In the 1970s dressing for success meant wearing a blue or gray suit and a “power” tie or scarf, and maintaining a short, conservative hairstyle. Some bold trail blazers added a lightly colored blouse or shirt. Many found such prescriptions stifling, but most simply conformed and looked forward to casual Fridays, which, if they occurred at all, were often sanctioned only one Friday per month.
In August of 2012, Bobak Ferdowsi, a young engineer sporting a red and black Mohawk haircut, came to the notice of the public, and President Obama, as he was seen helping to guide the rover Curiosity on the surface of Mars. The Mohawk Guy, as the President dubbed him, is symbolic of just how drastically workplace norms of dress and personal style have changed.
While the transformation has opened the door to expressions of what many consider their authentic selves, the workplace is still not an environment where anything goes. Now every business entity has its style, ranging from traditional suits to jeans and t-shirts, and few have written dress codes. Determining what is appropriate style-wise in your organization is no longer simple. Want to learn more about the relevance and importance of professional presence? Thousands of people have experienced our Professional Presence in a Casual World program.
In a recent CareerBuilder.com survey, of 2,765 employers, 41 percent said that people who dress better or more professionally tend to be promoted more often than others in their organization. A 2009 survey of more than 500 HR professionals conducted by Harris Interactive found that 84% of respondents agree that well-groomed employees climb the corporate ladder faster than those who are not well-groomed. The fact remains that a professional appearance matters.
If your company doesn’t have any kind of dress code you can set your own parameters by observation and assure the professionalism of your appearance by paying attention to detail.
- Dress for the position that you aspire to, rather than emulating your peers. This piece of advice is as old as the hills, but is more relevant now than whenever it was first offered. Observation of higher-ups will tell you just how traditional or casual your workplace is.
- Wear clothes that fit properly and whose cut is flattering to your body type, which might mean spending more for clothing items than you’re used to, but it is worth the investment. If your budget allows for a limited number of good items, choose colors and styles that can be mixed and matched. If you are hard to fit, consider having a tailor make adjustments.
- Even if your workplace is very casual, make sure that your clothes and shoes are always clean and crisp. Iron cottons and linens, polish shoes, replace worn heels, and save your favorite faded blouse or shirt for wearing at home.
- Keep hairstyles trimmed and neat, that includes facial hair for men who wear it.
- Women, wearing makeup or not, is a personal choice, but when making that choice be aware that it is a factor in success in the workplace. According to a 2010 study by the American Economic Review, “Women who wear makeup earn up to 30 percent more than those who ‘can’t be bothered’.” If you wear makeup, have a light touch, strive for a natural look, with warm neutral colors.
- Express yourself within the parameters that are appropriate to your workplace. A professional image doesn’t have to be bland. Be creative in your choice of accessories and colors in building your business wardrobe. Adding some unique pieces that let your personality shine through will lift your spirits and distinguish you from the crowd.
Your appearance visually communicates information about you to your co-workers, clients, and superiors. Take advantage of the opportunity to radiate confidence and creativity with a well-put-together professional image.