Libraries, the universe and everything


Jeans means ???
November 11, 2010, 14:21
Filed under: Uncategorized

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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34 Comments so far
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What about cardigans on men? Where do you stand on that particular issue?

I think they are OK personally, but i’m not ready yet to be honest. I’m building up to it.

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Comment by Richard Hawkins

I’d say go for it – a well-chosen cardigan can work for anyone, in my view!

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Comment by Emma Davidson

I find it quite sad that you would question my ability based on your dislike of my wardrobe choices…

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Comment by denise

Hi Denise,

Clothes do form a big part of first impressions for me though (as I’m guessing they do for most people), and I must admit I am inclined to make assumptions based on what people choose to wear. I usually try to get past my first impression though, as I appreciate that they don’t always give an accurate reflection of a person and their capabilities (and I’m not very important so it probably doesn’t matter in the slightest what I think anyway!). Nevertheless, I suspect that in certain cases the first impression is make-or-break.

I honestly don’t dislike jeans in general though!

Emma

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Comment by Emma Davidson

Hi Emma,

Found your blog via @CILIPInfo on twitter. Have to say that I’m one that disagrees with you on this, for a couple of reasons – some personal, some not.

1) I work in a research lab library – I guess you would call dress code here ‘business casual’. If meeting with external customers and clients then it’s suits, but otherwise casual, with research staff in some areas always in jeans and t-shirts. Mostly I’m smart-casual, but sometimes I wear jeans with a smart top. The really odd thing? I get loads more done when I’m wearing jeans. I know this sounds nonsensical, but beause I’m much more comfortable in them, I’m much more efficient and happy in myself, which spills over into my work. The same goes for courses (not yet been to a conference, so I’m not sure what I would do there!).

2) On a purely professional front, I have never had a problem (that I’m aware of) with appearing ‘too casual’ at work. The big boss I know doesn’t particularly approve of inappropriate casual wear, but he has never said anything, has fought for my promotion because of the quality of my work NOT what I look like. I guess this would be different if I actually looked scruffy, but I don’t.

On balance, the fact that my work is better when I’m in comfortable clothing wins out (and this is noticeable to everyone – not just me). Maybe this would be different in a different workplace – I’m sure I will find out in due course.

And maybe my lack of ambition (quite happy as second-in-command in a small library team!) has fed into my opinion – better happy than rich!

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Comment by Eleanor

Hi Eleanor,

Thanks for your comments, it’s great to get an opposing view! I totally take your point about dressing appropriately for your specific workplace environment, and I was really interested to hear about your comfort = efficient working thing (I find that if I wear jeans on dress-down days I tend to kick back and achieve nothing!).

Emma

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Comment by Emma Davidson

Love this post!! I kinda think you’re right. I don’t particularly like seeing people in jeans at conferences either. On the first day of the UC&R conference I was all dressed up thinking people would be in suits and the like but they weren’t. I actually felt a little silly and so the next day opted for my comfy black cotton ‘jeans’ again – smart/casual. I couldn’t quite bring myself to wear jean jeans.

It’s the same at work too. I get mistaken for a student every single day… even by academics that know me quite well now. The dress code here is very informal and to be honest I’d look like a prat if I started ‘power dressing’ for work but sometimes I really want to! Even some of the top professors have never heard of an iron and *shock horror* roll into work in BLUE jeans.

I’ve kinda come to the conclusion that black jeans are OK but not really blue ones. Rips in any way, shape or form should be banned, especially those with tatty, worn away hems that have dragged on the floor 🙂

Agree on the cardigans too! Multi-purposed!

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Comment by Lex Rigby

Hi Lex,

Thanks! I think it’s really hard to strike the right balance sometimes, especially (as you say) in a more casual environment. I definitely agree that work clothes should be structurally sound, whether jeans or not!!

Emma

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Comment by Emma Davidson

I totally fall foul of your laws!

