely. It only took eight years and a 16-page decision of the second highest level court in the land.

My impression is that these kind of initial decisions giving absurd amounts of money to blacks for exigent degrees of discrimination constitute a kind of urban folklore among  black people, encouraging them to be on the lookout for a lawsuit that could make their fortune.

The fact that many of the most ridiculous charges of discrimination eventually get dismissed or get settled for pennies on the dollar is not widely known. It's not considered news. Blacks find it depressing. The occasional white populist like Smerconish finds it boring. Elite media doesn't find it fits the Narrative. And there is almost no will in America to shame individual blacks for these kind of violations of civil society.

Second, consider the "chilling effect" of this eight year long lawsuit. Justice William Brennan of the Warren Court popularized the phrase "chilling effect" as something we must be vigilant against in making sure that laws don't suppress free speech. The chilling effect of anti-discrimination efforts on free speech is pretty obvious if you stop and think about it, but almost nobody ever does.

As I've pointed out many times, much of what we think of as speech in the U.S. is paid for by businesses, and businesses are loath to associate their names with anybody who could be cited in a discrimination lawsuit. For example, Malcolm Gladwell is a role model to a generation of journalists (e.g., Jonah Lehrer) because of his ability to profit lavishly from both the prestige press  and from corporate speaking engagements. Corporations know that they won't get in legal trouble hiring Malcolm Gladwell to speak to their salesmen, but they could hiring somebody "controversial."

Therefore, I was hoping to see in the 3rd Circuit decision a ringing chastisement of the plaintiff for his suit's chilling effect on free speech. Instead, we get:
Although Brooks was understandably offended by the contents of the book he was instructed by Zurzolo to read and follow, the record is clear that Zurzlo did not know about the book’s offensive passages and that employees were quickly informed that the book did not reflect the views of the company or their supervisors.  Given this, the distribution of New Dress for Success does not represent sufficiently severe harassment to support a Title VII hostile work environment claim.

If I were a manager at a deep-pocketed corporation, from this I'd draw the lesson that black and Hispanic employees are "understandably offended" by Molloy's findings, so, to be safe, our corporation better not have anything to do with Molloy. Granted, the court decided that handing out the book alone is not enough for a $614,000 payout, but it doesn't help.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't think he deserves a single penny, let alone the huge settlement he got.

Anonymous said...

The first comment here did not read Steve's post. The plaintiff was initially awarded a lot of money by some sort of commission, then the company appealed to the trial court a won without a trial aka "summary judgment," then the company won again completely on appeal. The salesman's career was ruined by having his name associated with a lawsuit agains his employer, but got nothing. The lawyer who took the salesman's case got worse than nothing: 8 years of time and expense with nothing in return and a high profile loss on his record.

This is why employment race discrimination cases are rare and usually brought by the government: they are such losers before juries that private lawyers won't take them.



Anthony said...

On the other hand, once this case got to a real court, the result was a total loss for the plaintiff: "summary judgement" means "your case is so full of shit that I can decide against you without even going to trial".

It's too bad that we allow these kangaroo courts to continue to issue unlawful judgements like this. If corporate America weren't such pansies, they'd sue to sanction the HRC commissioners for their unlawful decision, and if they really wanted to go scorched-earth, try to get them disbarred.

Anonymous said...

off topic


Steve Sailers new pick reminds me of myself because despite being thin, his neck is as wide as his head. He is a guy, so it is fine. But as a woman, I always have wondered if people notice this, and if it looks strange to them. I figure few if any notice.

Anonymous said...

Salesmen usually have cunning and dishonest faces. I don't think dressing well helps all that much.

They also often can't help themselves and even when wearing a suit, also wear flashy shirt, tie, watch, or cufflinks. My advice if you want to do business in California is to bring $500 to Nordstrom and ask the salesman for the most conservative business casual outfits they have, and wear no jewelry.

