October 12, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Costumes, uniforms, and appropriate dress rules are important to most in our society. We expect doctors with stethoscopes, scientists in white lab coats, police in uniform wearing a badge.

We’re all susceptible. I would really struggle with my expectations at a fancy restaurant if the head chef came out in a grimy t-shirt and shorts. Even if it was Thomas Keller.

We like to think we’re above it all.

We’d like not to judge a book by its cover or the importance of a Nobel laureate that doesn’t fit the mental image society has ascribed to them.

And yet, we struggle with that.

I am reminded that some folks look at our group of amazing engineers in their everyday clothing choices—shorts, t-shirts, jeans—and perhaps don’t give them as much credibility as a marketing picture of other high-end audio companies with engineers prancing around in white lab coats. Which, of course, we all intellectually understand is silliness and yet…

Years ago, my friend Matt Polk of Polk Audio was hornswoggled by the company’s then marketing and sales director, my dear friend Sandy Gross (and other suspects), to sport a white lab coat and let him be branded as a genius. Matt struggled with it but eventually capitulated and it formed one of our industry’s most successful marketing campaigns.

Back in those days, we somehow acquired a lifesize cardboard cutout of Matt in his lab coat and at lunch used it as a dartboard. All in good fun.

That was a long time ago, but I doubt our tendency to judge others by their outward appearance hasn’t diminished at all.

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59 comments on “Costumes”

  1. Yes Paul I agree with you but don’t forget it’s not just appearance what about religion and politics.
    On another topic.
    Hey Fat Rat time’s up the ten days have passed has the disc arrived,I hope so but I’m not holding my breath.

    1. Hi Yorkie,
      In fact nearly 20 days & no Disc from Octave Records as yet in my letterbox.
      However, the last time that I bought a CD from America, through ‘Discogs’,
      delivery took 5 weeks & so I’m not holding my breath either 😉

      1. I believe that all parcels through the postal service into Australia have been sent back. Last I heard Australia was unable to accept any packages sent through the postal system due to a lack of manpower in their version of our postal service.

        1. As far as I know our postal delivery service has taken on more staff during the pandemic due to the increase in world wide & domestic parcel deliveries.
          I’m willing to play the waiting game & I’ll let you know when it finally arrives here.

  2. The basic reason for white lab coats is to show up dirt, so in a clean environment it makes sense that people wear them, even the tea lady. Most dress codes are intended to normalise clothing so people don’t get distracted by what people wear. Suits are boring because they are not meant to be noticed. Zoom meetings are curious because you get to see people’s houses and we start to make judgements.

  3. Somehow I think that the age of the 28yo billionaire tech giant who wears T-shirts & blue-jeans,
    a la Brian Acton, Mike Cannon-Brookes, Scott Farquhar, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. has broken any staid dress rules foisted upon us from past expectations.

    “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”, is a well known phrase for a very good reason.

    I for one have learned that comparatively inexpensive home audio systems with good synergy can ‘sound better’ (be far more impressive) than an expensive home audio systems that ‘looks’ like it should sound jaw-droppingly amazing.

    ‘Judge ye not!’…lest ye get it completely wrong.

    1. Speaking of dress code. I still have the image from a while back, of Ted Smith arriving at the PS Audio office with snow on the ground, in his Hawaiian shirts, shorts and sandals.

    2. One would think, but there are many dealers of merchandise at various price levels that will still give more attention to the man in a $4000 Zegna suit than the one who walks in in a tee and jeans despite the fact that the latter is a billionaire.

      I’ve heard many tales of the tee-wearing audiophile being ignored in the high-end salon in favor of the guy in the suit who wanted new headphones to go with his Sony Walkman.

      It’s still true in a way; I doubt anyone would trust a surgeon who walked into a examining room in his Dark Side of the Moon tee shirt and shorts, but throw on a $35 pair of scrubs and you can pretty much walk anywhere in a hospital without being challenged.

      This is why I have made a point of dressing very casual when going to any new high end dealer – audio, autos, etc. – I want to see how they will treat me dressed as ME ala “Pretty Woman.”

      1. “Hello, do you remember me?
        I was in here yesterday, you wouldn’t wait on me.
        You work on commission, right?
        Big mistake. Big. Huge!
        I have to go shopping now.”

    3. Lab Coats and Blazers ~

      Hey Rat how about that charming collection of duets featuring the bass of Rob Wasserman in a variety of different roles, from supportive to lead to orchestral. With the exception of Stephane Grappelli’s violin, Lou Reed’s guitar and Rickie Lee Jones’ guitar and bells/percussion, every sound on this album is bass and voice, demonstrating that these two musical forces can be everything by themselves. Great Recording . . . and no lab coats.

    4. I don’t think Steve Jobs ever whore a suit. He was a laid back Californian. Lol.

      Also Martin. Tell that Paul McGowan guy to ship your cd express fed ex guaranteed 2 day delivery. Lol.

