Dressing for Success

Can you improve your career just by changing the way you dress?  Recent research says YES!  A new study from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that “conservative work clothes”, outfits associated with “attentiveness and carefulness” can actually inspire those qualities in the wearer.   Those who wear a uniform, even a lab coat, showed increased attention spans during specific tasks.

So how does this information help you?  If you are unemployed, have a successful friend or family member help you put together a couple of “interview outfits”.  Also, since most jobs are found not on line but in person – through people you know and meet, give more thought to how you look every time you leave your house.  Sure, you  don’t need to wear a suit and tie to your kid’s hockey match, but if its a time of day when other parents who work might be there, “business casual” is certainly more appropriate than sweats.  Look for those dressed as though they just came from work.  Go sit with them, make conversation.  You have a better chance of making a good impression and sticking in their mind as someone to recommend for the next opening at their workplace if you were already dressed for success.

If you have a job but want a career, more opportunities, more responsibilities and of course, more money –  improve your work wardrobe.  If everyone else on your team wears jeans and tee shirts, first swap out the tee shirts for collared shirts that button down the front.  Then in a few weeks, switch to khaki slacks or black slacks.  Of course, investing in a rubber soled casual shoe that is NOT an athletic shoe is a mandatory first step for anyone who wants to advance their career.  If you aren’t sure how far to go, look up the organizational chart one or two levels and see what they are wearing.  The sooner you LOOK like management material, the more likely you will be considered for management.   According to the research study, not only will others perceive you as more professional – YOU will subconsciously start to behave more professionally.

If you are already in a professional setting but want to improve your perceived value, consider working with someone like Kim Crumpler of Uniquely Savvy.  She can help you go through your closet and discard what doesn’t suit you, show you new, updated ways to wear what you already own and steer you towards the next purchases you need to make to improve your image.  Looking professional – but not old fashioned – is critical if your boss is younger than you.  Remember, people believe if your look is dated – your information, skills and talents are dated as well!  

If you are a manager or company owner, consider a dress code.  While most states have laws regarding what you can require employees to wear before you have to provide it for them.  You can usually specify black slacks or tan slacks and other generic items such as a white dress shirt or black collared shirt – items it is reasonable to expect most people to have in their closet.  However you can be less specific and simply state only collared shirts, tucked in shirts, no athletic shoes, dress shirts, neatly pressed slacks and skirts, skirts not more than 2″ above the knee and such.  If this is a change for your office, use a team to polish the draft of it that you prepare.  Announce it in November and make it effective January 1.  Few people want to change jobs over the holidays so even if people grumble, they will put off seriously looking to change jobs until after the first of the year.  Also, their families can buy them work appropriate clothing or gift cards for Christmas.  By the time they have the new clothes and get used to wearing them a few weeks into the new year, they are not as likely to leave.  Those that do leave are likely the ones you put the dress code in for in the first place!

Gene Juarez Salons require their employees to wear black.  This is to create a sophisticated, hip look in their salons.  Then each quarter they announce an “accent color” such as red, gray, tan or white to give variety to the employees.  These shots of color  give the employees renewed enthusiasm for their work wardrobe while not sacrificing their company image.

You may also want to consider a uniform.  Sure, you have some added costs in providing at least part of it (logo shirt – you provide, tan slacks – you don’t) but there are a lot of benefits too.  Any time your employee is out in public, they are an ad for your business.  They need to be reminded of that regularly but it can be very positive for your business.  You also give a sense of comfort and security to customers.  They immediately know who works here or that they do work for who they say.  And of course, the research showed performance improves when employees wear uniforms.

Wherever you fall in the employment cycle from job seeker to business owner, you can use this new research as a tool to really dress for success. 

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