It’s pretty safe to assume that no one wakes up and thinks, “I really want to ruin my career today. I think I’ll wear some inappropriate attire to work.” Your attire, though, is more important to your career than you’d think.
In the professional world, you are what you wear. The clothes you decide to cover yourself in give off a message. Although you can’t stop your wardrobe from speaking its truth, you can have a say in what it reveals.
According to Inc.com, dress codes represent a company’s culture and how management views its employees. For instance, a suit-and-tie atmosphere is one of conservatism and generally doesn’t promote growth. On the other hand, a casual dress code typically makes employees feel more comfortable and willing to collaborate.
Whatever your office’s dress code is, adhering to the policy is good for your career. Deliberately going against code is essentially a slap in the face to the company who came up with it, and can give your colleagues the wrong idea about you as a member of the team. Before you pick out your outfit for work tomorrow, make sure it gives off the right vibe.
What business people have no business wearing
News flash: The office and the club are not the same thing. If you’re wearing clothing that could pass at either, you’re probably in need of a fashion makeover.
Put your work on display, not your body
Although there’s no shame in the revealing clothing game, there’s a time and a place for it if you want to be seen as professional. And unfortunately, there’s a clear double standard that occurs within workplace dress codes.
Women are often called out for clothing that is too revealing or tight. Men, however, get away with wearing clothing that doesn’t adhere to dress codes all the time. In fact, dress codes are typically only geared towards women. Think about it: When is the last time you read a dress code standard that talked about how much chest a man can show? You probably never have. The perceived issue of cleavage, however, is a topic that is regularly discussed in dress code guidelines across the world.
Additionally, women face much more scrutiny about the rotation of their clothing choices, as well. As an article from CBS News points out, a man who alternates between his favorite shirt and shoes on a daily basis is seen as well-dressed and professional. A woman who wears the same outfit regularly, on the other hand, is fair game for discussion at the office water cooler.
What you wear can affect your thinking
Looking for a mood lift? Change your outfit. Unfortunately, in the fashion world, comfort and productivity aren’t mutually exclusive. Feeling calm and relaxed is great for your mental health, but it probably isn’t so great for your company’s bottom line.
Turns out, what you wear can affect how you think. According to an August 2015 paper in Social Psychological and Personality Science, people who wear formal business attire tend to think in abstract ways (which can help with creativity and long-term strategizing) more than those who dress like every day is Casual Friday.
Your self-esteem is at risk
If you don’t believe that clothing is powerful, consider this: Have you ever felt cruddy one day, but experienced a positive mood change after you put on your favorite outfit? This mood swing probably wasn’t a coincidence. Your clothes actually have a significant role in how you feel about yourself.
“When you dress in a certain way, it helps shift your internal self,” clinical psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Baumgartner told Forbes. “We see that when we do makeovers, and even actors say that putting on a costume facilitates expression of character. That’s just as true for everyday life.”
Need more proof? A study at Northwestern University examined a theory called “enclosed cognition,” a concept that looks at how clothing affects the wearer’s psychological processes.
Researchers dressed a portion of study participants in lab coats and the rest in painter smocks. Although both groups were given the same activity to complete, they found that those wearing the white medical coat were more careful and attentive, likely due to feeling smarter because of what they had on.
Showing you’re serious about your career. Dress like your job depends on it, because in reality, it does.
Pick quality over quantity
It’s been said that variety is the spice of life. Unfortunately, this concept isn’t always well-received in the professional world. Instead of spending all of your money on a ton of work outfits that are so-so, consider using your funds more wisely.
Investing in a well-made suit or dress and wearing that piece frequently can bump up your professional game in a hurry. Spending the same amount on clothing of lesser quality may make your wardrobe fuller, but cheaper clothing that’s likely to fall apart won’t help you achieve your sartorial or professional goals.
Additionally, make sure you choose your accessories with the same amount of scrutiny as you would your clothing. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well dressed you are if your accessories look shabby,” etiquette expert and author Jacqueline Whitmore told Forbes. Even something as simple as your shoes and briefcase can have a major impact on your image at work.
Take fashion cues from your higher-ups
You’ve likely heard the saying, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Unless you are happy in your current position, you may want to look to your boss for some style advice. Deductive reasoning should tell you that if your boss is in this respected position, there’s a safe chance the company is happy with his or her performance. The higher-ups are also probably pleased with your boss’s fashion sense, as they likely wouldn’t promote someone if they were unhappy with the image they were projecting. After all, executives are the ones who represent a company to clients and like it or not, their appearance matters.
Although you don’t have to copy the look piece for piece (it’d probably be a bit creepy if you did that anyway), it’s a good idea to imitate their level of formality. For example, if your boss wears a suit and tie to work every day, consider taking his lead. Are power suits more your supervisor’s style? Go out and buy a few of your own. Letting the powers that be inspire your work wardrobe may help you climb the ladder of success.