  4. Yet, have an unmarked car stop behind you, and a person get out in a hoodie and blue jeans with a weapon and tell you to get out of your car not wearing a patrolman’s uniform, and see how far that flies. Or, as when I did some work for Hitachi, step onto the production floor without wearing the prescribed outerwear and coat that is impregnated with carbon fibers to drain ESD and see if you aren’t immediately escorted off the premise by security. Or hop onto Intel’s floor without proper attire and see how long you retain your job.

    I see it more as a fraudulent marketing campaign, which many, even today, present. If a company sells whiz bangs they claim is so much better than the previous item it replaces, was the previous version claimed to redefine earth’s spin not worth the asking price? And in the arena of audio, with decades of claimed improvements, why does equipment today have even worse performance than those of prior decades? See, the marketing hype is just that… hype. I can hear P.T. Barnum in the background…

    1. It gets as far as the person in the hoodie & blue jeans, who got out of the unmarked car, with a weapon to produce their police badge, that is either hanging around their neck or is pulled out of one of the front pockets of his/her jeans.

        1. Barsley,
          The information in the link that you have provided says to me that there are both intelligent & dopey people on both sides of the shop counter, & after 22 years in home audio retail I know of this phenomenon first hand.

  5. I don’t judge people by what they wear, with a few exceptions.
    Men wearing shorts and sandals during working hours (I’m not talking about holiday).
    Shorts are not for hairy male legs, Hawaiian shirts for Magnum P.I. only.
    I once had a co-worker always wearing sandals in spring/summer. Especially in the elevator… the horror.

      1. Great minds think alike, Fat Rat. The nails are the worst part.
        But yes, I got down on my hands & knees, but only because I had to vomit.
        After that his feet were cleaner than before 🙂

  6. For those of you that yoost to read Stereo Review, I wonder if you remember this June 1998 article that was printed in that magazine back then.
    A story about a few nekkid women using sex to do what?
    Trying to sale me a set of speakers?
    Are you girls kitting me?
    I know that sounds crazy, but that’s how that article sounded to me, when I picked up the June 1998 issue of Stereo Review at that time.

      1. Good morning JB4!
        Yes I am!
        The magazine Stereo Review, started out in 1957.
        And like I said, it was in the June 1998 issue, is when that article was printed in that issue.
        About a year later, the magazine changed their name from Stereo Review to Sound And Vission.
        I started reading that magazine in 1996.

    1. Good evening John Price,

      I’m in the U.K. I have only ever bought one issue of Stereo Review magazine. I have it in front of me now. I was hoping it was the June 1998 issue, but it isn’t, it’s June 1991. However it does have some items of interest. The closest thing to inappropriate advertising, a man playing a saxophone with a lady dancing next to a speaker, the Klipsch kg3 ‘Nothing Else This Small Can Move You So Much’ is the tag line….mmm.
      Then on page 57 is an ad for the Infinity IRS V, a snip at $60,000.
      Finally, a three page advertising spread for Polk Loudspeakers and not a lab coat in sight. Three pages, so they must have been making some money.

      1. Good morning Richtea!
        I will tell you truthfully, that I am a blind man.
        Your post to me yesterday evening, says that you’re in the UK.
        I don’t really know too much about how your country took care of blind people.
        But over here in the United States, we have a Talking Book program.
        I’ve been in it for a little more then 39 years.
        But when they signed me up for it, I was just only 9, but getting ready to turn 10.
        I couldn’t see out of but one eye.
        But it was a little more then 10 years after that, is when I started taking the Talking Book program very seriously.
        But as for both books and magazines, they came to you either on cassettes or records.
        In 1996, Stereo review came to me on sets of flexible discs.
        Two years later, is when I listened to the issue of Stereo Review that came out in June 1998.
        The article that I was talking about yesterday, was an article that was in titled, “The High End.”
        I don’t know if that’s still posted on the internet thoe.
        But like I told JB4 yesterday morning, a year later, the magazine change their name from Stereo Review, to Sound And Vision.

    2. I never knew they had a Braille version John.

      Paul, so brave of you to use pommy English.
      “Hornswoggled” — Matt conned into doing the white cost ad.

      I was a pharmacist and my white coat had a guaranteed positive placebo effect.

