Career Savvy: You Are What You Wear

Remember the good old days of high school?  How the clothing that you wore really defined your image?

Surprise!  The work world isn’t much different.  The only thing that has changed is that for the most part, no one is going to say anything directly to you about what you wear… they simply won’t hire or promote you if the image that you project doesn’t fit within the company culture.

What we wear and our appearance DOES impact our career… from the first few seconds in an interview to what you choose from your closet on a daily basis.

Sound trivial? It is, but as the employer sees it: it isn’t.

How you represent yourself also is how the company you work for represents themselves to their customers, both internally and externally.

Way back (I won’t say how long ago this was!)… in my first job, on the very first day, I was pulled aside by my supervisor who said she was going to have to send me home to change my clothing.

Flabbergasted and completely humiliated, I asked why. She smiled, and in a very kind, sympathetic voice, told me to look around the corporate environment and see what others are wearing. Suddenly, my eyes were opened and I saw people wearing suits and other formal business attire.  Then I looked down at myself… I was a college student (and at the time, leggings and big shirts were ‘in’ ), and immediately realized what she was saying.  Ironically, in the college environment, what I was wearing was generally considered somewhat ‘dressy’ compared to the usual fare of sweatshirts and sweatpants common on campus.  In fact, some of my friends had even commented how nice I looked, and I had proudly replied that I was going to my first day on the job.

Oooh… was that first day ever a learning experience!

I thought I WAS dressed up but I didn’t understand the culture shift. Then my boss gave me the wake-up call that I needed.

And I just about died from embarrassment!

The rule of thumb is that you if you don’t take your personal image seriously, how can anyone else?

Someone once told me that you should always dress one level ABOVE your current position. Obviously, you don’t want to overdo it, and in many companies, particularly on the West Coast, office attire has been slipping into ‘business casual’ which is a far cry from the stuffy 3-piece suit days.

But you are what you wear, and if you demonstrate care and cultivation of your personal image, others will pick up on this and this perception will shape their view of you.

Clothing has an often ridiculously high price tag, and a lot of times, people who aren’t working don’t have the budget to walk in and buy clothes off the rack at their favorite store.  There are alternatives. You can either catch a great sale at a quality department store, go to name-brand discount stores like Nordstrom Rack, or you can even find high-quality items in consignment stores or places like Goodwill if you are willing to spend the time searching.

Be strategic about what you buy; don’t always go for the cheapest price because sometimes, the poor tailoring can become readily apparent after wearing the outfit even once.  Be willing to make an investment into finer materials that aren’t too trendy so you can extend the clothing’s lifetime.

The point is: investing in your wardrobe is really investing in yourself.  And cultivating your personal brand appearance can have positive, far-reaching impacts on your career and future advancement.