Published 11 October 2016 Category: Compass Tips, Workplace, Worklife

4 Tips on How to Dress for Success in Business

We’ve all heard the mantra “dress for success” – but what does it really mean and why does what you wear to work matter?
Whether we like it or not, people are often judged based on first impressions, and what you wear is all part and parcel of those split-second judgments. In fact, there’s a very literal impact it can make on others in the workplace – a 2012 study by the Centre for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania found that inappropriate appearance was ranked as the biggest factor for being perceived as “unprofessional” by human resources staff, whilst a survey revealed that 41% of employers were more likely to promote those who dressed more professionally than others in their organisation.
Your choice of clothing is a non-verbal statement about how you see yourself and how you want others to see you.

While there are no steadfast rules since dress codes vary from industry to industry, here are some general guidelines to make sure your clothing projects an image of professionalism whether you’re the rookie on the floor or a CEO superstar.

Assess the landscape
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to dress way outside the norm for your position and work environment, sticking out like a sore thumb as a result. Instead, look around at what your peers and your bosses are wearing. Is a suit and tie the daily uniform? Are jeans acceptable? Use the way others dress as a yardstick to determine where you fall, then aim to dress slightly above your post – as the saying goes, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” That doesn’t mean copying your boss verbatim; instead aim to emulate his or her level of professionalism, dressing half a step more formally than your peers. This has a direct payoff – if say, you work at a PR firm and someone is needed to fill in at an impromptu client meeting, guess who’ll probably get chosen to represent the company… the slick dresser or the office slob?
Don’t forget grooming
It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing the most expensive suit in the world if your hair is a mess! Personal hygiene speaks volumes about how disciplined you are and the pride you take in both yourself and your job – as proven by a 2010 survey by HR consultancy Reabur where 68% of business owners stated that “poor personal hygiene” was the main factor in deciding whether or not to hire someone. If a client sees that you cannot be trusted to brush your hair, how will they trust you with their money? As a general rule for men, it is important to be clean-shaven, have your nails trimmed and not have your hair covering your face. For women, long chipped nails, heavy Friday-night makeup and disheveled hair are all no-gos. It’s especially important in client-facing functions not to have pink hair and a dozen visible piercings or tattoos; your personal hygiene should never distract from your work, period.
Know your dress codes
Besides your day-to-day work, there are other work-related functions that you might have to attend, each with their own dress code, and it’s worthwhile to fully understand what each of these entail so there’s no room for ambiguity when the time comes. Again, industry definitions vary but in general, business casual for men equates to khakis or slacks paired with button-down shirts and leather shoes (not sneakers), whilst these sartorial rules are usually more flexible for women. One good trick for both genders is to imagine that you’re going to dinner with friends immediately after work, so whilst you’d still be in nine-to-five attire, you can ditch the jacket and tie or change from heels into flats.
For formal events, a cocktail dress and heels is a safe bet for ladies whilst men should bust out their nicest suit, even if they’re not entirely sure if it’s necessary – after all, a jacket or tie can always be taken off once you’ve assessed what everyone else is wearing! Knowing how to adapt to various work events shows that you are well prepared, respectful and are serious about everything you do – and having made a great first impression, who knows where those initial connections forged at work functions might take you?
When in doubt, overdress!
It can never hurt to overdress, especially on your first day of work when you don’t yet have a gauge on what your colleagues will be wearing. Even if you’ve heard that tech start-ups are notorious for their sweatpants lifestyle, do not make any assumptions until you are explicitly given permission. When in doubt, be conservative and wear an over-the-knee skirt or dress with sleeves, or reach for a tie. You would rather be mistaken for a perfectionist than a slob, and it’s much more difficult to regain others’ respect once it’s been lost.