I pretty much always wear jeans. Our Deputy Librarian wears a suit, but from there down there isn’t so much suit-wearage. Personally I like wearing suits, but would look ridiculous doing so when all my superiors don’t. There ARE many trouser wearers, but I don’t own any trousers. I mean, I have the beige ones that every male in the western world owns, but I don’t wear them as much as jeans.

The thing about trousers is, they look bad if you don’t tuck your shirt into them, and a: I’m not ready to do that yet, and b: I’d look REALLY bad if I did! Plus I grew up in Essex, where the Ben Sherman shirt tucked into black trousers brigade ply their satorial trade *shudder* which left an indelible mark on me… I might look more appropriate in trousers at a conference, but I’d look worse than I do normally (if such a thing were possible, etc etc..). Plus I’d be betraying myself, somewhat. I try to go through life making the decisions I want to make and hoping I can find enough people that agree with me to make it work – that applies to women (I have never once presented a better or idealised version of myself in pursuit of romance, or treated someone mean to keep them keen, because I figured the right woman would end up marrying me anyway so would eventually see how I really am – why not skip to the end? I must admit that worked better, and earlier, than I anticpated), dressing (I look slightly smart wearing a jacket and jeans without trying to be something I’m not, ie a snappy dresser!) and even writing (I put exclamation marks, colloquialism and elipses into proper journal articles, because that’s how I communicate).

I’ve only just graduated to wearing a proper jacket with jeans, since becoming a Father. I wanted to before, but felt like I couldn’t while still in my 20s. Am I right in thinking you’re coming to the SLA Echolib thing this month? If so, don’t look at me from the waste down. 🙂

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Comment by thewikiman

On reflection, I guess it is harder for men, especially in a non-suit environment – thank you for pointing this out! At least women get a multitude of trouser and skirt options not available to most men (or at least not adopted by most men that I know, anyway!). I hadn’t considered the shirt in or out issue either (and must sympathise here, I still don’t really like tucking my shirt in too).

I don’t mean to imply that dress is ABSOLUTELY everything – I guess overall it’s more about making the right choice for the right occasion. And I’m honestly not so shallow as to write people off instantly because I don’t think they’re a snappy dresser!

Sadly I can’t make the Echolib thing, though I did observe your jacket-and-jeans combo at the London NPID! ;o)

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Comment by Emma Davidson

Was it really bad..? Did I have to fight harder to win your ear because of it? 🙂

(Dressing well has never been my strong point.)

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Comment by thewikiman

Not bad, no – as Lex said on Twitter you looked appropriate. It was a fairly casual day (which I was expecting it to be), and I think all the presenters dressed well in terms of being just a little bit smarter than most of the audience (though it was interesting that Phil and Maxine were probably the most formally attired).

I came to your talk with preconceptions based on having read and been impressed by some of your stuff online beforehand, so although I might have been expecting someone a little different-looking I already knew you were likely to give an interesting presentation. Also, I was mostly distracted at the start by the fact that you kept looking at your phone, until I realised that you were using it for your notes (which I thought was a great idea)!!

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Comment by Emma Davidson

Omg this is mortifying! So my online output is good and that mislead you into thinking I’d be well dressed / good looking!? I am totally retiring from public speaking… 🙂

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Comment by Thewikiman

Oh noooo – the perils of conversing online!! I guess this does sum up why first impressions can be unreliable (at least mine seem to be anyway!). Also, having never seen you speak anywhere else I obviously had no idea if that was your usual look or one carefully chosen for the occasion!! I’m going to shut up now before I dig myself in any deeper :o)

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Comment by Emma Davidson

Interesting post: I’ve never considered how wardrobe choice affects my work.

I’ve always preferred a casual approach. The social convention that a tie makes one smart (as a male) has always seemed arbitrary to me so personally I tend not to care what a person wears (at work or not). In fact, one of the things I admired about librarianship was the casualness towards dress.

Having said that, this post reminds me that other people WILL judge me based on my appearance (‘judge’ isn’t meant to seem negative here). The point about distinguishing between staff and students is particularly thought-provoking.

