Thursday, July 8, 2010

Image - Dressing for Success

The image that we project at work can have a very positive or negative effect on a career. I've been very fortunate to have successful business people mentor me over the years and I try hard to do the same for others (both men and women). There are many facets to the image that you project at work, they include: Dress, how you treat others, preparedness and work ethic, confidence, etc.

I'm not going to profess to be an expert on these but I have witnessed first hand the positive as well as negative effects certain behaviors have had on careers and would like to share my thoughts below. Since the topics are many and varied I thought I'd break them down and cover each one in a separate posting starting with the dress code.

Dressing for Success

This may seem a little cliche but I believe this message has gotten lost in the world of business casual. I don't care if you are the file clerk or a vice president, appropriate and professional dress is imperative. Your outside appearance is the first thing people notice about you. As unfair as it is, there are people who won't see the fabulous person you are inside if you don't show it on the outside. These suggestions are for any position, you always want to dress for the position you want - not the position you have.

1. Tight clothes/skin do not belong at work
  • I have seen competent females dressing in tight clothes and have to ask myself if she realizes the message that she's sending. Clothes that are to tight tend to show everything that shouldn't be seen at work. Hint - your co-workers should NEVER know what kind of underwear you wear unless you are changing in the locker room together. Unless your specific industry calls for provacative clothing, hot mama clothes (low cut shirts, push up bras, black leather mini skirts) don't belong in a work environment.

  • Stripper shoes do not belong at work (unless you work in a strip club). There's nothing wrong with wearing high heeled, trendy shoes but please make sure they are appropriate for your work environment.

I would recommend that you find a female who has been successful in your company and emulate her,. Keep in mind that when you look good and feel good that usually shows in the way that you carry yourself, confidence goes a long way. I am not suggesting that you spend more on clothes than you can afford, however I am recommending that the money you do spend is the most appropriate and most flattering for you and your work environment.

2. Dress for the position you want - not the one you have

  • When I first entered the workforce there was a strict dress code (am I dating myself?). Men had to wear a suit and tie (at minimum dress pants with a tie), women skirts or dress pants but nylons were a must. I actually was pulled aside by the HR manager for wearing a skirt and sandals without the nylons, I never made that mistake again while that dress code was in effect. We've come a long way but I still try to live by that dress code. I typically will wear either dress pants or a suit during the week. On casual Fridays I will wear either khakis or trouser jeans. For men I would encourage you to wear dress pants and a dress shirt, not the khakis and polo's you see a lot of men wear. As you walk the halls of your office you run into a lot of people, they may not know your work ability but they've certainly gained a positive/negative view of you based on the way you dress. Every environment is different but at the end of the day dressing a little better than average will reflect well on you.

3. Keep your clothes timeless and save yourself some money

  • Dressing for success doesn't need to be expensive. I tend to shop end of season and buy timeless suits off the clearance racks for about $25 at major department stores. Unless you get something extremely trendy there is no reason your clothes can't last for years if they are properly taken care of. The trendier your clothes the more often they need to be replaced. That's not to say that if you can afford it you should buy a trendy blouse or two during the year. It keeps your wardrobe fresh and makes you feel good about yourself.

4. Your clothes should always be clean, stain-free and pressed

Regardless of your financial situation, the one thing that you have complete control over is making sure whatever you wear is clean, stain-free and pressed. If you look like you don't care about yourself others won't either.

Life isn't always fair and sometime extremely competent people are passed over or aren't given the proper attention because of the impression they give. Always putting the best foot forward that you can will only be good for you.