Workplace fashion: dress for success

When it comes to dressing for work are you the type of person that grabs the
first shirt or blouse to hand, throws on some trousers and heads for the door,
or are you someone who takes workplace fashion seriously? Do you think about
what you are going to wear to the office or client site? Your answers could
determine whether you are heading up the career ladder or about to become second
in command to the handy-man.

The nature of dressing for work might be assumed to be simple enough. But
since the booming 1990s, when suits began to disappear during the dotcom era,
nothing could be further from the truth.

‘Smart-casual’ and ‘business casual’ have, it seems, been sent to torment us.
Combine this with an industry where client visits are a staple, this issue
becomes further complicated – and that’s without throwing in the additional
difficulties of negotiating hot summers, travelling abroad for work and client

While some might say that style is not as important as substance, I would beg
to differ. Indeed, I have taken advice from one of my senior image consultants
on this very matter. Debbie Gray believes that nowadays you would have to be
either very optimistic or naïve to believe that what you wear to work is not
important. ‘While the dotcom era has served to confuse what is appropriate
attire, the fact remains that what you wear to work speaks volumes about your
attitude to your job, your colleagues, your clients and yourself,’ she says.

Show you care

‘If you dress inappropriately, you are, in effect, saying “I don’t care”.
Your attitude to your work will be assumed to reflect what you wear. If you look
sloppy and unkempt, others will assume that that is the approach you take to
your work.

In an environment where people are busy, you often don’t get a second chance
to make a first impression. You will be marked out as someone who ‘can’t be
bothered’. On the bright-side, you can often use clothes to your advantage. By
dressing well and looking ‘the part’, you will alert those around you that you
mean business, and this will help you climb the career ladder,’ Gray adds.

There are four main reasons why we wear clothes: modesty; warmth; to project
an image; and to make ourselves feel good. It is the last two that are relevant
when we talk about dressing for work.

By dressing appropriately when attending a client meeting you are saying: ‘I
respect you.’ You are also helping yourself to feel good. Imagine pitching to a
client wearing Bermuda shorts or a bikini. You just would not feel as though you
could be taken seriously, whereas wearing a suit helps you act the part because
you look and feel the part.

But there is more to dressing well than just wearing a suit, jacket or tie.
Because in today’s society there is such a thing as business-casual, it is
important to reflect your employer’s or client’s dress code in your choice of
outfit. This may mean doing a little homework and purchasing a few smart
accessories to complete your look. Accessories can be particularly important as
so much of today’s fashion is about individuality. In the workplace environment
it is possible to feel like just one of many among an army of other suits. By
having a few key accessories like a smart briefcase or bag, or business card
holder, you can gain distinction for your taste as well as marking yourself out
as an individual.

In terms of establishing your own office dress code, this should be simple
enough as companies tend to provide office guidelines. It could be wrong to
assume, however, that just because you work for a particular company that all of
its offices will share a dress code.

Regional variations

London offices tend to be more business-smart than business-casual, in
comparison to regional offices where the dress code is often more relaxed. The
same is true for client sites. Take some time to look on their websites or put
in a call to a secretary who should be able to give you the inside track as to
workplace dress.

If you are travelling abroad, bear in mind the climate of the country you are
visiting. While a suit can be smart, looking hot and uncomfortable is not. When
visiting hot countries, don’t assume air conditioning in offices will be
guaranteed – bring a selection of clothes.

Overall, what you wear is – like it or not – an expression of what you think
and how you act. By dressing appropriately for work you can easily convey your
agenda of career progression, while giving others the impression that you are
someone who is able to fit in, be a team player and have the ambition and drive
to get ahead.

The DOs and don’ts of workplace fashion

If the thought of dressing for work leaves you hot and bothered, follow the
10 golden rules for maximum success:

1. DO your homework – research the company. Does it have a
formal or casual dress code? Your aim is to fit in and look as if you belong to
the company where you are working.

2. DO take pride in your appearance – after all, you are an
ambassador for your company and what you wear says a lot about you as a person,

3. DO dress for the job you want and not the one you’ve got
– appearance is a key indicator of how seriously you take your career and your
company. Are you striving to move up the career ladder or do you look more like
the handyman carrying it around?

4. DO adapt – wearing the same shirt with the same tie or
blouse is lazy and will be noticed.

5. DO accessorise – a smart briefcase, business card holder
or even umbrella helps you achieve individuality, while helping you remain every
bit the business professional.

6. DO wear make-up ladies – research shows that women who
wear make-up earn 23% more than their counterparts who don’t because make-up
enhances your key communication portals, your mouth and eyes.

7. DON’T forget a belt men – it is a necessary part of a
suit and is as important as a tie.

8. DON’T forget to iron – there’s no point spending lots of
money on a look or having ‘the right shirt’ if it looks as if it’s been used as
a rag to mop the floor.

9. DON’T wear hair scrunchies – by all means tie your hair
back, but not with a bright pink scrunchie. They’re too unpolished and give the
impression that you can’t be bothered to look good for work.

10. DON’T forget to smile – it makes the perfect accessory
to your new look and demonstrates your confidence and approachability.

Professor Khalid Aziz is chairman of executive
communications consultancy The Aziz Corporation

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