With retail stores closing and “athleisure” becoming the clothing of choice, it’s easy to think that how you dress for business really doesn’t matter any more.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Because the psychology behind business clothes hasn’t changed since the Renaissance; people have just gotten sloppy, and their small paychecks, low self-esteem, and slow career growth tell the tale.
Want to step to the front of the line and be seen as a woman of wealth and power?
Then don’t follow the crowd.
Because they’re going the wrong way.
Yes, they may be comfortable, but here’s an alarming statistic:
Human Resources professionals say that 95% of people dress incorrectly for their jobs.
Ninety five percent!
Which means, just by dressing correctly, you can stand out from the crowd.
Combine a polished look with a great skill set, and you can literally write your own paycheck.
So how do you do it?
By not making the most common mistakes women make with their business attire, including:
1. Putting Comfort over Credibility
Casual wear advocates say that dressing comfortably makes them more productive.
In fact, research shows the exact opposite: casual clothes lead to casual behavior, which leads to more tolerance for things like sloppy work and missed deadlines.
How can you build a great reputation on sloppy work and missed deadlines?
You build it on excellence…which comes from being authoritative, trustworthy, and competent.
All things people say they feel when they dress formally, according to research.
Because how you dress determines how you act.
So if you dress sloppily, that’s how you’ll act. If you dress with care, that’s how you act.
It’s not rocket science.
It’s just not popular right now.
Had enough of mediocrity in your workplace or industry?
Look at how people dress.
Then do the opposite…and see what happens.
2. Not Understanding the Purpose of Business Wear
We sleep in pajamas, swim in bathing suits, exercise in workout gear, and wear cocktail attire to parties, because specific types clothes are worn for specific types of activities.
So why then do so many people wear the same clothes to work that they do to the movies, church, a walk in the park, dinner with friends, etc.? Why are they not changing for various activities?
Is it because they’re too poor to afford anything else?
Because that used to be the only reason people wore the same clothes all the time: they couldn’t afford other clothes. It was a sign of low income and little education.
It still is.
Business wear has a specific purpose: to conduct business.
It reflects the serious nature of the matter and honors it with proper clothes.
Ever wonder why some industries still wear traditional business suits, like banking, law, and politics?
It’s because when money, laws, and people’s lives are at stake, you need to be taken seriously.
A business suit says you mean business.
Anything else says you don’t.
So when people report to work in sweats, shorts, club wear, etc., when they don’t work in industries that require those types of clothes, they’re saying they don’t understand what’s required.
Which means their education is lacking.
Which is probably one of the reasons they don’t get promoted.
Because people in positions of power and authority know what’s required. They learned it and use it every day.
People without power or authority don’t.
They just sit around and wonder why everyone else gets “all the breaks.”
Want to create your own breaks?
3. Not Knowing What’s Appropriate For Their Industry
While business suits “mean business”, they can be overpowering and are not appropriate for every industry.
But that doesn’t mean you should abandon them entirely.
No, it means that you need to borrow the elements that are appropriate for your industry – like straight lines or firm fabrics – and adapt them for your needs.
Fortunately, most industries have already done this. They’ve designated their own “uniform.”
It can be an actual uniform, like in medicine or the military, or an unspoken uniform, like in traditional business.
Unfortunately, the “unspoken” part is where people get into trouble.
Because when you don’t talk about things or write them down, it leads to all sorts of interpretations.
Like flip flops or tank tops or strapless dresses.
Or Goth or biker or the latest fad.
Or any attire that doesn’t reflect the serious nature of business, or your brand or business in particular.
I’ve had managers try to tell me that, “It’s none of my business how people dress for work.”
If you’re paying them to work for you, then you’re paying them to represent your business. You have every right to tell them how to dress while they’re on the clock, so long as it follows generally accepted guidelines.
Hospitals tell their employees how to dress.
So does the military.
So does McDonald’s.
They determined their industry uniforms long ago. They know exactly which clothes get the response they want – like authority, cleanliness, or power – and they insist that their employees follow it to the letter. It’s why they’re all billion-dollar industries.
