by: Sharon LeBlanc
Consultant: Training and Research
Do you remember when men wore 3-piece power suits in the boardroom? Day in and day out? And a woman dressed in a charcoal or navy suit if she wanted to compete in a man’s world? When women couldn’t wear pants in a business meeting? Not so anymore. Professional attire has definitely changed over the years, and it seems the corporate world has been ill prepared for the gradual transformation to Casual Fridays that has slowly evolved into “Business Casual Dress.”
You can e-mail your boss in one click, you can scan a word document in seconds, but it’s harder to decide what to wear to the office. Education is required on dress attire. The meaning of “business casual” in the workplace has to be interpreted for the employee. It has to be really precise. While business casual may mean jeans and a sweatshirt for one company, it may mean dress slacks and a button-down shirt for another. The trend has thrown us into a bottomless pit of poor choices resulting in lower productivity, higher absenteeism and slack attitudes.
Your clothes say whether you’re in charge.
You have a reputation to build and defend, and your outward appearance is observed and judged by dozens of people each day. People who are tastefully dressed and well groomed earn more, are promoted faster and are credited as being more competent than those who are not. Your clothes say whether you’re in charge. Putting on a suit makes you feel like a professional. It’s like putting on a pilot’s uniform and then going off to fly an airplane. It’s like turning your body inside out: Refined dress reflects deep, enigmatic attitudes that resonate from your heart and soul; whereas, relaxed dress is interpreted as a relaxed attitude. That’s not the kind of person we want to hire or work with. Casual is an attitude that doesn’t belong in the workplace. Many corporations have already eliminated it altogether.
K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple and Sophisticated.
You never get a second chance to make a great first impression. This includes how the applicant or employee is dressed and whether they look serious or professional. Women have been rejected from a potential job or a promotion because of an indiscriminate neckline, overpowering perfume, open-toe shoes, not wearing stockings, or wearing too much make-up. Both men and women have been rejected for wearing too much jewelry. A person’s attire should be understated, classy and conservative. It should strengthen the person.
A great haircut is worth as much as, if not more than, a new outfit.
You might consider adding a classic piece for business travel to your wardrobe, something comfortable but still professional, a basic, wrinkle-free, classic black suit or black dress that can be dressed up or down for a social occasion/dinner meeting during your trip.
Trendy and funky doesn’t cut it at the office.
It’s great to express your individuality, but the extent of it should be set by your future goals. Dress attire has to be appropriate. This even applies to those who work in a home office, if you want to be taken seriously and considered credible. Welcoming your clients into your home office in shorts, tank tops and bare feet is in poor taste and something you might want to rethink. Save your peasant type dresses, your funky blue jeans, no matter how much they cost, or your trendy attire for after hours and on your own time. A good rule of thumb is to dress for your profession. When at the office, be observant, and dress according to the protocol of the position you aspire to achieve.
Over the top can be a negative too.
Keep in mind how your client dresses and meet them “somewhere in the middle.” Some industries are more traditional than others. For example, TV production people are always dressed way down, so whenever one meets with them, it might be smart to drop from a business suit to a nice shirt and pants so they don’t think of you as too corporate. It’s the same with clients who work in a casual environment like golf. Dress in something that’s still professional, but a little sporty, so they can feel comfortable and can relate to you.
In some situations, overdressing can prove as hazardous as being unkempt, no joke! A woman once came to an interview in a black velvet dress. It was great that she was enthusiastic and obviously dressed in her “best” for the interview, but it was a little over the top!
Help out your pocketbook by making good choices.
In this age of senselessness and uncertainty, doesn’t it make sense to brush up on social graces, manners and personal deportment? They help shape the shapeless; they are empowering, which is exactly what we need: an explosion of self-confidence. Poor choices can affect us where it hurts the most – in the pocketbook. We may never know the implications and lost revenue involved.
Remember, perceptions can last a long time. It’s not what you are; it’s what people think you are.