Rugby player Rene Ranger has been sporting a wild mop of curls and a scraggy beard in the backline of the Blues Super rugby side for as long as most people can remember.

It was therefore a surprise to many, probably including the jury in the Whangarei District Court this week, when a clean-shaven man with closely cropped hair answered to his name. Who was that man? And what did his new appearance say?

Jurors who heard Ranger plead not guilty to two charges of injuring with intent, arising from an incident outside a Northland tavern three years ago, probably spent some of their precious time pondering that very question. Was the new look for real? Or did his lawyer dress him? If so, why?

Nobody, of course, dresses entirely to suit themselves, however much they might dress to suggest they do. If words are the most powerful form of communication, dress comes a close second. For many, appearances speak more clearly than their vocabulary can. Based on how smart many defendants look, the man or woman who comes to court unkempt had better have emerged straight from the cells or have a cast-iron defence.

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The way we dress expresses levels of respect. Those who defy an unspoken office standard are making a plain statement about their attitude to the work they do, the position they hold, the people they work with and their collective pride. If they believe they are simply expressing themselves they are deceiving themselves.

The most strenuous dress codes are not those operating in court, or offices or in business generally, though the demise of the tie in recent years has made life more difficult. A tie, as many a man has discovered, can hide a multitude of deficiencies. Often it is all that stands between a roughneck and respectability.

At least suits remain. Without suits the average man would be lost in his wardrobe every morning. But suits without ties look like an awkward compromise.

The most strenuous dress codes are undoubtedly the studied casual styles of the young. It is much harder to maintain a correct stubble than to shave, and it takes intricate care to produce properly tousled hair.

Ranger's transformation this week took some effort. And he got off the charges. Dress for success? Some clearly think so.