But if you don’t know your industry uniform and you just wear the latest trend or fad or whatever strikes your fancy, not only are you leaving money on the table, you’re telling everyone you don’t know your industry uniform.
That your education is lacking.
Which is probably not the message you want to send.
4. Not Knowing What’s Appropriate For Their Position
Housekeepers and executives dress differently. So do accountants and sales staff.
They may all work in the same industry – like hospitality – but the clothing requirements of their jobs may vary wildly.
If they’re dressed appropriately, you’ll know what they do at a glance.
If they’re not, you may mistake one for another.
Raise your hand if you want people to look at you and think “housekeeper.”
It’s an honorable job and tough work, but it’s a common skill set and pays poorly – which is why it’s a starter job for most people, like stocking shelves or flipping burgers.
Once people increase their skills and advance out of low-paying jobs, they usually don’t want to be treated like they still have them, because most low paid people are overlooked and ignored.
Which is part of our culture, unfortunately.
We tend to think in terms of hierarchy and have since ancient times. Those at the bottom get the lowest wages and least respect, while those at the top get the highest wages and most respect.
How do we know the difference between them?
By how they look, act, and speak.
So if you have your eye on the corner office but dress like everyone in the administrative pool, you’re dressing for the wrong job.
If you’re a PhD but still dress like a grad student, you’re not getting the full respect of your degree.
Want to work with a high end crowd but still dress like you shop discount? Good luck with that.
Because people treat you how you treat yourself.
So if you’re dressing for a position lower on the hierarchy than where you are or where you want to be, you’re working too hard.
But if you package yourself correctly for your position, you’ll be shocked by how quickly you’ll achieve your goals.
5. Ill-Fitting Clothes
Your clothes should fit you correctly.
Shoulder and bust seams should hit at the right spot, as should cuffs and hems.
Nothing too long, too short, too tight, or too loose.
To quote Goldilocks, it should be, “Just right.”
Which, admittedly, is hard to do with clothes you buy off the rack.
Because most clothing manufacturers make clothes for women who are 5’4” – 5’8” and size 4 to size 12.
If you fall outside those parameters – or have something unusual like long legs, short arms, or a big bust – then you’re going to have trouble finding clothes.
But you already know that.
So what’s a girl to do?
Find a tailor. Or have your clothes custom made.
Yes, it’s more expensive. Yes it takes more time.
But the fit will be perfect, and you’ll feel like a princess in clothes that fit you like a glove.
Sloppy clothes suggests that you’re not into details.
But clothes that fit you perfectly?
They say that you pay attention to the little things, and that you’re worth it.
Because you are.
6. Wearing the Wrong Colors
Color psychologists say that dark and neutral colors work best for traditional businesses, while lighter and brighter colors work better for people-oriented businesses.
You can see this just by watching the news. Not only do male news anchors usually wear dark colors, the people they report on – like business people and politicians – usually stick with dark colors as well.
That’s because dark colors are somber and set the tone for serious business.
But not all businesses require that.
That’s why you’ll find people wearing light colors at places like pre-schools, amusement parks, and refreshments stands – wherever the mood is jolly or light.
I’ve talked about color before so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I will say that using color effectively is one of the easiest ways to get what you want – just as using it ineffectively may stall things indefinitely.
So wear the right colors for work. You’ll be delighted with the results.
7. Wearing the Wrong Accessories
Business accessories, like business clothing, help set the tone for the business interaction.
So they should be in the same mood as your clothing, polish the outfit, and be of good quality.
They should never distract from the business at hand.
I once worked with a woman who LOVED beautiful shoes. She’d wear simple suits in dark or neutral colors, then pair them with beautiful pumps, slingbacks, and d’Orsay styles in beautiful colors and patterns. The shoes were always work appropriate, and they always complimented her ensembles. She became “known” for her beautiful shoes.
A few years later, I worked with another woman who described herself as a “rebel.” She’d wear t-shirts and jeans to work, and pair them with kids’ accessories, like a Disney princess necklace or a “Hello Kitty” handbag. She thought she looked cute and original. Instead, she looked silly and childish.