      1. Good morning Peter!
        If Stereo Review was ever in brail, I sure don’t know anything about it.
        But just like I was telling Richtea, talking magazines.
        The only problem was, you couldn’t play those records and tapes on commercial equipment.
        Lets take a look at turntables that were designed to playback commercially produced records.
        Talking Book records couldn’t be played on any commercial turntable and or record player.
        Talking Book records, were cut at either 8 or 16 RPM’s.
        The slowest speed on any commercial turntable, is 33/1.3 RPM’s.
        And the fastest speeds are either 45, or 78RPM’s.
        Commercially produced cassettes, were and still are recorded at the speed of 16 and 7 8th’s.
        Talking Book cassettes, were recorded at 15 16th’s
        And on top of that, the talking book 4track system, is a whole lot different from that of a commercial 4track system.
        With the Talking Book 4track system, the right channel, is in reverse.
        Meaning, that a Talking Book tape player, will play the right channel on any commercially produced cassette backwards.
        A Talking book cassette, is half the speed of a commercial cassette.
        This is why a Talking Book cassette tape won’t play right on a commercial stereo tape deck.

    1. It was always said ‘sex sells’. Remember the airline campaign embodied in the song ‘I’m Mandy, Fly Me’. Possibly still would, it’s just not allowed any more.

  7. “and perhaps don’t give them as much credibility as a marketing picture of other high-end audio companies with engineers prancing around in white lab coats”

    What I see is the staff just emulates the fashion priorities of their leader.

    The older the generation, the more it has always judged those that don’t conform to their idea of proper. –

    Never mind the fact the people were working in a warehouse hoisting 200lbs way above their heads… people didn’t like the way they were dressed. (◔‸◔ )
    If I had seen that set-up and they were dressed in ties and lab coats I would have dismissed it as pure BS.

    Typically a costume is used to hide or portray a new identity.

  8. Everyone judges everyone. Age, sex, race, size, clothing, odor, hairdo, makeup, etc. are all part of the judgement. This has gone on for all of recorded history and will probably go on for as long as there are humans.

  9. Paul, social customs do change significantly over time.

    I wore a coat and tie to work every day, even in the last couple of years prior to retirement when “casual Fridays” were just coming into vogue. But that was 20 years ago. Today I expect if I went back to the old office I wouldn’t see anyone in coat and tie, unless they had an important meeting presentation that day.

  10. Sandy and Matt
    Took Polk retailer’s to a whole different level of scrutiny. I owned a couple of higher end stores during the late 70s.
    They made a habit of sending a decoy customer to your store whos job was to see if they could get you to say anything disparaging about there products,even over any others that you might also be representing.
    Then they would make a surprise visit and go over your test results item by item,focusing on the point that if you don’t sell Polk over all other Mfg’s then they would need to take there products elsewhere it was a great honor just to be allowed to represent there loudspeakers!
    I and my sales people found this to be extremely arrogant and honestly counterproductive to be just focusing on just Polk speakers.
    I just wish Matt would have showed up in that Lab coat!
    It could have gone from annoying to amusing which is really how we should have reguarded it 🙂

  11. Hornswoggled… now there’s a fun-filled verb you just don’t get to inject into conversation often enough.. I don’t remember that one getting sung on the 70s Saturday morning Schoolhouse Rock ditties… for which the proper costume was Six Million Dollar Man or Scooby Do pajamas.

  12. At least three things come to mind:

    2. John McAffee hawking his anti-virus software (which was junk and still is). He was later found to be releasing infections on the Internet so his software could find them.
    I believe his marketing included a lab coat.

    2. Polk. In the mid-80’s I was selling home audio for a long-time audio store(s) in Seattle. The product in my opinion was mediocre mid-fi at best.
    I think they wanted us to have said life-size cut-out.

    3. Fake doctors on TV, Spam, and otherwise hawking their miracle cure goods.

    Life has a lot of veneer, including how we all have our faces on social media, sales, etc.

    Last note here: we all want a PS Audio Polo shirt. XL please 😉

  13. Every-day clothing choices are in fact a uniform.

    They create an image, as does calling PSA engineers brilliant without explaining how they are so, or calling just about everyone in the audio industry a good friend.

    Which may all be true, but they are attempts to create/enhance an image.

    Companies project images they’ve chosen for themselves in many different ways. Some are more obvious and silly than others.

    1. One of the few things that is not horrible about the pandemic is how I dress. I hardly go out. Doctor and Dentist appointments are about all I go out for. Thus what I wear each day is based on one thing and one thing only. COMFORT! My daily uniform says comfort. My wife could care less about what I wear around the house. She only tells me not to look like a slob when I go somewhere.

  14. jb4’s comment at 7.00am reminds me of the time when British car manufacturer TVR draped topless ladies across its cars at the Earls Court, London Motor Show. Funnily enough it’s the only piece of advertising I can remember from 1971.

    If you want to find out more there’s an informative story about the historical perspective of advertising on but political correctness and a concern for causing offence makes me reluctant to post the link. DYOR 🙂

  15. Just wanted to add, that I have that Polk brouchure and many, many others that I pilfered back in the day from our local HiFi shops. All in like new shape, in a special box.

    I especially like the one with a factory photo from RTR and the two ladies on the assembly line holding the 24″ woofer between them (O: I believe that was the largest woofer used in a PRODUCTION speaker in those days.