Hmm…

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Comment by Simon Barron

Glad to have provoked some thought, & will be interested to hear if you come to any subsequent conclusions.

I’m also interested in the point about ties, and am wondering where they fit in the smartness spectrum. Personal experience suggests this is another matter of personal preference – eg. my husband wears a suit to work but only puts a tie on for meetings, whilst my boss wears a shirt and tie, and only puts his jacket on for special occasions – but I’d love to hear some more views on this.

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Comment by Emma Davidson

Ooh, what a can of worms you’ve opened. It seems that a lot of what people think is determined by their current working environment. Where I currently work we have no official dress code (well, no-one’s ever told me what it is, anyway), but we pretty much converge on smart-casual (no jeans unless they’re pretty smart (e.g. worn by a man with shirt and jumper, say), and a notch above looking like a student, without resorting to suits and ties and so-on. And with a healthy lashing of cardigans to keep out the cold. I think it’s fair enough that we wear what fits with the ethos and attitude of the place we’re working.

I was particularly interested in your comments, Emma, about what people were to out-of-the-office events like courses and conferences, not least because I actually spent some time wondering what to wear to the last two conferences and courses I attended. I have to say that I chose jeans (but smart-ish) on both occasions, in large measure for comfort’s sake. Now I’m wondering if I wouldn’t have made a better impression in something smarter, although I’d probably just have made a crumpled impressions, not having yet worked out the mysteries of getting the train into London and staying unrumpled.

When I went to a Big(ish) International Conference where I felt somewhat out of my depth, I did wear business-style dress, and it certainly helped me feel like I knew what I was talking about, if nothing else.

Oh dear, and I’m off to another conference next week… Better start planning my wardrobe now!

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Comment by Girl in the Moon

Fitting in with workplace ethos and attitude is clearly important, as is looking slightly better-dressed than the clientele. This came up at the LISNPN meet-up last night, where the feeling was that particularly in a public or academic library it was probably a good thing to dress just a little bit smarter than the average reader, and thereby project an air of authority (not to mention make yourself recognisable as library staff). It’s probably easier in a corporate environment, where it’s more conventional to turn up looking smart (& there’s often a dress code anyway).

Good luck choosing your outfit, & I hope you enjoy the conference!!

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Comment by Emma Davidson

Thank you. It’s the Historic Libraries Forum annual conference – should I go in period costume, do you think?!

I also had another thought, about how this question how we dress, and therefore represent ourselves, is similar to the discussion about whether we use a picture of ourselves as an avatar or not. You commented that having your own picture next to what you write reminds you to consider how you’ll be representing yourself with what you type (I paraphrase – hope that’s OK), and maybe if we dress in a business-like way we remind ourselves to act appropriately, too.

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Comment by Girl in the Moon

That would be amazing, especially if everyone did so!! Is there a market for costumed conferences, I wonder….?!?

Great paraphrase, and a good point too – & that’s definitely how it works for me. Putting on my work clothes is part of putting on my work persona, just as putting on my casual/going out/skiing stuff gets me in the zone for that too.

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Comment by Emma Davidson

Who would have thought that librarians’ dress sense would be such a hot topic?

I agree with you though, wearing smart clothes sends out a message that you take yourself & your job seriously, and first impressions do have an impact on people. Of course, you still have to back that up with professional ability, but you hit the nail on the head when you said “creating the right impression at the outset is not going to hurt”.

For what it’s worth, I would usually dress smart for a conference, and I never wear jeans or anything too casual to work (I’m in academic libraries). I feel comfortable (and more confident) if I feel I look business-like though.

Interestingly I work with someone who used to work for a library vendor, in a much more commercial environment, and he wears a suit everyday. Apart from when we went to a conference and he was in jeans! Just shows all the different working cultures, I suppose.

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Comment by Hybridcollector

The diversity (in dress sense, working environment, and everything else) is one of my favourite things about being a librarian, and it’s great to hear so many different views on this particular topic!

