Hey Mister! How did you get the money?

Dress up because you never know who you will meet

Clothes make the man
Image by Fancycrave.com by Pexels

I was in the foyer of the elite Hilton International Hotel waiting for a sales dinner to start.

I had been a TV producer and writer for six years and when the show closed I couldn’t think of anything better to do than sell books door to door. The parent company was about to host its annual awards dinner.

So broke

In TV the dress code was casual. In 1982 ‘casual’ meant cheap and kind of sloppy.

That suited me. On a commission income, with 4 kids, a mortgage, a wife, two cars to keep up, we were broke and new clothes for me were on the bottom of the family shopping list.

“The apparel oft proclaims the man” (Polonius in The Tragedy of Hamlet)

My sales manager had pretty high standards about how her people should present themselves. ‘Suit and tie’ was de rigueur. She insisted I rig up. To move up from ‘sloppy’ I had bought the cheapest suit, shirt, tie and shoes I could afford.

In the foyer

So here I was in the foyer of the best hotel in town feeling very scared that someone would notice how cheap my suit looked.

Street kids

It was winter and raining. Four street kids had come into the foyer to get warm. I was pacing by the window and they watched me for quite a few minutes. I assumed it was only my movement that caught their eyes.

Polonius was right.

It was my suit, tie and shiny new shoes that caught their attention. The clothes were proclaiming – to them – that the wearer was a man of untold wealth and pomp.

The question

Then one called out, ‘Hey Mister. How’d you get the money to buy this hotel?’ They were straight faced-serious.


It’s one of only three times in life I’ve been stuck for a response.

My first reaction was to laugh – at myself, at the irony, at them for being so taken in by appearance alone – but I smiled and said, ‘Fellas. I don’t own the hotel. I have less money than any one of you.’

Their response was instant. ‘Bull _(*&^TGH{)(+&*!!’ they chorused together and tramped out into the rain in disgust. It must have appeared to them that I was superior, smug and imperious, without a care that their plight was so inferior to mine.

What would you have answered?

They had asked a genuine question of someone who appeared to them to be outrageously successful, hoping for a genuine answer to life’s deep questions and I had apparently mocked them.

    If it had been you, would you have told them the truth about yourself? You could have tried but the response would have been the same. It was too far fetched.

    Would you have supported their delusion and given some paperback self-help book advice as if it were your own?

    Would you have been as gob gaping as I was?

    Would you be left wondering about the bizarre fact that to some people, clothes do make the man.

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society” Mark Twain

I’ve thought about it for 35 years and have never come up with a satisfying response.

Useful nevertheless

This tale has however served as an anecdote on many occasions to encourage people who want to have influence.

I say, ‘Dress up because you never know who you will meet.’

An example

This is what I talk about when I stress the value of storytelling in your corporate environment. It’s a story that nudges self-revelation, values in dress code, respect for managers, appreciation of standards, humility, honesty, feelings for those less fortunate. It did all of that without belittling anyone or telling anyone off.

Maybe …

Maybe you could get me to help you discover your story.
Maybe you could get me to help you write your story.
Maybe you could get me to help you deliver your story.

I’m here and I don’t bite. Call me. 0403 181 368

Send me this pre-formatted email

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