California's more Midwestern and less Euro/Italian in its men's fashion compared to the NE or South. A $1000 suit is simply not the uniform of our business elite. If you really want to make a good impression, get a hybrid car or even a Volt/Leaf/Tesla.

Chicago said...

That PHRC sounds like it's pretty generous with other people's money. Lot of different elements involved in this drama: winning the ghetto lottery; Hispanics with pencil mustaches who use brilliantine in their hair; books, reporting on stereotypes, being misperceived as actually endorsing and promoting them; a boss who hands out a book to staff with instructions to read and put to use but who doesn't (supposedly) know what's in it himself; moral outrage. The whole episode is a stereotype itself.

hbd chick said...

"'If you are a Hispanic (Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban or other Latin American), you should avoid pencil-line mustaches....'"

EVERYBODY should avoid pencil-line mustaches!

Anonymous said...

Steve wrote: P.S. Doing some more research, I find this 2009 Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision affirming the trial court's summary judgment against the plaintiff. In other words, assuming the case didn't go on to the Supreme Court, the black guy lost completely. It only took eight years and a 16-page decision of the second highest level court in the land.

Anonymous comments: I don't think he deserves a single penny, let alone the huge settlement he got.

Steve approves comment.

Blacks are touchy about their place in white society. Blacks in the street appreciate a nod or a hello.

Silver said...

Giving sound advice to blacks=discrimination. Just more War on Reality, I guess.

Stories like this confirm to me the value of my rule of thumb for dealing with blacks: have as little as is humanly possible to do with them.

Anonymous said...

American pop culture:

undress for success.

Anonymous said...

"Blacks selling to whites should not wear Afro hair styles or any clothing that is African in association. If you're selling to corporate America it is very important that you dress, not as well as the white salesmen, but better than them."

Sheeeet, maybe Obama should have written 'Dreams from my dresser'.

Anonymous said...

Silver:

Amen.

NOTA said...

The interesting question to me is whether the advice is good. Do blacks selling to whites do better dressing in super conservative ways? I wouldn't be surprised, but I don't really know.

Anonymous said...

If you're a black guy, dress and act white to succeed.

If you're white guy, tone down your whiteness. So, Clinton, the 'first black president' won twice.

Bush won because he acted like a cartoon character.

But Romney the total white dude was too boring.

Anonymous said...

If you're a white guy who wanna succeed in NY, don't wear anything that reeks of the Sooooouth.

Anonymous said...

Stupid Molloy. He should have advised all blacks to wear Afros. Obama never would have been president.

Good Advice is a terrible thing to waste... on a Negro.

Geoff Matthews said...

Someone offers advice on how to overcome racial biases, and its considered discrimination?

Does anyone consider whether whites have to 'sell out' in order to succeed?

Jehu said...

Serious books on salesmanship aimed primarily at actual salesmen are some of the most out-there politically incorrect works out there in our society these days. They are often seriously full of 'hate facts' and don't contain enough crimestop. For this reason I often counsel non-neurotypicals looking to build a model of how neurotypicals work to those quarters---Carnegie, Franklin, et al.

International Jew said...

Hey, I bought that book about the same time as iSteve. None of the "sociological" parts impressed me enough, though, for me to remember them today. Gotta chalk that up to Steve tending to "notice things", I guess.

Wow, and what a useful book it was! Of course if I'd attended my college a decade earlier I would have picked up what I needed to know just looking at people on campus. You might say it was a remedial book for people who weren't lucky enough to attend a hoity-toity college, or did attend one but started later than about 1965.

Beefy Levinson said...

When I wear my black suit with a black tie, people assume that I am

1) A Secret Service agent
2) A Mormon missionary (I've gotten some funny looks when I'm dressed up like that and go in to buy some beer and smokes)
3) Going to erase their memories

Silver said...