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Comment by Emma Davidson

One piece if advise I was given some time ago was “dress for the job you would like, not the job you have”…maybe a little over the top, but I agree with the basic concept that if you dress ‘up’ slightly (especially at the start of your career) you may find yourself taken more seriously. (Whether what we wear should have such an effect is a totally different matter!)

Chris

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Comment by libchris

I think that’s really good advice – thanks for sharing.

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Comment by Emma Davidson

“dress for the job you would like, not the job you have”

I have heard this advice before, and it really gets my hackles up. I’m not even quite sure why, except that it implies that your skills are secondary to your appearance, and I really REALLY disagree with that, and I think it’s terribly shallow of anyone to not be able to see past that. So, call me mad, but I guess part of my reason for not dressing in suits is because I don’t want to be part of what appears to me to be a power game, and I don’t approve of it and won’t be part of it. And I wouldn’t want to work anywhere where that is teh dominant idea. Guess that why I’m a librarian! (This is entirely separate to the idea of dressing appropriately, for example, for presenting at a conference, for which I would wear a suit).

This is proving to be a rather interesting conversation – very interested in everyone’s thoughts 🙂

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Comment by Eleanor

“I don’t want to be part of what appears to me to be a power game, and I don’t approve of it and won’t be part of it.”

Thank you, Eleanor: that perfectly encapsulates my feelings. The arbitrary rules about what is smart dress and what isn’t makes the whole thing seem like a game. And I resent having to play it. If you’re good at your job, it shouldn’t matter what you wear.

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Comment by Simon Barron

I feel more comfortable with that advice when I take ‘dress’ as a shorthand way of saying ‘act at work’, or ‘behave’ – then the advice is saying ‘try and be as professional and competent as you can be now, don’t wait until you’ve got a ‘good job”. That’s something I try to do, whenever I can. But otherwise, yes, it can sound a bit like ‘wear a power suit and then you’ll be playing by the rules’, or something, which really gets my goat, too.

@Chris – no criticism of you for brining it up! I think you’re right that it probably does make a difference, whether it should or not.

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Comment by Girl in the Moon

“‘try and be as professional and competent as you can be now, don’t wait until you’ve got a ‘good job”.”

Yes, that’s fair enough. The problem is when people – particularly in the private sector in my experience – take it too literally and treat ‘professional’ as synonymous with ‘wearing a suit’.

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Comment by Simon Barron

Working dress was one of the topics discussed on ‘The Bottom Line’ on the radio this afternoon (yeah, it’s a rock’n’roll lifestyle I lead…). http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00vrxx0/The_Bottom_Line_11_11_2010/

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Comment by Girl in the Moon

This seems to have been a popular topic of late – have you seen this great (and brilliantly-titled) post on the View from the Hill blog? http://suehill.typepad.com/shrweblog/2010/11/this-is-a-place-of-work-not-a-discotheque.html

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Comment by Emma Davidson

[…] vain, but I do believe that your clothes can be used to convey the impression that you desire.  A recent blog post by Emma Davidson also prompted great debate over whether jeans are suitable for work and do they […]

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Pingback by Clothes and (new) professionalism | Library Helen's Blog

[…] the part I’ve written before about my personal preference for a smarter kind of workplace attire, but was still surprised to […]

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Pingback by Things I’ve been reading – October 2012 « Libraries, the universe and everything

I came across this post because you linked to mine about dressing the part. I previously worked for a law firm which meant lots of black trousers and professional attire. My one indulgence grew to be goofy socks. It was, for the most part, something that few people saw and still allowed me to let a little of my personality shine through.

The day I got confused for a school librarian, I was wearing khakis and a professional sweater. I just happened to still be indulging my goofy side with my socks. I didn’t realize until that point how much something as small as socks might make an impact on someone’s impression of me.

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Comment by indie librarian

Hi, thanks for commenting. And wow, I know I’ve got some views on the whole dress thing but I never thought that socks would be such a big deal! I guess I’ve always thought of socks as in the same category as jewellery and other accessories – a minor detail that can potentially tell you a fair bit about the person concerned, but not something entirely definitive…

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Comment by Emma Davidson




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