Is what you wear to work important? Do you even care? For some of us the idea of ‘dressing to impress’ is an anathema “Why should what I wear to work matter? My work speaks for itself” you respond aghast. For others, perhaps begrudgingly, we acknowledge that there might be something in first impressions so we dress accordingly, or at least make the effort to ensure that we don’t look as though we’ve just fallen out of bed.
I once worked in a sea of grey suits, an office populated by identikit colleagues, who had managed to find as many shades of grey to wear to work as I imagine is humanly possible. Air conditioning up there on the seventeenth floor ensured we cultivated a pallor to match the suits. One colleague would deliberately wear a flamboyantly coloured, new item of clothing every day. “Dress for the job you want. Not the job you have” she responded curtly with a smile on her face when asked why. I doubt she’s still there.
If you find yourself feeling stifled in an environment like this, it might just be telling you something about the organisation’s culture (stick to the rules, don’t take risks, we value conformity) and also about your own personality (I want to express myself and be an individual or just ‘dress down’ for the rest of my born days) and ultimately your match with the job or the organisation.
Research into ‘Dressing to Impress’ from Joy V. Peluchette, Katherine Karl and Kathleen Rust published in the Journal of Business & Psychology ‘examined individual differences in the beliefs of MBA students and their attitudes regarding workplace attire including: the value placed on clothing, the impact of attire on workplace outcomes (e.g., promotions, raises) how their clothing made them feel and whether they used their attire to manage the impression of others in the workplace. Results indicated that those who valued workplace attire used it to manage the impressions of others and believed that it positively impacted the way they felt about themselves and their workplace outcomes. Dressing to impress appeared to have particular utility for high self-monitors and those in management/executive positions’.
In reality, this often gets translated into a uniform of sorts where the unwritten rule appears to be ‘leave your real personality at home’. Conform or risk being sidelined. Count the number of identical suits, colours and sensible shoes on your next commute and draw your own conclusion.
Turn this uniform orthodoxy on its head and like the woman who was dressing for the job she wanted, it doesn’t take much to stand out (said the woman who once wore a pair of green suede wedges with pink flowers on them to an interview and no, I didn’t get the job). Swap the ‘grey’ and let a little bit of ‘you’ shine through instead. Shallow? Irrelevant? Well, yes but if it’s a game and you’re going to play it anyway you might as well bend the rules in your favour and see what comes your way as a result.