About ten years ago I had a female sales trainer mention a book titled something like "How To Sell To Women." She didn't recommend it, she just mentioned it in passing. There was this girl in our training group who gave off hardcore feminutzi vibes (she was dressed like an anti-globalization protester and I really couldn't understand what she was doing there) who I'd 'befriended' earlier just because she looked like potential trouble and I thought it would be a good idea to get her onside. This girl sighed audibly at the mention of that book and looked my way, for support or something. Stupidly I said something like yeah, I know, I know, but this is sales, right, so if it works it works. This made her really mad and she scolded me loudly enough for the sales trainer to ask us what was going on. I thought I'd really blown it, but the girl quietened down and never mentioned it again (nor did she ever speak to me again). That was one of the first experiences that taught me that you can't just laugh at or ignore the reality-denying and reality-hating lunatics, they will have to be confronted head on at some point or they will destroy us all.

As for the effect of wearing suits, I didn't have a train ticket once and when a ticket inspector asked to see it as I was exiting the platform I made up some excuse (which I can't remember) and he bought it and allowed me to continue on way. There was another guy without a ticket who had been apprehended by the same ticket inspector and made to wait while I was being asked for my ticket who exploded in rage over the injustice: "WTF, what about that guy!?!?!" I was wearing a suit and he was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. I felt a bit let down by it because I wanted to believe it was the quality of my excuse not my wearing a suit which got me off.

Anonymous said...

The commission needs to do a cost/benefit analysis of these awards. In this case they made it too big which forced the company to fight it in court. Had they done something more modest, maybe the company would not have wasted the legal fees to fight.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

Here in Japan, Black/charcoal gray suits are required. Someone wearing even a dark navy blue suit is probably a troublemaker. Even my third grade son recognizes this patter.

Silent Oboe said...

re: "Chilling effect" on free speech

You all know that the EEOC weighed in on the Don Imus controversy with censorious language, right?

"Offenders in the workplace and in entertainment should be swiftly and effectively disciplined even if, as Imus contends, they’ve done a good deed for the offended community."

http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/4-12-07a.cfm

Anonymous said...

"...The black establishment includes all blacks who have made it along with almost all Southern, rural blacks, no matter what their position. Southern blacks do not consider themselves disenfranchised . . . .”

The author has it right.

I am a Caucasian who has lived for significant periods on the West Coast (born, raised and educated), the Tri-state (NYC) area and North Carolina.

Speaking from experience, my interactions with blacks other than in NC were characterized by an undercurrent (sometimes very overt) of hostility and coldness.

In NC however, my daily interactions my black folks of any social strata are relaxed, friendly, civilized and positive.

Southern blacks do not behave as if they consider themselves oppressed by whites. Non-Southern blacks do. I suggest that this is because civilization particularly in the Northeast has been degraded by leftism (e.g. race-baiters like Sharpton), overcrowding, transience, etc. Civilization is less decayed in the South, resulting in better interpersonal relations, more civility, etc.

Orestes Brownson

David Davenport said...

California's more Midwestern and less Euro/Italian in its men's fashion compared to the NE or South.

Southern men favor Euro/Italian fashion? I think not.

You may have south Florida in mind. South Florida hasn't been ethnically Southern for forty or fifty years. Is this mistaken impression of yours based on a trip to Miami?

In regard to the upper South and the Midwest, there's no sharp white cultural transition between Tennessee and Kentucky, and then from Kentucky to parts of Indiana or Ohio. It's more gradual.

Likewise for northern Louisiana to Arkansas and on to Missouri.

DirtyTricks said...

When I worked for a large corporation, our HR dept spent a huge amount of energy dealing with childish complaints from women and minorities.

There is a web site advising women to avoid certain men: Dont Date Him Girl (dot) com.
Is there a similar site listing troublemaker employees?

Hugh said...

It seems BHO has read this book. He's always nicely turned out, favouring dark blue suits over grey etc., whilst he sells doubtful product to White people who should know better.

Steve Sailer said...

Obama wore a blue tie for his bad first debate with Romney, but switched to red for his comeback in the second debate.

Prof. Woland said...

