“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” is a saying that has been used a lot in the last few years. But is it true, or is it just one of those banal motivational sayings that appears too often in your Instagram or Linked In feed? And if it is true, then how do you actually do it?
As humans we are all hard wired to make snap judgements about people and their abilities within the first few seconds of meeting them. And whether we like it or not it is appearances, particularly what people wear, that informs these judgements.
Men and women in positions of power and leadership all have engaged the services of personal stylists at some stage or other during their careers for good reason. They recognise the important of appearances. Personal style has played a role in their career trajectories. And so many of my personal styling clients come to me for this exact reason.
Scientific studies have proven that a more formal/polished appearance actually results in increased productivity and enhanced perceptions. And who are we to argue with science?
So it seems that if you look polished, professional, put-together and powerful, you feel confident. Invincible even. And when you feel confident, you work and interact with people much more effectively. And when that happens, you’re perceived as professional, at the top of your game. And when those perceptions are in place, you’re more likely to get that promotion or job you’re interviewing for. It’s one big virtuous circle.
So to answer the question whether it’s true that you you should “dress for the job you want,” then, yes. Absolutely.
But what does it actually mean to dress for the job you want? Does it mean you should dress just like your boss? Does it mean boring corporate wear? Not necessarily. There are ways to do it and ways not to do it. So as you are figuring out exactly what you should be wearing to help as much as possible in your career development, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself:
What’s appropriate for the job I want?
Dressing for the job you want does mean you need to run out and buy yourself a pin striped power suit. Nowadays, business casual is the official dress code in most workplaces. Formal corporate wear – navy blue suits and ties – is only really reserved for legal and some financial services firms. So dressing in a formal power suit might make you seem unapproachable and out of touch.
Take your cue from the culture of the company. If business casual is the dress code, then look for the best examples of this way of dressing from other senior managers at your office. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone from your department. What are they wearing in the legal department? Or in HR? Or marketing? Is there anyone stylish higher up on the executive board?
If you are starting out freelancing, the same principles apply. You want to be taken seriously by clients, and land meetings and contracts with the decision makers at those client companies. So what are the most successful entrepreneurs in your field wearing? A simple Google search will give you plenty of examples.
First, consider what your boss – or your boss’ boss – wears to the office. Are there any key pieces they roll out on a regular basis? How would you describe their style? Do their clothes make them look polished and professional?
Generally the boss should dress in a way that reflects the culture and values of the company. So to take some cues from their style should help you formulate your own dress code.
But you have to keep in mind that the leaders in your company (generally) have worked long and hard to get to where they are. And some are comfortable to rely on their reputation and the huge amount of experience behind them than make an effort with their style (and fair enough). If you suspect that’s the case with your boss, and other senior managers, then it might not be the best example to base your own style on – especially if you’re not quite at that point in your career where you can let your style slip a little.
If you think your boss lets his or her experience do all the talking (as opposed to their appearance), then look at other senior managers who operate at the level you aspire to.
If, however, you find yourself without shining examples of interesting yet polished workwear, then you’ll need to develop your own business style.
Questions to ask for each outfit you put together
So as you put together your business wardrobe, for each piece and outfit, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this age appropriate?
- Does this outfit convey respect for the company and my colleagues?
- Does it reflect the company values?
- Does this outfit add gravitas to how I communicate?
- Most importantly: Do I feel confident in it? (And if not ask yourself, “if I were doing the job of my boss, would I feel confident in this?” If the answer is yes – wear it now!)
Could I add a little more polish?
Still unsure? Always think about accessories. Quality shoes, belts, handbags and document cases, understated jewellery all play a part in making you looked polished and in control.
Shoes, in particular, are the most important piece that can make or break an outfit. So they are worth investing in and taking care of. And for women, a serious handbag is an investment, and signals that you mean business.
Am I worried about what my peers will say?
My corporate styling clients are sometimes reluctant to change up their corporate outfit game because they worry about what their peers will say and think about them when they waltz into the office sporting their new power look.
To this I always ask them, are those people in any way going to make the decision about whether you get your next promotion or not? No! So just get through that awkward first week when you introduce your new work style. At worst, you’ll get people asking if you’ve got a job interview to go to. At best (and usually), you’ll just get a lot of compliments on how you look, and your bosses will see you in a new professional light.
In the bigger scheme of things, your career development is far more important than a few side-eyes from Sharon in accounts receivable.
If you’d like bespoke styling services for your corporate wardrobe, whether it’s an overhaul, or specific to an interview, find out more about my personal styling services here.