Julie Tucker
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What your workplace attire says about you

There’s an old proverb that says “clothes maketh the man” and even though it dates back to William Shakespeare’s time, it still rings true today. Of course, it’s not only men who need to dress the part – our workplace attire speaks for us, so what does yours say about you?

For the last year we’ve been living in trackies and as we prepare to return to the office, perhaps we are looking to give our wardrobes a revamp. We should of course be judged on our capabilities not our appearance, but it is an inescapable fact that how we look can affect how others perceive us, and even how well we perform at our jobs. If we don’t look smart, we may find our climb up the career ladder is slower.

Why does dressing for success matter?

How you dress leaves a lasting impression on your peers. If you arrive at work wearing creased or stained clothing, it won’t make a good impression on coworkers and may adversely affect the way your employer behaves towards you. Getting it right can positively impact your career, so it is worth considering how your choices can affect your progress.

If you’re working towards a promotion, it can increase your chances of succeeding. A survey revealed 80% of office managers believed an employee’s clothing impacted their chance of earning a promotion. According to the research by Office Team, dressing in a professional way is the best place to start. It establishes credibility and helps your manager and peers see you in a higher role with more responsibility.

Do you need to wear a suit?

Dressing properly doesn’t necessarily mean wearing a suit. Business attire can be casual but smart, such as wearing neutral colours including black, navy blue or grey. However, never assume the latest fashion trends are suitable for office wear.

What might look great on the catwalk, or on the high street, can still be a massive faux pas in the office. We continually read about how a lot of companies are going for more relaxed dress codes, but this doesn’t mean you should wear exactly what you like.

If your company doesn’t have a strict dress code, don’t turn up in the same clothes you would wear if working from home! Follow your company’s policies, even the unwritten ones, by noting what senior colleagues or managers are wearing. Little details such as cleaning your shoes or having a smart backpack, handbag or briefcase can also count.

Are there different dress rules for men and women?

Some people feel dressing to impress in the workplace is easier for men, who can always rely on a smart, dark-coloured suit and crisp shirt, with or without a tie. The same theory of “looking the part” applies to both men and women, but some women feel it may cost them more for a smart and versatile work wardrobe.

In fact, this isn’t necessarily the case, as buying a few work-appropriate garments such as blazer, skirt and trousers, with a couple of blouses that complement all of them, means you can mix and match the staples without spending a fortune.

How is our own performance affected?

While your clothing influences others’ perceptions of you, it can also impact how you view yourself. In fact, your own self-image is equally as important.

Studies have shown wearing more casual clothing can help you to feel relaxed, but if you’re in a job where being on the ball and feeling creative matters, you don’t necessarily want to be too laid back, or you may not get the job in hand done.

A study by the University of Hertfordshire suggested wearing more formal clothing for the office made workers feel more confident – and even more intelligent. It concluded “we are what we wear” – so choosing our workwear is a very important decision every day!

Research by the Kellogg School of Management suggested our work performance could be enhanced by dressing the part. It seems to be down to self-image and how confident we are that we can do the job.

One of the experiments involved researchers dressing half of the participants in white laboratory coats and the other half in more casual clothing. They were all asked to perform a series of tests: those in lab coats made fewer mistakes than those in their ordinary clothing. The researchers concluded dressing a specific way helps us to look AND feel smarter.

It’s not simply wearing smart clothes, it’s the symbolic meaning of the clothes. Wearing the right business suit can make you feel more powerful and confident, so as a result, your performance could improve too.

How does this affect us in a coworking environment?

One benefit of working in a coworking space is you can set your own rules. However, this doesn’t mean you should turn up in jogging pants and a t-shirt!

When you’re choosing what to wear, always think about what your attire says about you and whether it communicates the right message. There’s no right or wrong and the way you dress is all about context.

The bottom line is nobody wants to look like they’ve made no effort whatsoever with their appearance. However good you are at your job, if you look like you’ve just got out of bed, you may convey the message to coworkers that you’re similarly haphazard when it comes to the way you work.

Coworking is all about networking, collaboration and boosting your creative energy. If you’re sitting next to someone who appears not to care about their professional image, this may well convince you this is how they feel about their work too.

Taking a conscious command of how you present yourself is an ideal way of empowering yourself to help accomplish your goals.


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