Starting in commission sales in financial services right out of college, I learned some invaluable advice. If you are young and selling to an older prospect, always project an image of how the client wishes their own children would look and act. You cannot be their buddy or peer because of the age difference but you want them to look at you and think to themselves, why can't my children be like you? I figure I have made 10% more money over my career just because I always wear a suit. Now that I am 52 I could easily get by without wearing one but I have kept up the habit. At the very least, it does not hurt.

Since we are on the topic, wear good suits if you are going to wear one. Most of my suits were custom made in Thailand. For half or a third of what it costs to buy a suit here you can send your measurements plus a picture and have a custom suit made from whatever materials you want. The suits are custom so they feel like you are born in them. Looking good, feeling good.

Lastly, Steve you clean up well. Good Pic.

Rob said...

EVERYBODY should avoid pencil-line mustaches!

Especially women.

Anonymous said...

If he advised white men to also not wear an afro, then he isn't discriminating.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting for someone to calculate how much this cost the taxpayers.

Court buildings are are built with taxes. Employees of the court are paid with taxes. Each hour of use of a room in a court building costs a certain amount. You would need to know how many hours this case occupied a court room.

Anonymous said...

Stupid Molloy. He should have advised all blacks to wear Afros. Obama never would have been president.

I suspect that what ever he advised the guy would still have complained.

Anonymous said...

There is a web site advising women to avoid certain men: Dont Date Him Girl (dot) com.

I first saw that here on isteve. I see you now have to register to use it. Anyhow it features page after page of guys of two particular vibrant ethnic minorities.

Anonymous said...

This kind of 'science' has been deadly to pop culture, which explains why movies and music look/sound/feel more and more the same.
It's like everything has to conform to the formula of 'what is most appealing'.

So, if different filmmakers explored different styles and textures in the 1970s, most movies look and feel the same. This goes for not only blockbusters but art films. Take something like 'Never Let Me Go'. It's formula art film that looks like most other art films.

ATBOTL said...

"...If corporate America weren't such pansies..."

You don't get it. The people who run corporate America support the agenda behind things like Stalinist diversity tribunals. They just don't want to pay for it personally.

Silver said...

Most of my suits were custom made in Thailand. For half or a third of what it costs to buy a suit here you can send your measurements plus a picture and have a custom suit made from whatever materials you want. The suits are custom so they feel like you are born in them.

I don't doubt it's true, but I spent over a year in Pattaya, which is a touristy Thai city, and there was a ton of menswear stores there, all run by Indians. The suits in the display windows of every single store (I kid you not) were the most comically garish monstrosities from like 1981 you can imagine. I confronted one of the store owners once, asking him what the story was. Hadn't any of them picked up a men's magazine in the last 30 years or watched a movie or heard of the internet? I must have come across as too harsh because he got mad and told me I don't know what I'm talking about and that he has contracts with Armani and blah blah.

The Duke of Paducah said...

"If you're a white guy who wanna succeed in NY, don't wear anything that reeks of the Sooooouth."

Damn, and that was my favorite seersucker suit too.

Anonymous said...

"If you're a white guy who wanna succeed in NY, don't wear anything that reeks of the Sooooouth."

Seinfeld had an episode. Can white Tyler Chicken employees from Arkansas sue Jerry & Larry for discrimination?

Anonymous said...

"If he advised white men to also not wear an afro, then he isn't discriminating."

He should have played it safe and wrote 'white men shouldn't wear viking helmets or have punk haircuts.'

Btw, I don't understand the afro advice. Afro's been dead for so long. I don't think I've seen a Negro with an afro in a million yrs.
It's like advising modern Chinese not to wear pigtails.

PS.

Did he give Mexicans advice not to wear giant sombreros?

AllanF said...

Cute story warning:

I told my then 5 y.o. son "always remember, dress for the job you want, not the job you have."

Sometime after that he asks me how much does a fireman's coat cost? A while later, how much does a police office's badge cost? How much does the President's suit cost? How much does an astronaut's space suit cost? Etc.

