What should you be wearing to work every day? Are the clothes you typically pull out of the closet each morning the smartest choice if you’re gunning for a promotion? What if you’re a new employee focused on fitting in? What if you’ve recently made a mistake and you’re trying to get back into your boss’s good graces? What if you’ve just taken on a management role and you’re trying to send the right message to your new team of direct reports?What on earth do your clothing choices have to do with any of these goals? Plenty, as it turns out. After countless consultations with hiring managers across a variety of fields, we’ve learned a few things about clothing in the workplace. And the take-home message is clear: What you wear can have a powerful impact on your likeability, your progress toward your goals (whatever they may be on a given day), and the trust your superiors and peers are willing to grant you. Keep these considerations in mind as you take a close look at your work wardrobe.
- First, most people who work in office jobs (without uniforms) are given the freedom to choose what they wear each day. But this freedom is an illusion. Even though the dress code says you’re fine as long as you skip the shorts, look closer. The unwritten rules of attire in your workplace may be just as rigid as those that appear in the handbook. Tune in by carefully observing the clothing of your managers and most highly respected coworkers.
- Most people don’t enjoy facing an overwhelming set of options every single weekday prior to coffee time. So they keep things simple by rotating through an average of about seven different outfits week-in and week-out. This is fine. Just make sure your seven are working hard for you (and once a month or so, remove or add a new blouse or tie to the rotation).
- “Dressing to impress” is a mistake. People aren’t generally attracted to those who play subtle games with dominance in the workplace. You don’t sabotage your relationships by trying to convince your coworkers that you’re smarter than they are, and you know better than to brag about your salary to those who may be making less than you. So don’t wear an expensive suit every day into an office of peers in shirts and slacks. This won’t impress anyone, and unfortunately, it may irritate and alienate them. It’s a difficult way to make friends.
- At the same time, underdressing shows a lack of respect for the enterprise in general. If everyone else is wearing slacks and buttoned shirts and you show up each day in jeans and a t-shirt, your hardworking, respectful peers may resent this (and your boss may find this gesture lazy or clueless.)
- People who interact with you should be thinking about your words, not your clothes. Ideally, your outfits should blend so perfectly with your personality and surroundings that they aren’t remembered at all.
- When in doubt, choose earth tones (they’re right for every body type and skin color), greys, tweeds, muted blues, and whites. And choose natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and wool. This applies to shirts, pants, and accessories for both men and women, and skirts and dresses for women. Keep your shoes clean and un-scuffed. Watch out for anything stained, ill fitting, damaged, or too sexy.