Don’t do that.
Use accessories that compliment your ensembles and help set the tone for the business at hand.
Anything less is a disservice.
8. Outdated Grooming
You know how the fashion industry puts on runway shows twice a year to show the latest trends?
They also show the latest hair and makeup styles then, too.
I mention this, because updated hair and grooming seems to elude many women “of a certain age.”
They’ll sport the latest fashion trends from the neck down, yet stick with the same hair and makeup styles they’ve worn since high school.
Don’t do that.
Times have changed. So have hair and makeup styles.
If you want to look younger and more vibrant, you need to look more current.
So head on over to YouTube for some ideas.
Here are some great channels for women over 40:
Hair, Skin Care, and Makeup For Women in the Public Eye
Skin Care and Makeup
Sugar Puff and Fluff
The Hip Chick Online
Once you’re looking more current, you’ll be delighted with the attention you get.
9. Dressing Inconsistently
Business wear one day, casual the next, club wear the day after that – if you’re inconsistent with your business attire, it makes people think you’re inconsistent with your work.
You don’t want that.
So what’s the easiest way to dress consistently?
Wear a personal uniform.
Once you determine the best clothes for your industry and position, create a uniform of sorts that you can wear every day. It doesn’t have to be the exact same clothes everyday, but if you have some consistency to the style and pieces you wear regularly, it will do two things:
*Make getting dressed in the morning a snap, because you already know what you’re going to wear.
*Allow you to be seen as consistent in your dress as you are you work.
People like consistency because they know what to expect.
10. Use Status Symbols Incorrectly
People have been using status symbols to move up the social hierarchy since ancient times.
As with anything, there are good ways and bad ways to go about it.
Two of the worst include:
1. Using Counterfeit Goods
Yes, they’re cheaper than the real thing.
But they’re also infringing on the owner’s copyright.
Not only that, if you follow the money trail, you’ll see those counterfeit goods typically lead back to two groups: human traffickers, and terrorist organizations.
It’s bad enough that they’re stealing big brands’ designs. But they’re also stealing peoples’ lives.
Don’t support that – no matter how good a deal it seems.
It will only tarnish your image.
2. Spending More Than You Can Afford
Think the cost of that Louis Vuitton bag is between you and your credit card?
When you go into debt to flaunt luxury goods you can’t possibly afford on your salary, it doesn’t say that you have a secret source of wealth; it says that you don’t know how to handle money.
Which is precisely why many companies who make mid and executive-level hires often do credit checks on their job candidates. They want to see how potential hires manage their personal finances – particularly if their new job would require them to handle or oversee money.
If that scares you, then be more conservative with status symbols.
Wait until you’re making a high five or low six figure income before you splurge on a status handbag. Like to wear a lot of labels? Then wait until your income is in the mid six figures. That’s when you can conceivably afford them.
Again, wearing counterfeit items or pieces you can’t afford doesn’t help your image.
Only buy status items when you can afford to pay cash.
We’ve covered A LOT here.
Each one of these topics could be an article all its own.
The goal is to get you to think about your business wardrobe strategically.
Because most people seem to think that business wear doesn’t matter any more.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Remember, Human Resources professionals say that 95% of people dress incorrectly for their jobs, so don’t listen to the average Joe when it comes to clothes – he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Instead, model your wardrobe after people in your industry who have the kind of income and lifestyle you want.
Notice how I said in your industry.
Don’t dress like a celebrity unless you’re in the entertainment field.
You need clothes that are right for your position and your industry – not someone else’s.
Once you upgrade your look and start wearing it regularly, you’ll be shocked by how quickly things start to change in your life.
Because once you become part of the 5% who knows how to dress correctly for their jobs, you stand out like a rare unicorn and people start coming to you.
You have to see it to believe it.
Ready to step to the front of the line?
Diana Pemberton-Sikes is an image coach who helps women upgrade their careers by upgrading their image. Ready to get the attention, respect, and income you deserve? Business Wear Magic can help you reach your goals.