I’ll make no secret about it, the number one question I’m asked, from the emails I receive to the meetings I attend, is how to, “Dress for Success.” Sure, some people put a slightly different spin on it — professional clothes, dress for an interview, business formal attire —but fundamentally what they’re asking me is, the how to dress for success question.
Back in 1975, when American John T. Molly coined the term Dress for Success as the title for his book, the concept of power-dressing was just emerging. John T.’s book catapulted to the top of the New York Times best-seller list almost immediately with its promise of prosperity, if you just dressed the part. Little wonder, that in over 30 years, no one has been able to coin a better expression to convey this goal.
In this same time period, dress codes have relaxed dramatically. Office clothes or business outfits include a whole new category that started with the Casual Friday concept and has morphed into business casual clothing. Casual can be interpreted as anything from an open collar shirt to cargo pants and flip flops. And this is the problem. Business casual is very different from cottage casual but clarifying the boundaries of what’s appropriate and where, often falls to individual interpretation.
Establishing guidelines is often mandated to me by both large and small corporations, that want to avoid the appearance of a sort of clothing-police-state. They recognize that it’s a reluctance to actually spell out these guidelines, that can create issues. Boundaries are not such a big deal, as long as people are aware of them. Deciphering and defining clothing lingo can be confusing: a picture is worth a thousand words.
The expression “Dress for Less Stress” has recently found favour in some quarters, notably those where people say they want to be taken seriously. Actually, the exact opposite happens. Show up for work in the aforementioned cargo pants, guy or girl, and you send a message that you are just not in sync with your colleagues. Some firms see it as disrespect, or rude, or even selfish but under no circumstances does that speech about how, “I just want to be judged for my work, or on my own merit,” win points. Au contraire. Of course, if the corporate culture is creative and edgey, head-to-toe black or jeans-reign-supreme or even those ubiquitous cargo pants, may be the defining dress code.
Last week, during a trip on my office elevator —sometimes known as the microcosm of corporate life — I witnessed, I guess, what was a pretty serious breach of office dress codes. A very well-dressed man said to the younger, more casually dressed man beside him, “You changed your pants!” Whoa, I thought to myself. What’s going on here? Apparently, the younger man had actually been sent home to change because his colleagues(!) complained. Very awkward for everyone involved. Chances are, if you think you’re undressed, you are.
A Royal “footnote”
Every summer, I am barraged with panti-hose quandaries. And honestly, there are so many variables ranging from geographical (way too hot in Texas and Florida) to office protocols and formalities, that there is no simple answer but to take cues from
C-suite role models. Or the Duchess of Cambridge! This past week, during her Canadian tour, her legs were always dressed in panti-hose with just the lightest shimmer that set-off her impeccable pumps. Poised and polished, she was always perfectly turned out and knew exactly when to slip into her slim jeans.
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