    Also in the collection is pretty much all the JBL models from the 70ies, including a dedicated one on the Paragon.

    Many from Infinity as well !

    Some pretty interesting marketing photography for sure.

  16. Costumes are used as a propaganda tool. They make us feel like a system or group are the ultimate authority or give the impression of being infallible or invincible. We have long robes for judges or educators. Let’s not forget the dress of clerics and popes. There are uniforms for police or military with all manner of badges and decorations. Khaki was the favorite color of police for many years and then came the black commando look after SWAT teams were formed in cities. For the military it was khaki during WWII and then came the camouflage look of Vietnam. Desert tan camouflage is the fashion now after all the middle east wars. Politicians go for the lawyer look of dark gray or blue suits and red ties, along with the little US flag lapel pins. White lab coats on medical or scientific research professionals is the dress most often associated with their activity.

    Grand buildings are also a part of the costumes as well with Greek style colonnades. How about the raised letters beside an office door with the outer office secretary guarding the inner sanctum that’s furnished with a high back chair, fine desk, credenza and conference table?

    The propaganda of perception is everywhere. The News Media would have people believe their finger is on the pulse of everything happening in this world today. They report only what’s important or news worthy, while filtering out all that is untrue or of no merit. The commentator sits in this high-tech looking nerve center and goes to people stationed across the globe that report vital information. People repeat these reports because they also wish to be seen as informed, intelligent and identify with this high-tech information source.

    Costumes are there to make us feel subordinate to those who are more holy, wise, gifted, informed, educated or powerful. I try not to let it cloud my judgement but it’s hard since we’re conditioned to it from birth. Some costumes uses reverse psychology on us. Ever notice how Apple Execs put on the casual jean and sport shirt look to identify with their buyers? It’s what I call the Steve Jobs look. Come to think of it, maybe even the McGowan look! 😉

    1. Kind of like the commercial that declares how honest they are in their business dealings with customers in selling their products, while the female actor wears a pair of glasses with no lenses…

  17. >>>>>We’re all susceptible. I would really struggle with my expectations at a fancy restaurant if the head chef came out in a grimy t-shirt and shorts. Even if it was Thomas Keller.<<<<<

    He was obviously not doing any of the cooking dressed that way. Burns in a fine dining kitchen could be a tricky thing when they happened.. Shorts and tee shirts in a kitchen that is turning out meals? Would be viewed as insane by a kitchen crew.

    "Don't eat here! That chef is crazy!"

  18. I’ve always admired Matthew Polk, and his SDA SRS design was a unique tech approach to sound reproduction/ imaging at the time. I had a speaker patent I was pushing at the time and he took the time to provide input.

  19. Dress for success.

    I’m doomed.

    An anecdote told by my thesis advisory at the University of Kansas. He was also the
    director of the Geology Dept. One time he was visited for a campus recon by a promising candidate for the PhD program. As is typical for members of our discipline (if you can call it that) he was dressed rather casually that day, still in a nice shirt and slacks. The prospective student was accompanied by parents who were from a, shall I say, conservative background. During the interview, one of the parents dropped a comment of dissapointment that a person in his position dressed so “unprofessionally”. The promising PhD candidate went elsewhere. Since that incident he usually wore a tie and jacket to work, except on occasions when a trip into the field was planned. The jacket spent most of it’s time on a hanger, but it was available on short notice.

    And now, a couple of stanzas of old verse from a field geologist whose name is lost to me somewhere in recent* geologic time:

    By thought and dint of hammering
    Is the good work of which I sing
    . . .
    And a jollier crowd you’ll never find
    Than the men who pound the Earth’s old rind
    And often rear a patched behind

    *Note to a geologist, “recent” is considered going back to about 2,580,000 years, the Pleistocene Epoch.

  20. For too many of us connotation sells better than facts. One of my favorite sales connotations was for the original Dahlquist speaker, a product which was different in many ways and was a worthwhile product. It was sold with advertising mentioning a patent. Given the time alignment it was one of the 1st speakers to use it was reasonable to assume the time alignment was the basis of the patent and many believed it. But it wasn’t, the individual baffles used for time alignment were supported by flat metals bars which were bent to support the baffles and to attach to the woofer box, nothing to do with the acoustic designs. And given what we know today I bet those bars resonated to some of the frequencies reproduced by the speaker.

    It’s sad when you need to use diversion to sell a valid product. But that’s true many more times than it should be.

  21. The polk SDA’s were a little more than midfi, most dealers didn’t set them up properly. I’ve upgraded my SDA’s and they are a very good sounding full range speaker, they are better in some ways then my apogee duetta 2’s.

  22. The line of tweeters in the polk sda srs speakers were actually a progressive point source. I always wondered what Mathew polk could have done in a price no object design.

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