Dress For Success and Other Confusing Fashion Cliches

Fashion, according to this month’s book recommendation, Dress Code: The Naked Truth about Fashion, is the world’s fifth largest industry. We’re talking about trillions of dollars moving around the globe that covers literally everything from tiny baby booties and hair clips to bespoke suits, and hand-made Italian shoes.

This month’s edition of Wise Words explores the role of clothing in the work force. Whether we want it to or not, our manner of public dress (you can wear whatever makes you happy in private) sends strong messages to those around us.

How You Dress Says Alot About You

Consider the idea of a uniform. There is traditional military dress; each service branch has its own style.  That extends to police and fire departments too. There is the “uniform” of the white coat worn by the medical profession, the business suit worn by high-paid consultants, and even the “blue collar’ that traditionally refers to trade professionals.

 Most people in the workforce dress in a hybrid style of business-specific attire combined with what he or she sees as a personal style. Maybe that’s jeans with a blue blazer, or a conservative dress with a colorful statement piece of jewelry.

How does dress reflect or affect work performance? This month’s video recommendation, “Dress Like You Mean It,” explores the power of clothing to transform your attitude and propel your success.

If we consider the culture of fashion, combined with the power of money and our attitudes toward how people look, it’s easy to see that clothing is not something we can ignore. Working in a professional environment should come with the underlying expectation that we dress professionally.  The woman walking into the office on a hot August Washington DC day in a tube top and short shorts will, and should, raise a few eyebrows. As would the man in sandals, a graphic tee with an offensive graphic, and frayed shorts.  If we say to these two, your dress is inappropriate, are we denying the right to free speech? If we tell the Muslim woman wearing a hijab (headscarf) or a Sikh man wearing a turban that their outward appearance draws too much attention and makes us uncomfortable, are we denying their religious freedom?

These are interesting debates that this space doesn’t allow us to delve into. What we should consider is that in the workplace and other organizations such as schools, there is often a dress code.  This may include either a formal written set of requirements or a cultural understanding. Ignore them at your own risk.

Dress And Peer Group Acceptance

How we dress determines how we will fit into a particular peer group. Just observe any group of teenagers at any mall and you’ll see how one teen blends into the other. I’m not advocating you dress exactly like your peers or that if you go outside the standard you’ll be alone and lonely.  But I do advise that you treat your wardrobe, whether an official uniform or what you consider your uniform, as a form of communication. Respect in the workforce also includes how you dress. As this month’s picture illustrates, if you are dressed inappropriately, you can be denied entrance to a house of worship. With certain environments come expectations of both dress and behavior.  Ignoring those may have future repercussions, both personally and professionally.  Always consider your career and your personal brand!

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