Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dress For Success?

by Unsplash via Pixabay
We're all aware of the old adage "Dress for Success." What the original phrase intended was to demand a certain level of business attire in order to make one appear ready to succeed.

I have an alternate theory. It's more about dressing for perception than for success. Putting on a tie doesn't make you magically more talented at anything. Nor can I downplay Internet geniuses who made millions in t-shirts and shorts. But for everyone locked in the corporate world, your attire does say something about you.

Sometimes, it changes your vibe. I have a friend who often would show up to work in t-shirts. It was a rather casual IT environment, so that was not any sort of dress code violation or anything. Still, some might gain a perception that he was the easygoing jokester who never took anything seriously, or that he didn't care about his work, or that he didn't deserve the job he was in (none of these true about this guy). At some point he started wearing more collard shirts that button down the front. Is he the same guy? Sure. Will those that knew him for several years have a different opinion of him? Probably not. But if a new employee arrives tomorrow, would that employee automatically attribute any negative connotations to him just because of attire? Doubtful.

But it isn't all about dressing up.

Several years ago towards the start of my career, I was working on some warehouse software that I had been developing for months, and my boss asked me to go to one of the warehouses where it was being utilized and deployed. My mission was to both support and learn. Before I headed out to the warehouse, though, I was warned to dress extremely casually, including the specifics, "maybe even shorts." See, I was working in a corporate office wearing late-90's IT office attire (khakis and a polo). I might refer to that as late-10s office attire for me too (I don't change much in the fashion department). Anyway, the advice I got was to dump the khakis in exchange for shorts because in the warehouse environment, I would stick out. Some of the workers might make assumptions about me simply because I was wearing clothes that would be inappropriate for loading boxes onto conveyors, and therefore I would be defining myself as different from them before I walked in the door.

In the end, just like everything else, there is a calculated decision to be made. You just have to know what your choices say. So ask yourself, what image am I trying to convey by dressing this way for work? What positive or negative assumptions might people make if I wear these clothes? What would people think if I changed clothes? Often if the change is dressing up, people assume you have an interview lined up.

You don't need a new wardrobe. But you should think about what it may say about you, and what it says about your brand.