Finally, I figure it out: he's making plans to buy the clothes for the job he wants.

Anonymous said...

I think Mr. Molloy's bit about blacks avoiding afros is dated advice. I don't think most modern whites care one way or the other how blacks wear their hair. If you recall the hubbub about Gabby Douglas' hair was driven by black women and black gay men and not even the commentators here cared. So blacks care (and tend to torment each other in all kinds of ways over being black) but most whites think that a hair style is a hair style.

As for these frivolous "discrimination" suits many naive people underestimate how expensive lawyers are and how much legal fees eat up monetary damages. I'd imagine that even breaking even is hard in these most of these cases.

Gloria

Truth said...

"When I wear my black suit with a black tie, people assume that I am..."


You have to throw in a black shirt, than people will assume that you are an alpha Sports Agent, or a rich nightclub promoter.

Steve Sailer said...

The "Afro" reference is probably left over from Molloy's late 1970s book, and is referring to ABA-sized Afros.

Dr Van Nostrand said...

Salesmen usually have cunning and dishonest faces. I don't think dressing well helps all that much."

Though my background is engineering and MIS, pretty all the jobs I had were in sales and marketing but I rarely met them to close the deal.Pretty much everything was done on the phone.So I never developed an irritatingly ingratiating persona or a slimy smile.


They also often can't help themselves and even when wearing a suit, also wear flashy shirt, tie, watch, or cufflinks. My advice if you want to do business in California is to bring $500 to Nordstrom and ask the salesman for the most conservative business casual outfits they have, and wear no jewelry. "

I noticed that Americans even now in an increasingly classist society emphasize restraint and good taste in displaying your wealth.There is a WASPish distate for the garish trinket and exuberant displays of the nouveau riche among the ethnic whites as well as the blacks.
While impeccably grooming is lauded by the Mediterranean(including Arab) types, mainstream Americans tend to question your sexuality if you are not an older gentleman.


California's more Midwestern and less Euro/Italian in its men's fashion compared to the NE or South. A $1000 suit is simply not the uniform of our business elite. If you really want to make a good impression, get a hybrid car or even a Volt/Leaf/Tesla. "

I would partially agree-a Merc,Beemer or even a Cadillac is definite nono.But I dont know if hybrid goes beyond a narrow SWPL appeal.

rob said...

EVERYBODY should avoid pencil-line mustaches!

Yes. But only hispanics actually need to be told.

Dutch Boy said...

“It is an undeniable fact that the typical upper-middle-class American looks white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. He is of medium build, fair complexion with almost no pronounced physical characteristics."

Talk about stereotyping!

Anonymous said...

"If he advised white men to also not wear an afro, then he isn't discriminating."

He should have played it safe and wrote 'white men shouldn't wear viking helmets


You should have put a name on this this is hilarious.

Anonymous said...

In law school, you learn to distinguish between "dicta", which are mere words that the judges put in their opinion, and the "holding" - the actual ruling of law in the case, which sets a precedent for future cases. The dicta here is that Malloy's book is awful, racist, etc. and the holding is that brother, you can't make any money off of that. In other words, money talks and BS walks. It didn't cost the judges anything to make sympathetic white liberal noises in the brother's direction.

What is interesting in these cases is to see how often the ruling is influenced by the race of the judges. What do you think the racial composition of the original panel that awarded the big bucks was?

The ghettos of Philadelphia are filled with people looking to hit the lawsuit lottery. Recently there was a case where there was a bus crash and more people sued the city than there were passengers on board. Luckily, the transit authority now has video cameras on board so they were able to identify and prosecute the extras. Maybe word of this will get out.

Anonymous said...

The chilling effect of anti-discrimination efforts on free speech is pretty obvious if you stop and think about it, but almost nobody ever does.

I am a white and everybody I know thinks about "it" anytime while dealing with a member of a protected group. Always!