Dress For Success:
What your outfit could be saying about you...
With more and more computer programmers and technical support individuals entering into large law and accounting firms, dressing seems to have taken a turn. While article after article has been published discussing the return of formal business dressing, the talk within the industry is completely the opposite. Lawyers appear to be dressing more casually when they do not have to be in court, and some accountants choose cords over dress pants. Even though trends do dictate what is appropriate office attire, I still believe in the saying, "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have."
John T. Molloy wrote a widely referred to and successful book entitled, New Women's Dress For Success. While the styles, fabrics and colours, which he deemed acceptable office attire have changed a little, the main message and idea behind the book is still accurate. Women need to step up the way they dress, as so much of how they are perceived is based on their appearance. It takes less than one second to make a first impression, often before a word is spoken. However unfair, knowing this should only encourage us as women to dress appropriately.
The one thing that I hear a lot from my clients, especially lawyers and accountants, is that they work predominantly around men, and therefore do not like to stand out. It seems that women who are surrounded by men on a daily basis have become aware of the fact that it is easier for them to be taken seriously when they are dressed similar to the men they work with. With the entry or emergence of the "gender bender" theme into women's wear, women are feeling more comfortable in classic tailored suits in black, navy, grey, and brown. As a side note, the darker, more conservative colours are considered to be traditionally male business colours and exert professionalism. These classic coloured suits with cuffed bottoms allow women to feel like a part of "the pack." The feminine and more form-fitted tailoring keeps them looking conservative, yet trendy.
With women's wear changing season to season, it is hard for women to stay in tune with the latest trends while still maintaining their professional edge. For instance, this fall season there is a return to conservative dressing, with black and brown mixed with some jewel tone colours, and herringbone and tweed fabrics. These rich looking fabrics give off a sophisticated and conservative vibe that will help women climb the corporate ladder. So by all means, incorporate some of the season's trends into your wardrobe, but heed a warning to add in moderation; try an accessory to lift a tired looking suit, or a new blouse in one of the season's hottest colours. The key is to look updated and fresh.
Many women struggle with the issue of whether it is more appropriate to wear a skirt or pants in the office. Most women lawyers choose to wear skirts when they appear in court, while many accountants, advertising executives, real estate agents, and stock brokers feel more comfortable in pants when working with their clients. Surveys have indicated that men respond more positively in a professional sense to female colleagues wearing wide leg pants rather than form fitting pants. Pants that are designed for business wear should fit at the waist and fall straight from the hips. The newly re-introduced wider leg has the appearance of a man's suiting pant, so men are more receptive to women wearing them, and women are being seen as more powerful and professional. If you feel more comfortable in a skirt, then the length of your skirt should fall no shorter than at the top of your knee. Miniskirts are NOT appropriate office attire.
Another important step in dressing for success is what you place underneath your suits. The blouse or sweater that you wear is as important as the suit you choose to wear it with. Blouses are always a safe bet especially when a crisp blouse, in white or blue, is paired with any dark rich fabric suit. Prints have been working their way into women's wear but many executives are choosing to remain conservative. More and more sweaters are replacing the blouse in brighter colours like pink, red, blue, and green. When choosing a sweater, turtlenecks, higher round necks, and a higher v-neck are always a good choice. No plunging necklines or cleavage at the office. They send out the wrong message to your male co-workers. The idea is to look professional and put-together and not look overtly sexy; your fellow females will perceive and resent your using sex to climb the corporate ladder.
Rule of thumb when dressing for success: try and choose fabrics that are rich looking in colour and in texture. Pick a suit that you feel good in and your confidence will come shining through. And when in doubt, dress as your boss dresses. If he or she always wears a jacket to work, then you should do the same. You will look more professional and put together in a pair of slacks and a mix-and-match jacket. By following their lead, I guarantee they are more likely to notice you, especially when your fellow co-workers show up to work in jeans and a t-shirt. ¤ Erin