5 Things Blockbuster Movies Can Teach You About Business Attire

Blockbuster movies.

The Avengers (Paramount, 2012)Hollywood makes 90% of its income during the summer months and holiday season by releasing big, expensive movies that cater to the widest audience.  They learned long ago they could pack  theaters IF they delivered exciting stories the whole family could enjoy.

As crazy as it sounds, blockbuster movies are a lot like business attire.  People who build a business wardrobe that appeals to the largest audience also tend to earn A LOT. Here’s what you can learn from blockbuster movies about how to build a business wardrobe that banks some serious coin.

Before we get started, though, do something for me:

Look around your office.

Look at how people are dressed.

Who stands out?  Who blends in?

Who’d be the first casualty in a movie action sequence?

You know, like if an avalanche suddenly crashed through your office doors or rattlesnakes started coming out the air vents.

Who would “step up?”  Who would run away?

Hold that thought.  We’ll get back to it in just a minute.

If you take a look at the list of Top-Grossing Movies of All Time, you’ll see familiar names:  Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, lots of comic book characters. These are the fun, “popcorn” movies we’ve come to expect every year with lots of action, lots of CGI, and stories that take us to another place and time.

They’re pretty formulaic.  Yet while some movies “knock it out of the ballpark” most others just sputter and fizzle.

Kind of like job applicants.

If you’ve ever hired anyone, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You go through the resumes, pick out a promising few, and are either disappointed or delighted by the candidates who show up to interview.

So what do blockbuster movie heroes and irresistibly promotable people have in common? Plenty! They:

1. Dress Appropriately for the Time and Place

Tony Stark in Iron Man

Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark in “Iron Man” (2008)

James Bond, Indiana Jones, Tony Stark, Harry Potter – whether they’re at work, fighting bad guys, at a white tie affair or lounging around, they’re dressed appropriately for the time and place. None of them says, “This is what I like; if you don’t like it, lump it.” Nope. They know what’s appropriate for different situations and they wear it, no questions asked.

So do highly promotable people. They know what to wear to interviews, work, seminars, meetings, evening functions, etc. It’s known as being “schooled” or “polished,” and employers pay a premium for it – particularly in this day and age when most people think “formal” means “the good jeans.” If you don’t know the different levels of clothing formality and what’s appropriate when, learn them. It’s THAT important.

2. Put Function Before Fashion

There’s looking good, and then there’s looking good AND getting the job done.

The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” (2012)

Clothes from The Matrix, Twilight, Gladiator, and The Hunger Games have all spawned fashion trends. But NONE of the movie characters ever stops mid-story to futz or worry with her clothes. Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City), Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), and Lorelei Lee (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) also inspired trends, but their action was limited to how fast they could run in heels or move in tight skirts. Amusing, but feminine – and definitely not blockbuster.  Just look at the receipts.

Fashion is great. Looking sharp at work is great. But when you put looking good before getting a job done, you’re immediately seen as frivolous and lose credibility.

Marion Ravenwood was thrown into a snake pit in an evening gown in Raiders of The Lost Ark; Evy Carnahan fought skeletons in her nightgown in The Mummy; Elizabeth Swann swung swords at pirates while wearing panniers in Pirates of The Caribbean. All three fought as hard as any of the male leads and won their respect because of it. So will you if you roll up your sleeves, change into that pair of flats under your desk, and get the job done.

3. Cover Up

Sex may sell, but an R rating kills profits. NONE of the movies in the top 100 are rated higher than PG-13. NONE.  Most are G or PG. “Family friendly” is the name of the game.

Lord of the Rings

Cate Blanchett as Galadriel in “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001)

Remember that when dressing for work. You don’t have to dress like a nun, but if your co-workers are more interested in your cleavage or curves than your ideas or input, that’s a problem. You will NEVER be taken seriously by anyone who doesn’t approve of how you dress – which will be most people, particularly if you live or work in a conservative area.

Liberal Hollywood learned that back in the 1920’s. There’s “pushing the envelope,” and then there’s having an empty movie theater. It doesn’t pay the bills. Learn from them and prosper.

4. Think Mainstream

Jack Sparrow and Will Turner, Pirates of the Caribbean

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow and Orlando Bloom as Will Turner in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003)

Lots of blockbuster movies have quirky characters. There’s Hagrid in Harry Potter, Donkey in Shrek and Dory in Finding Nemo. But with the exception of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, most off-the-wall characters are side-kicks. Leads are usually mainstream-type characters with whom the audience can relate.

So are the most promotable candidates. Quirky clothes can be fun – but like too much skin, they can also be a turn off. So skip them at work. Dress however you like after hours, but when you’re on the job, think mainstream.  Like indy films, “out there” business attire typically doesn’t bank coin.

What? Too boring for you? The most popular ice cream flavor in the world is VANILLA (29%, or 1 in 3).  Listen to what I’m saying and profit from it.

5. Are Clever Without Being Condescending

Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Mummy, and National Treasure – among others – teach us about history in a fun, memorable way. No “You’re a moron because you don’t know this obscure fact,” but rather, “Here’s what happened, here’s why it’s relevant. Everyone on the same page? Good!  Let’s go.” They establish their expertise without being obnoxious.

Rachel Weiz in "The Mummy"

Rachel Weiz as Evy Carnahan in “The Mummy” (1999)

Highly promotable people do the same. One boss I had traveled frequently and picked up business attire from each country he visited. Invariably, talk in the department would turn to his tasteful but unusual ties, shirts, or cuff links. He’d tell us all about where he got different things, and the cultural relevance of various items. It was fascinating – and made for good conversation the next time we ran into anyone wearing the same thing, which was frequently, since we were part of a global hotel chain that served an international clientele.

If you know a lot about something, share without being Cliff-Clavin obnoxious. Making a lot of people look good only reflects well on you.

So let’s go back to the question I asked earlier:

Who in your office would be the first casualty in a movie action sequence?

The diva would be gone. So would the hustler. So would anyone who’s just “in it” for themselves.

You know, the same people who desert you when you’ve got an avalanche of customers or snake oil salesmen banging on your door. When the going gets tough, the high maintenance take off. Their paychecks tell the tale.

But the heroes always stick around and get the job done. They think in terms of the good of the group, not just what’s “in it”  for them. And what do they get in return? The glory, the girl, and the gold.

No, life is not a Hollywood movie, but there’s a lot you can learn from the movies – namely, what works with people and what doesn’t. If your goal is to make more or have more success, study successful people and do what they do. If you build a business wardrobe that appeals to the masses – like Hollywood creates the summer  blockbusters that generate 90% of their income – you’ll enjoy similar success.  It’s as simple as that.

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Business Wear MagicReady to put together an irresistibly promotable business wardrobe that will FINALLY get you the recognition and income you deserve?  The sure-fire formula in Business Wear Magic can help. Promotions, raises, travel, perks – it’s just the BEGINNING for many of my readers. Come see what your industry dress for success formula can do for YOU!

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5 Comments

  • Dina

    Reply Reply May 26, 2012

    Excellent article!

  • Natalia

    Reply Reply May 27, 2012

    Interesting article, many good points.

  • NormaN

    Reply Reply October 6, 2012

    You have described it precisely! Thank you for giving the public the awareness.

  • Carole

    Reply Reply October 10, 2012

    very well done!!

  • Shelly

    Reply Reply October 29, 2013

    So true – knowing the appropriate levels of dress for any given situation is paramount.

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