Let Me Talk Fashion: Dressing For The Job, Seriously

Let Me Talk Fashion is our weekly installment going Two Buttons Deep into the do’s and don’ts of everyday fashion. As Joan Rivers’ self-proclaimed successor, it is my duty to help keep the world looking stylish and practical one Fashion Friday at a time.

This week we’re tackling casual office dress code culture and why it’s so important to dress like you want to be at work every day.

Depending on your profession, your office environment has begun to embrace an increasingly casual dress code over the years. Advertising agencies, banks, car dealerships and insurance offices alike tout their casual vibes on company career websites, enticing future employees with the freedom to wear jeans and comfortable shoes as often as you like. Suits and ties, blazers and pencil skirts are a thing of the past –and people love it.

To some extent, I totally get it. Stuffy, traditional office attire is uncomfortable, expensive and does not often allow for an individual to express much personal flair. There’s only so many ways one can stylize a pantsuit (I’m talking to you, HRC). But what’s started to happen is that this carefree, “no dress code” dress code leaves a lasting impression beyond just what you’re wearing when you choose to embrace it.

Picture Scenario #1. A coworker, client or new hire walks into your office. They bolt through the door with freshly groomed hair, a classy, crisp outfit, a smile on their face (my favorite free accessory), carrying a clean, organized briefcase or handbag that hasn’t seen the wear and tear you’ve come to accept in your own closet.

First impressions do matter after all. 9/10 times you’re thinking something like, “Wow! That person is…”

A. Confident (I could never rock a Cheetah print cardigan with my Oxford shirt collar popped.)

B. Wealthy (Well, I can’t afford to dress that nice, so good for them.)

C. Intelligent (This person looks deliberate and competent –like they have an opinion.)

D. All of the above

Now, Scenario #2. A different coworker, client or new hire walks into your office. They shuffle on in, holding a grocery store plastic bag filled with their lunch and hair aimlessly falling in front of their line of vision. Their shirt is untucked and there’s a noticeable, yet unidentifiable stain on it.

What’s your opinion of the person this time?

A. Hungover (Looks like you’ve had a rough night.)

B. Careless (Did you even look in the mirror before you left?)

C. Timid (You don’t quite look ready to speak up in a meeting or lead a conference call.)

D. All of the above

I don’t need to answer these questions for you because the information above is by no means shocking. Research does indeed show that the way someone dresses can affect other’s perception of you. People make assumptions, particularly in the workplace, and draw conclusions about between how you dress and how capable, smart or confident you might be. Scenario #1 and #2 help you understand why people can take that leap. And though judging a book by its cover has never been considered fair, you can certainly see how it happens, and why it is kind of fair.

Casual office attire is great, and I use it as a way to flaunt my personal style, which I love to do. Today, overalls, patterned socks and light denim can jive in an office environment. There are so many ways to uphold the perks of the casual culture rather than take advantage of it. (That link is a tremendous example.) But most importantly, there are some fundamentals of having a job that should not be disregarded when opening up your dresser drawers for the day.

Having a job is a privilege. You interviewed for a position (one you presumably wanted) and you earned it over another candidate. It’s your responsibility to make sure you walk through those doors with purpose. And that purpose starts with convincing others that you actually want to be there. Which isn’t hard to do when you’re cleaned up and classy versus disheveled and disorganized.

What’s most important from a Fashion Friday perspective is that this is not a matter of fashion sense of personal style. It’s not about spending insane amounts of money to look good and thinking that’s the only way to show you care. It’s the back-to-basics little things someone should do every day whether they’re working on Wall Street or the cafeteria at an elementary school.

Then, there’s those old clichés that hold so much value. Look good, feel good is one of them. If you’re able to rock an outfit that you feel comfortable in, and I don’t mean sweatpants comfy but confident comfy (knowing your garment fits you properly, gives a nod to your personality, and is appropriate for the situation), you’ll give off the “I know what I’m doing here vibe” and leave your colleagues and superiors feeling  like you’re a strong team member who makes an effort to stand out.

And of course, there’s dress for the job you want, not the job you have. I always hated the way that sounds but it is true. You want people to impressed with absolutely everything about you. And I’m not saying your humor or intellect can’t get you there on your own. But don’t you ever give anyone a reason to doubt your abilities based on a misstep in fashion/hygiene/personal care.

So, on Monday morning, I hope you consider which example human you want to be from the above situations. While I can’t slide the blouse off the hanger for you, I can provide a little bit of education to really, truly help you dress for success.