5 Reasons Why You Should Dress For Success
By: Amos Fong
I'm generally a good person. My work meets all the required industry standards and my coworkers view me as a ray of warm fuzzy sunshine. I'm practically a saint. Does it really matter that I like wearing stripes with plaid?
Yes, Mr. Hypothetical Person. Yes, it does.
In recent years, debate has raged over what constitutes proper office wear. With the emerging trend of big companies accepting casual dress, many claim that the days of formal business wear and strict office dress codes will soon be a distant past. Why, looking at the way things are headed, in a few years we just might be frolicking down our office corridors in nothing but PJs.
Hold on to your hosiery and tuck away your tank tops for the moment. I know you've been dying to show off your bling-bling chrome-green Reeboks (with in-built strobe lighting!), but just hear me out. The adage "dress for success" has been around for some time, and it appears there may be some truth to this statement. Let's have a look at what some interesting studies have to say about dressing well and its influence on career success. After all, you wouldn't want to trip on your baggy jeans while climbing up the corporate ladder, would you?
1. First impressions count in the workplace
First impressions matter. There, I've just summed up Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Use the time you would have otherwise spent reading this book on other crucial matters, such as sorting out your iTunes library or whatever. But if you're still with me, the research Gladwell draws upon indicates we make unconscious snap judgments about people (based on posture, facial features and attire) within seconds of meeting them. Numerous professional trainers have based their careers on helping you make a good first impression, and one of the first places they start is your wardrobe. The saying "don't judge a book by its cover" might need some re-evaluating, considering that book jacket and product packaging designers have created an entire industry betting otherwise.
2. ... And outside of it. Be prepared.
If your job requires you to travel frequently, or even if it's just while you're commuting between work and home, don't underestimate the importance of chance encounters. Imagine if John Lennon had met Paul McCartney and wasn't impressed by what he saw. Envision a world in which Steve Jobs meets Steve Wozniak but is repulsed by the Crocs he wears. Whether you are aggressively networking at a social function or just spending time out with friends, the people you meet might be the connections you draw upon in your future career development. We're not asking you to wear a tux whenever you leave the house, but certainly endeavor to appear presentable at all times. You just might catch someone's eye.
3. Appropriate dress communicates sensitivity... and respect.
Sure, office policy might say that anything goes with regards to attire. But what is everyone else wearing? We're not trying to advocate blind conformism here, but do give some thought as to how everyone else feels when you're wearing mold-encrusted flip flops while they're in leather lace-ups. In your head you might appear edgy and trendy, but in reality your coworkers will just be rolling their eyes and phoning HR. And don't just think of your coworkers; think of the customers. You wouldn't want the scent of wet wool to announce your arrival, would you? Being careful about your attire can make you appear more relatable and put others at ease. Dressing appropriately is more than a sign of sensitivity. It's a sign of respect.
4. When I look good, I feel good.
Now we tread into the realm of psychology. In a study led by Dr. Galinsky at the Kellogg School of Management, it was found that individuals who wore white coats thought to belong to doctors showed improved cognition and attention spans. Known as "enclothed cognition", this phenomenon seems to imply that the attire we wear (and the meaning we attach to it) can have drastic and complex effects on our mood and mental faculties. While the extent to which our clothes affect our psychological states is still unknown and further research is needed before the results are conclusive, anyone can attest to how dressing well can improve their mood and self-esteem. So why not give it a try?
5. Bend lesser mortals to your will.
No, dressing well will not allow you to control the weak-willed and rule the populace. However, it can have rather subtle effects on the way others perceive you. In a dated but fascinating study by Dr. Bickman of Vanderbilt University, actors dressed in either normal clothes or security uniforms and instructed passersby to perform a task, such as picking up a paper bag or giving a dime to strangers. In all cases, subjects complied more with the guard than with the civilian. While this might only apply to traditional business settings where formal office wear is perceived as communicating dominance and authority, the implications regarding your attire and its effect on others cannot be ignored.
Knowing how attire affects both the wearer and observer, it's certainly worth giving some serious thought to how to package yourself according to your career goals and the reactions of others. Dress your best and you're bound to impress.