What are You Wearing to Work?

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October 2022 News

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What are you or your team wearing to work?

Are your employees, your team doing themselves a disservice by turning up to work dressed too casually or inappropriately? Anecdotally, I am hearing from managers and team leaders that their teams are not dressing appropriately for work and as a result are often passed over for promotion opportunities. The capabilities are there, the competencies are there but they don’t ‘look the part’ and therefore aren’t getting the part, the promotion or the new job opportunity. Most employers don’t know how to tackle this issue as they risk offending the individual by suggesting they are inappropriately dressed.

Persistence of a first impression

The first impression theory persists on and off line. Snap judgements are made about you and by you about others, and 68% of that first impression is based on the visual. This dates back to prehistoric times and we are hard-wired to decide very quickly whether you are friend or foe. When your first impression is a good one it demonstrates that you take your role seriously. It also conveys that you are credible and knowledgeable. Once you have built that reputation and maintain it in your behaviours, you might begin to relax how you dress, as long as you remain consistent, relevant, appropriate and authentic.  

To be or not to be … casual at work

The association between competence and traditional dress is a social norm. If our first glimpse of an investment banker or a lawyer, caught them in cut-offs and a hoodie, their high-powered roles are not as believable.  The standard ‘uniform’ for professional work wear has long been the suit or conservatively tailored dress. The invasion of business casual which began with dress down Friday has become even more relaxed with the world’s largest tech companies allowing employees to come to work in jeans and sweatshirts. There is still a gap though, between our notions about professionalism and more relaxed dress codes. Studies have shown that workers are rated by others as more competent when they wear more formal attire. Other research indicates that we behave differently and more productively when we are dressed more professionally.

Imposed business dress codes are already becoming a thing of the past. Be aware though that very casual dress causes very casual behaviour. Consistency and congruency are key to securing credibility. People do judge your competence by how you present yourself in the workplace. 

Make sure your casual attire is appropriate for the image you wish to project at work. Clothes that you would wear to go exercising, lounging at home, going to the beach, or going to a dance club aren’t suitable for the workplace.

Here are some simple ways to ensure you are dressed appropriately, on and offline.

1           Know your audience. Reflect what you see around you. Your communication zone, the area from your chest up, has to do all the work when you are online. All your impact is concentrated into a smaller area. When you need to carry more authority, add more formality with a button-down shirt and a jacket (for a man) and a shirt/blouse, necklace and jacket or cardigan (for a woman).

2           Ask yourself; what are my clothes saying about me today? What do I want them to say about me? Ensure you are dressing for your authentic self; and be consistent.

3           Look around your online call. Who stands out? The people in grey, black and navy? Or the people in a brighter colour? Neutral colours which may look business-like in person can look flat and forgettable on screen. Add a splash of colour – shirt, top or scarf. Choose a colour that balances with you and allows you to stand out from the crowd, for all the right reasons.