Nov

24

Dissimilitude? from Alan Millhone

November 24, 2009 |

 Just got in from a basketball game at Ohio University vs. Lamar. Noticed the basketball coaches wear suit and tie. The baseball managers wear the team uniform. The majority of football coaches dress casually (except Tom Landry). I wondered why the difference in dress among these three sports?

Victor Niederhoffer adds:

And what is significance of the terrible millhonian fact that 99% of the people in any mid-level restaurant these days are wearing black? Is it the consequence of a lagging response to a recession — a harbinger of a deep pessimism, of a boat about to capsize, a conventicle of worship for the higher blackness in our midst, a signal that stocks are still not invested with much of a risk premium, or whatever cultural straws in the wind are you seeing of this subdued nature? And what does it mean?

Dan Grossman replies:

1. On the coaches, it's much colder outside on the football field and easier to dress warmly in casual clothes. A suit and overcoat would look ridiculous.

2. In the restaurants, dressing all in black signals the maitre'd and staff you are someone not to be trifled with. You are more likely to get a table without a reservation, or a faster/better table with one. Black says you are from town, perhaps even an artist, writer or in the fashion industry, not from the sticks or the burbs.

Dean Davis writes:

Supposedly black is a slimming color. Perhaps those that frequent comfort food restaurants like those found at the mid-price level have something to hide. I have heard that the quality of diets slide in poor economic times.

David Wren-Hardin writes:

Baseball has a longer, and more recent, history of player-managers. Pete Rose was, I think, the last one. Football seems to reflect the average dress of the time. Back in the fifties, all men wore suits. It may look formal to us now, but the suits were probably pretty standard, not the same as Pat Riley's Armani suits, for example.

As our culture has become more casual, so has the football coaches' dress, especially since they are outside. I think they may even be prohibitied from wearing suits. I recall a coach last year (Jack Del Rio?) who wanted to wear a suit to honor his father, and either had to get a waiver, or paid fines.

You can see similar dress cultures in trading. Traders associated with banks tend to dress more formally than traders in hedge funds. In my current firm, wearing jeans and t-shirts is an expression of pride. If I wear khakis, everyone wonders where I'm going after work. At my last firm, a European owned group, we never wore jeans, and if the bosses from Amsterdam were in town, we wore suits.

Essentially, it seems to have settled out where if you deal with customers, you wear a suit, and if you are a trader, you dress down. The more powerful/profitable you are (or think you are) the more you dress down.

To make it more personal, does how we dress affect how we trade? If I'm more formal, am I less prone to risk-taking? If I'm dressing down, am I more relaxed and making better decisions?

Steve Ellison shares:

That has been the case at MIT for years. From Fred Hapgood's 1993 book Up the Infinite Corridor: MIT and the Technical Imagination:

In his time Ernesto Blanco has designed robot arms, a lens for cataract operations, steerable catheters (that can navigate inside arterial branches), a microstapler for eye surgery, a stair-climbing wheelchair, a forklift truck, film-processing equipment, high-voltage transmission line connectors, a helium pump, and a raft of devices for the textile industry — from pile stitchers to faulty needle sensors. So he has earned the right, which he exercises, to dress his barrel chest and ramrod carriage in rich blue blazers and snowy shirt linens, silk ties, Italian leathers, and flawlessly crease flannels. In this he faces against the winds of fashion at MIT, where an Armani suit suggests not success or achievement but a serious problem with self-esteem, a lack of confidence that the product, the work, will be adequate to win the desired rewards. The psychology expresses itself as a fashion paradox: at MIT you dress up, you dress for success, by dressing down. So in this sense Blanco is like a banker who wears jeans to work; he is good enough to wear what he likes, and what he likes is Fifth Avenue.

Phil McDonnell comments:

The black-is-slimming meme has been around for several years. The older Seattle Grunge look may have spawned an idea that casual is good and, perhaps more importantly, colors that blend in are good. Some time ago I ate at one of the nice Google restaurants and did a quick Galtonesque count of the number wearing black. It was nearly 100%. I was the exception. Many of these young people are from India, China, Russia and elsewhere so it is not just California. In some circles they say that gray is the 'new black'.

Dr. McDonnell is the author of Optimal Portfolio Modeling, Wiley, 2008


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2 Comments so far

  1. Eric Barna on November 24, 2009 12:29 pm

    Baseball managers wear team uniforms because there was a time when managers also played the game. As late the 1980s Pete Rose managed and played at the same time. Managers don’t play anymore but the tradition lives on.

    There are quite a few NBA coaches I’d rather not see in a tank top and would be detrimental to the game.

    I believe the NFL has rules that coaches must wear licensed garb. I do remember back a few years ago when ‘Niners coach Mike Nolan had to get permission to wear a suit and tie.

  2. Adam Nelson on November 25, 2009 11:18 am

    Eric is correct: NFL coaches must wear something from Reebok's line of officially licensed sportswear.

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