Your favorite jeans and that well-worn shirt you got eight years ago are an appealing alternative to any stiff piece of business clothing. However, if you want to be seen as a professional and move up in your career, your comfy clothes should stay out of the workplace.
Carol Kinsey Goman, an international speaker and author who often writes about the power of body language, said it well in her Forbes article, “What It Really Means to Dress for Success”: “You can’t not communicate. Everything you do makes some kind of statement.” So if you opt for comfort at work instead of pressed trousers and a nice shirt, you could be making the wrong impression. As Goman notes, “Career counselors still advise their clients to dress for the job they want—not the job they currently have.”
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It’s just like my softball coach told me in middle school: Be the ball. If you want to move up the ladder but you’re still dressing like those on the bottom rung, your superiors may not take your interest seriously. Dress like the professional you aspire to be.
Buying high-end, expensive clothing is not in everyone’s budget, and it doesn’t have to be in yours to have a professional look. Just follow these simple rules to make a clean, crisp statement:
- Spring clean your wardrobe. If you have clothes old enough to learn multiplication, you should probably stop wearing them to work.
- Damaged clothes aren’t helping your case. If there are any holes, rips, or frays in your clothing, either put them under house arrest or introduce them to a tailor.
- Don’t wear anything wrinkled. Embrace the art of ironing or pay to have wrinkled clothes dry-cleaned. If wrinkled is in style, I still recommend keeping that a weekend look.
- Put your best foot forward. If you take good care of your shoes, they can last a long time. Make sure your shoes don’t look like they lost a fight.
- Save for new clothing. Make a conscious effort to limit your coffee/pop intake by one drink every day and set that money aside. At the end of the month, you’ll have enough to slightly expand your wardrobe—maybe a new shirt or a new purse whose strap isn’t about to break off.
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- Classic styles stand the test of time. If you’re on a budget, stick with classic simple styles when buying new clothes. Don’t buy the latest fad since it could be out of fashion the following year.
- Men, use collar-stays. Plastic or stainless steel, just make sure you use something. The appearance of your shirts will greatly benefit from them.
- If your three-year-old loves it, it may not be suitable. At work, I saw a woman wearing a bright blue sweater with an enormous whale stitched on the front of it. Fish were swimming below it, the whale was smiling, and water was spewing from his spout. She said her son loved it. Your children won’t be the ones who evaluate your professionalism at work, so don’t dress for them.
- Use common sense. If you question for even a moment if your outfit is suitable for the workplace, don’t wear it. If you question it, someone else will think it.
Judgment is just a fact of life. You can’t avoid it, but you can shift the odds to be more in your favor. “Comfort may aid productivity but, in this era of ‘Me, Inc.’ and ‘the Brand Called You,’ are flip-flops, sweats, jeans and flashy or revealing clothing part of how you want to be judged?” Goman asks in her article. “You might think you are expressing your individuality, but you could also be sending the message that you’re not a serious professional.”
Don’t let your wardrobe hold you back from the job you want. Dress for success, stand tall and see what happens.
Looking for more tips on how to get ahead professionally? Read the AIU Career Development Blog.