Making A Good First Impression – by Zan Campbell

The following is a post from a friend of mine. My family and his met through the speech and debate league that my brother and I participated in for years. Zan is now a helicopter pilot with the U.S. Navy. Mom and I had dinner with Zan recently and I was so impressed with his fashion sense and outlook on how we could all try to improve our appearance by dressing ourselves with a little more care than is often seen in our society today. As I thought about it more and more I decided to ask him to write something up for us here at TeensGotCents. I’m so glad he agreed! Making a good first impression is critical is all aspects of life but particularly when looking for a job!

When I was a junior in high school, I was seeking a nomination to the United States Naval Academy. This is a long and arduous process and requires the nomination of at least one member of the US House of Representatives or the US Senate. A friend of my father was kind enough to set up a meeting with our current congressman Gresham Barrett. After discussing politics, the military, football and a myriad other subjects we stood up from the table to leave. As I shook the congressman’s hand he looked me in the eye and asked if he could give me some advice. Naturally I replied in the affirmative and I will never forget what he said next. “Zan, when you are trying to make a good impression, whether in the military or in civilian life, remember, a man usually first judges another man by his shoes.”

making a good first impression

Christmas, puppies and sweaters.

This stuck with me and I soon found it to be true. Not only did I find myself unconsciously doing it, but I found others doing it as well. People look not only shoes but someone’s entire outward appearance. So as we discuss dressing well, I want you to keep in mind that this is not an issue of fashion, pride, arrogance, or dropping brand names. It is about professionalism and building a good reputation.

The last thing you want is to be dismissed, consciously or not, before you have a chance to show people how valuable you are as a person or a member of their team. 

When it comes to a style of dress each person must pick their own. It is not for me to tell you what you must wear or how to wear it, I can only give my personal preferences and recommendations. I do however advise you stay away from “Fashion”. Oscar Wilde says of fashion, “And, after all, what is a fashion? From the artistic point of view, it is usually a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” I prefer a classic and professional style of dress. Every time I decide to spend my hard-earned money on a piece of clothing I ask myself, “Would this have looked good fifty years ago, and will I still be proud to have worn it in another fifty?” So here is the down and dirty.

making a good impression

Hanging around the house to Easter best is just a matter of a blazer and tie.

What to wear? Before I can tell you where to shop you need to know what you are looking for. Now I am a guy, so ladies, this next paragraph will not speak to you specifically. However I will include some links to give you some ideas. You ladies also can get an idea from what I am recommending to the men and extrapolate your female equivalent. I hesitate to recommend brands as even the best have some weird stuff. But in general, I prefer long-sleeved collared shirts or polos, well-fitting shorts, jeans or slacks, sweaters when it is cooler and a good barn jacket or pea coat for the really chilly days. I usually go with nice loafers or boat shoes with my casual attire. Accessorize with classically styled sunglasses, watches and bracelets for the more casual events. You may notice I did not mention t-shirts, cargo pants, gym-clothes, tennis shoes or skinny jeans! This does not mean you cannot wear these at some point, but any time you are trying to make an impression do avoid them (except skinny jeans, men, never…ever). 

making a good first impression

Nothing says “I won the summer” like a madras Madras shirt and khaki shorts.

Now you may be asking, “That sounds like the stuff my grandpa wears, why would I put that on?” I asked the same question for years, and I was always of the “tactical is practical” mindset. I wore fast-dry cargos or jeans, Under Armor and boots everywhere I went. But I soon found as I became an adult, that I did not have anything to wear when I went out to a dinner with friends or to a slightly nicer party. It was not until I saw a man named Kiel James Patrick and how he wore classic men’s attire and still looked young and athletic, that I was able to hope for something better. Dressing in a classic style tells the world that you care about your appearance. Most people assume that person who cares about the details of their appearance, will care about the details of their work. 

making a good first impression

No dress code for breakfast? Fine. We will make our own!

So where do I shop? First stop, Goodwill. You can really find some good stuff here. If you can find a store located next to a rich neighborhood or a prep school all the better. Some items of clothing look better with time and others don’t. So always check for fading, stretching and stains. Next, outlet stores. I prefer Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren and J. Crew. The items you find here will usually be well fitted, durable, and of course, a respected brand. You can usually go online and see when they are having major sales, I never waste my time for anything less than 40% off.

Now, all those little polo men or golden fleeces will do you no good if the clothes do not fit! So make sure you spend your money on things that make you look good and you want to wear. There is nothing more disappointing than getting home and hanging a shirt in your closet that you never wear because it makes you look fat. If you are slim, buy slim-fit in your size, if you are not, get the most slimming items.

Another way this style of dress will save you money is its versatility. Men, if you are wearing a collared shirt while you around the house, all you have to do is throw on a blazer and maybe a tie and you are ready for a nice dinner or a date. If you are wearing a long sleeved shirt, when it gets hot, just roll the sleeves up. You can wear long-sleeved shirts all year round, but short-sleeved ones just in the summer. Ladies this applies to you too. If you have on a nice top, swap your jeans for a skirt and throw on a necklace and you are good to go out. Change your boots for heels and you are ready for a meeting. It is that simple. 

making a good first impression

Add a blazer to your everyday attire and nobody will stop you from smelling the roses.

Now, I was not convinced of this until I saw it with my own eyes, and I still seek advice for combinations and other ideas. So check out these websites for people living their lives while dressing well:

First, here is my personal Instagram

Kiel and Sarah’s combined blog

Or their individual Instagram accounts:

This is my friend Kiel

And his fiancée Sarah

I conclude with a summary of things to do and some not to do.


-Buy versatile items.

-Ensure your clothes are clean and pressed.

-Have fun with it!

-Buy good brands (or at least what looks like good brands).

-Share/swap with your sibling and friends.

Don’t: (and yes, I have seen all of these)

-Wear socks with sandals.

-Wear cargo pants unless they are required for your job/activity.

-Wear skinny jeans if you are a guy.

-Wear two types of plaid with the same outfit. .

-Wear a tie with a polo.

-Button the top button on a shirt.

-Wear gym-shorts except to the gym, sports, etc…

-Wear “bling”.

-Look down on others for not following these rules.


Zan Campbell

Thanks for the great article Zan, I sure hope that the guys take some of your advice – especially the one about socks with sandals!   It really is possible to dress well on a budget!