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I have just finished reading this great marketing post (thanks @WoodsieGirl for tweeting the link), and I thought it all made a lot of sense. I was particularly struck by the section written by Lisa Salazar about the importance of personal appearance, which ended “Looks matter. Period.” (nb. I am interpreting this as referring to outfit choices, rather than physical or facial attractiveness).
One of my (admittedly more ridiculous) pet peeves concerns people who wear jeans to work-related events such as conferences or training courses. I realise this makes me sound like I’m about 100, and I honestly do like jeans, it’s just for me they are very much part of my casual wardrobe – wearing them makes me feel casual, which I don’t find helps me get in the right mood for a professional occasion, and when I see other people wearing jeans in that kind of environment I always wonder how seriously they’re taking it all.
For the last 3 or 4 years of my working life I’ve been in jobs where the dress code has been ‘business casual’ (which basically seems to mean ‘no jeans’) and I’m sure this colours my view to some extent, but on reflection I think it’s absolutely true that the more impressively someone is dressed the more authoritative they appear. Sure, this is more about first impressions than sustained relationships, but I think it’s much better to project a professional, capable aura which you can then tone down as you get to know people, rather than start off with a casual air and have to fight to be taken seriously later on.
I also remember my university days, where it was often quite difficult to differentiate between the library staff and my fellow students – unless they were sitting behind the desk or wearing their badge prominently they looked pretty much the same. This might be a good thing in terms of making the staff look more approachable, but it also meant that any roving assistance became more of a covert mission – I was never sure if the person strolling the stacks was employed to be there or just another wandering student. I’ve also recently had the same ‘are they, aren’t they’ experience when looking for a member of staff in my local public library.
I totally appreciate that there are some jobs in which jeans are a practical wardrobe choice – my first library job was in acquisitions and jeans were pretty indispensible for days when lots of boxes required shifting and unpacking. However, the role was not in any way public facing, and at no point was I required to try and influence anyone, so it really didn’t matter what I wore.
Influence is perhaps the key issue here. As Lisa also said, “Dress like a million bucks and you will be treated like a million bucks.” Why should we expect anyone to respect our professional opinion if they are in a sharp suit and we are dressed casually? Obviously that shouldn’t be the case; sadly we don’t live in a perfect world, but one in which appearance matters. (You might just about persuade me that well-fitting jeans paired with a crisply ironed shirt and jacket would work, though if you’re going to that much effort with the rest of it what’s wrong with choosing some nice trousers or a skirt?!)
Equally, if you need to convince someone (eg. your manager) to take forward your new project, to send you on that expensive course, or to make some significant change to a policy, I think you’re going to come across as much more impressive if you’re smartly dressed. Obviously, providing evidence/justification/a business plan is important too, but creating the right impression at the outset is not going to hurt. And actually, how better to show that you mean business by making the effort to dress appropriately to present your case? For me, dressing smartly for this kind of occasion is also a big step on the way to getting into the right mindset, and I’m sure it helps me to come across in a much better way (though perhaps this is just some kind of sartorial placebo effect).
So, am I just old fashioned, or do you agree? Do you have any evidence (anecdotal or otherwise!) to back me up? Or have I offended you by my anti-jeans-at-work attitude? I’d love to hear your comments…
PS. Cardigans, on the other hand, are a wholly different subject. Regardless of the stereotype I couldn’t be a bigger fan of cardigans, for almost all occasions…!!
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