Professional dress & Impressions in the work place

I had a request from @claire_suzanne last week to blog about how one dresses in the work place effects people’s impressions on them. Well, going into this it sounds quite juvenile. Look nice, act nice, and nice things will happen. It could be broken down like that but in reality there are so many choices of clothing out there, especially for women. Let me help you dig your way out of a heap of cardigans, slacks, mini-skirts, maxi-skirts and everything in between.

According to an article on everyone judges a book by its cover, and clothing is the cover of your book. They broke down the stereotypes of several different ways of dress, most of them are quite obvious. Such as the sloppy dresser: doesn’t care about clothing probably doesn’t care about work or future goals, if they have any. Think Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Then there’s the skimpy dresser, deemed insecure of most other aspects of their life aside from their body. Sure some think this is ok from time to time, I say never in the work place. You were hired for what’s between your ears not for that really great tattoo of Tweety Bird on your mid thigh. According to Forbes “What Not to Wear to Work” there was a Glick poll done on women and dress in the work place, women who dressed Now this next one I was a little surprised about, the designer label diva. Now we all remember fads from high school or even elementary school. Those awesome jelly sandals in different colors or those cool Lisa Frank backpacks with matching pens and folders. Some of those stereotypes of wealth and sophistication might spill over into the work force but some take it to mean that you’re materialistic and a bit insecure. There were many more styles of dress analyzed, the drab dresser, the athletic dresser (much akin to the sloppy dresser) and the flashy dresser. What I would take away from this is take a normal day for you and pay attention to peoples clothing. What does it say to you? Not just in your place of work but on your way to get coffee in the morning or even in the gym or at the grocery store. People make snap judgments about a person within 30 seconds, and dress is a critical part of that first impression.

There was also a poll taken in 2004 by CareerThink, the magazine on dress in the work place. Some of the statistics I found interesting. 67 percent of people in the work place have a dress code of business casual, while six percent said their work dress code was “grungy as you want.” Now this was interesting to me, who would want to go to work grungy? There was also a question about the style of dress and productivity. 54 percent of those polled believed that dressing up has no effect on productivity what so ever, 41 percent said it makes you more productive and five percent believed it made you less productive. What I found interesting in this is that only five percent of those polled thought dressing up made you less productive. I thought for sure it would be higher than that. Then again dressing up for an occasion makes you feel a specific way. Why do you look nice when we go out on a first date? Because we want the person we are out with to see us at our best, why would we want to look anything less than our best while working in the public relations, or any field for that matter?

Now the last question really took me by surprise, CareerThink asked “What should your company do about the current dress code” 34 percent wanted the dress code tightened up while 28 percent wanted the dress code eliminated. The other two categories were a more casual dress code (24 percent) and 15 percent requested a “uniform” would make dress in the work place easier. From this poll it’s easy to see that there are no conclusions one can come to easily.

It’s hard to gauge your perception from one person to another in the work place based on your dress. Although I will say one thing, better safe than sorry, if you have any doubt that you should be wearing it to work put the outfit on the back burner until you get a better feel of how people dress. The best thing you can do is find your own unique appropriate style that will help you to stand out as who you are in the company and in life. It’s like branding yourself. Be the girl who always wears the cute scarf or the guy with a great collection of button down shirts. There are four main words that you should have running through your head while picking out what you’re wearing to work: approachable, neat, classic and unique. You want people to feel comfortable coming up and talking to you, don’t wear a suit and tie in an office where people where jeans and tee shirts (granted there are always exceptions), but do wear a nice button down and dark jeans with nice, unscuffed shoes. One of the articles I came across while writing this mentioned that someone was passed up for a job once because of the scuff marks on their shoes. Both candidates were perfect for the job, but it came down to the details. Neat, you don’t want to look sloppy, people don’t like associating with people who don’t look up to par. Your reputation is not only who you are individually but who you surround yourself with. Classic, rarely can you go wrong with a classic outfit: pencil skirt and blouse (well tailored of course) or slacks and a nice shirt. This is where unique comes in. You don’t want to blend into the background, especially if you want to move up the corporate ladder. Always have something a little unique about what you’re wearing. Even if it’s just a bright (but matching) scarf, or your grandpa’s old watch.

In short think of it like a first date, take into account the fact that you like this person (business) and you want to impress them. Also take into account where you’ll be going (dress code in the office) and remember nobody likes a know it all either. Just because you can where a fabulous suit everyday of the week, doesn’t mean you have to. Finally, just smile having a genuine attitude is worth its weight in gold.

Here are links to the articles I referenced:


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