Monday, February 22, 2016

Yes, You Need to Dress Better at Work

In today's Wall Street Journal there is a story about how to dress for success.

This is a topic I've been writing about for years, but many people have decided they can ignore such advice because of Mark Zuckerberg.

After all, Zuckerberg is a bazillionaire and he dresses like a 17-year-old. The thinking is that if Zuckerberg can be a success dressed in a hoodie and jeans, then why can't everyone?

Because he's Mark Zuckerberg.

"Mark Zuckerberg is a creative enterprise," says Michael W. Kraus, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. "People like that are playing around with their status symbols. For most of us, high status means suit and tie."

The story cites different studies, but it all comes down to this: dressing better can help your career. Not only do others see you as more powerful, but you see yourself as more powerful when you ditch the Captain America t-shirt and ripped jeans.

The problem for employees today is that workplaces have become more casual. Khakis, polo shirts, sneakers and a ratty backpack are standard attire for many employees. If you show up in a bespoke suit, you're going to stick out and feel uncomfortable.

Workplace wardrobe experts counsel you to just up it a notch in such an environment. Fitted jackets. Better shoes. A nice watch.

But what exactly does this mean? Many people are clothing challenged and stick with what they've worn since college. The experts may counsel you to consult a personal shopper in a department store, but many of those "personal shoppers" only exist in big department stores in bigger metro areas.

So, if you're out there on your own and just want to keep it as simple as possible, here are some things to consider:

1. A nice suit. Even if no one wears a suit at your workplace, this is a good investment for men and women. You can wear the jacket with more casual pants -- even jeans -- or wear the pants or skirt with a nice casual sweater. Just make sure you get the each piece fitted by a qualified tailor. Pants that are too long, a skirt that is too tight or a jacket that hangs on you will kill the professional image you're trying to create.

2. Good shoes. This often trips up many people (pardon the pun). They look great from the ankles up, but the shoes have seen better day. Remember that the shoes you wear for casual activities should not also be the shoes that you wear to work. So, if you wear your trainers to train in, then don't wear them to work. You can still wear a nice athletic shoe to work, as long as it's in really good shape and it's consistent with your company culture. Invest in a good pair of neutral-colored shoes for work and then make sure you don't wear them while hitting the bars or cleaning out the garage.
For women, the experts say that wearing heels can help establish authority -- stash a pair in your desk if you don't want to wear them all the time.

3. The small stuff matters. The experts also recommend that things like a nice purse or briefcase, a good watch or even great jewelry can help boost your outward image and make you feel more confident. Just remember that your Hello Kitty purse, your Darth Vader watch and your backpack emblazoned with travel patches don't qualify.

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