It happens every day: someone searches the web with the question: “what to wear to work” and finds this site. It seems that people want to know how best to dress, what is appropriate, what should and should not be worn, and generally how to present themselves.
While I’ve blogged about this before and published a podcast, there still seems to be more people want to know, and much of the answer depends entirely on the context. Not only what country and culture you are working in, but also what the actual space is that you will be working in.
Before you head to your closet or the mall…
Here are some critical questions to ask yourself first:
- what is the tone of the environment you are working in?
- what image do you want to project?
- what non-verbal messages can you send with what you wear that will be of benefit to your workplace goals?
An excerpt from my new book: What They See: How to Stand Out and Shine in Your New Job
How to Dress for Success
Some suggest an employee dress for the job he or she wants to have, rather than the job they do have. I understand this reasoning, and yet it is not always appropriate. You would look silly, for example, wearing a suit to work in a coffee shop, even if your dream was to own the franchise one day. Instead, I would suggest the following.
Know Your Working Environment
If you are working in a game-development company, the environment might be very different from that of a law office. Consider your physical setting: Is your workplace corporate, industrial, institutional, service, or retail, to name a few? What are others wearing? Do you see formal wear, business, business-casual, or casual clothing on your co-workers? What activities will you be doing in your work? Are you sitting down, moving about, driving a lot, making presentations, lifting heavy objects, or cleaning up after people? Often the environment itself will offer indicators of what will and will not be suitable to wear.
Know What the Dress Code Is
The dress code in your workplace could include anything from a scent policy (whether or not you can wear scented aftershave or perfume) to what safety equipment is required (ear protection, safety glasses, gloves, steel-toed boots, sturdy shoes, etc.). Some workplaces require uniforms, overalls, particular colour schemes, or business attire (e.g. suits and ties for men). The answer to “what to wear?” depends on your work environment. If you are unsure what is acceptable, ask.
Know Your Audience
Who are you dressing for? Knowing who you will be interacting with throughout your day will help you determine how you need to dress. Are you in customer service? Are you working in a warehouse, a film studio, or a legal office? Are you indoors or outside? Do you work alone, or as part of a team? What messages would you like to send to those you are interacting with every day? These are questions to consider when deciding what to take from your closet each day.
The key thing to remember is that the messages your clothing sends others can undermine your professionalism if not in line with the work that you do. For example, I want my personal trainer to be dressed in workout clothes. This way, I know she is active, serious about fitness, and motivated to help get me moving. I want my mechanic to have greasy hands and to wear coveralls, otherwise I might wonder if he is actually the person doing the work on my vehicle. I want my doctor to be dressed in business clothing in her office. This shows respect for me as a patient, helps me feel confident in her medical abilities, and enables me to trust her recommendations. I want the judge in the courtroom to be in his official robes to convey how seriously he takes his decision-making, and I want the lab technician taking my blood to be in a clean uniform so that I can be confident she will follow proper phlebotomy protocol and take my blood safely and efficiently.
Clothing does not have anything to do with your actual skills, knowledge, abilities, or competence, and yet it has everything to do with other peoples’ perceptions of them. You have the opportunity to create the messages you want to send by choosing wisely.
To read more of this chapter, including specifics around dress code, order the book here.
While we might think it’s exceedingly unfair and even wrong that we judge each other by the bits of fabric we choose to drape ourselves with, we do.
And we do it in a fraction of a second.
So the questions about this topic that people are putting into the search engines are extremely important ones.
I hope this helps?