Sometime in the last 20 years as business professionals, we have gone from paying a dollar to a local charity to wear jeans on Friday, to business casual being the norm. Ther is a wide definition of what is considered business casual. Is it dressing jeans up with dress shoes and a jacket? For men, is it slacks and an open-collared shirt? What about the golf shirt and khakis? Ladies, our business casual options have always been a little wonky. I guess a most basic example would be slacks and a sweater, or blouse with no jacket, and flat shoes.
There are those in the up-and-coming generation of professionals who say it doesn’t matter what you wear, you should be judged on your work. While it’s a good thought, let’s face it, the rule of thumb around first impressions is in our human nature. They are lasting, and like it or not begin to form our opinion of a person. There have been studies done to support what I recently tested on my own.
The first three days of the workweek, I dressed business casual. One of the days was a blue jean day at work, so I took full advantage of the option. Every day, I went to work, out to lunch encountered salespeople in shops. It was ok. No one was rude to me, but I definitely got a few looks. The last two days of the week, I dressed in typical business attire. When I wore slacks, I did so with a button blouse, jacket, and a slight heel. My hair and make-up were a little more put together.
I went through my same routine, out to lunch, the same route from the garage to my office, etc. There was a notable difference in the way people (even co-workers) addressed me, looked at me, and interacted. Elevator doors were held, other people walking into the building commented on my outfit or purse. There was a higher level of respect offered. The friendly lady at the sandwich shop even asked if I’d gotten a promotion.
When I started my career, dressing for success, and dressing for the position you were working toward was very much part of the professional culture. Depending on where you work, there may still be something to that. To be honest, I sort of miss it. It was easier to know what was appropriate to wear. I owned 4 or 5 skirt suits and 3 or 4 pantsuits. Blouses in several styles and colors, and pumps in navy, black, and grey.
I’m not saying judging people by what they wear is right, but our clothes make a statement about ourselves. What we wear sends a message to those we come in contact with. This may even provide us the opportunity to learn something of the other person’s situation; to elicit sympathy or compassion. Most of the time, someone who is well put together, be it business casual, Saturday casual(which in my book may or may not include lipstick or makeup), or professionally dressed has taken time to care about how they look.
Taking time to dress neatly and appropriately for the activity boosts confidence and comfort in a situation. You send the message, “I am here, and I am ready.” Dressing appropriately for the situation is a sign of respect to the person in charge, or of the person who invited you.