Your Clothes Communicate Volumes

biz suitIt’s “Casual Friday” that’s why I’m working in my pajamas!  Oh my, perhaps this casual  trend has gone a little too far…

But seriously, why not wear ‘dress’ jeans at work?  Hey, they look pretty good… even if I never wash them because they’re so comfortably broken in…  I’ll tell you why not – your credibility is on the line (and about to fall off).  Your brand never takes a day off, it doesn’t know if it’s Friday or any other day, and it reflects on you with every eye that sees you in public.  You can be as certain as the sun rising, that an opinion will be formed, positive or negative, by everyone who sees you, and that opinion will carry forward.   And a negative opinion, although not a deal breaker, is still a negative opinion that needs to be offset.

Now if you don’t work in a professional office, you can skip today’s edition – you’re fine if your standard office décor is casual, i.e. computer programmers, ad creatives, etc.  But do look at what your boss is wearing and take your cues from there.  If you want the next job, you have to look the part before you are considered.  If you don’t look like you fit the role, you won’t be seriously considered, no matter how talented you are.  Appearances are that subtly important.  (If your boss is in jeans, you’re golden.)

You may think that talent carries the day, but think again.  From appearances alone, we instantly deduce economic level, education, social position, sophistication, trustworthiness, moral character and success.  And this is all on first glance, within fractions of seconds – why risk not giving yourself the best advantage?  Clothes can do that for you.

No, it’s not fair, but life isn’t fair.  Yes, you should indeed have a chance to prove your value and not be typecast by your clothes, but people don’t work that way.  We have so much data coming at us all the time, we are forced into looking for familiar patterns, so our brain can move on to the next consideration.  A familiar pattern is that someone who is dressed well is smart, competent, a good person, and successful.  The opposite pattern is also universally held about those who aren’t dressed as well – not as smart, competent or successful.  Not true, you say, but you may never get a chance to prove otherwise.  And if you do, it’s an uphill battle you don’t need to fight.  And it’s even worse knowing that you brought it on yourself.

The business uniform (dark suit, white shirt, tie, dress shoes) is a powerful tool in business that isn’t fully recognized for what it is.  Studies have shown that the business uniform ranks right behind the military uniform and the police uniform in credibility, authority, and power in the eyes of the general public.  We not only love a man in uniform (the protector image), we will follow where he leads, and believe what he says.  It is a powerful tool that business women have at their disposal also.  But you need to choose to use it.

Perhaps your thinking is that you can look great Monday through Thursday and be comfortable on Friday, since a majority of the time you are in ‘uniform’ and everyone knows you; your good reputation is solid.  While the latter is true, what about those new clients that you are meeting for the first time on a given Friday?  Is it worth the risk, if it could be a potentially big account?  It’s up to you to decide the price of comfort.

Whenever I go into a bank on Casual Friday and everyone, including the manager, is in jeans, I walk out disgusted; it’s a visual affront to me.  No wonder the banking industry is in trouble.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Appearances really are everything.  You really can’t get a re-do on a first impression.  People are subconsciously judgmental by what they see; it’s hard wired in our brains to be so.  You have full control over how you dress and the impression you choose to manage (or by default, not manage) that others have of you and your abilities.  While actions, words and body language all have a role in communication, a big silent player is clothing, and it speaks volumes.  

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