Woman in pajamas
Photo courtesy VariantK.com

The other morning, I saw a woman at a coffee shop…dressed in pajamas. Later, I saw people at the grocery store…dressed in workout clothes. That night, I saw a woman go into a nice restaurant for dinner…dressed in yoga pants.

Yes, I get that relaxed clothes are comfortable. Yes, I get that “most people” dress down these days.

But here’s the part of the equation everyone seems to have forgotten, the part that got lost back in the 1990’s when “Casual Friday” quickly gave way to “Casual Everyday” and people stopped bothering to dress: they forfeited the power of clothes.

The colors that command attention. The fabrics that convey gravitas. The styles that demand respect.

They threw it all away for expandable waistlines and no-iron clothes…right along with their status and credibility.

That’s what I was thinking the other day as I stood in line at the pharmacy. There were a dozen people there of varying incomes, yet they all dressed exactly the same: sloppily. The only discernible difference between them was their grooming and accessories.

My, how far we’ve fallen.

Here’s what the upper and middle classes called casual back in the 1930’s:

It Happened One NightClark Gable and Claudette Colbert in
It Happened One Night (1934)

Here’s what it looked like in the 1950’s:

I Love LucyLucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
I Love Lucy (1955)

By the 1980’s, standards had started to slip, but casual still meant pulled-together:

Full House

The cast of Full House (1989)

That’s how the upper and middle classes dressed for most of the last century.

But the lower class was distinctly different – few trends, poor fit, durable fabrics.  They couldn’t afford to keep up with fashion, so this is how they dressed in the late 1980’s:

The Cast of RosanneThe cast of Rosanne (1989)

Look at the difference between the Tanners and the Conners.  The difference in income is obvious because expensive, fashionable clothes have been a hallmark of status and wealth for millennia.

Now compare the Conners’ clothes to any group of people you encounter today.

CrowdCrowd, 2014

See what happened?

By “dressing down” – by putting comfort first – in a single generation, most people now dress like they’re lower middle class in cheap, poorly-fitting clothes. Even the people who have money. Or advanced degrees. Or who travel the world.

They dress exactly the same as everyone else.

And they don’t even realize it.

Which means they clearly don’t understand just HOW MUCH it’s costing them to put comfort first.

So what’s the impact?

1. Income

Human resource professionals say that 95% of people dress incorrectly for their jobs, and “business casual” is the biggest reason why. When you focus on the “casual” and completely ignore the “business” part of it, when you’re more concerned about “what you can get away with” than dressing appropriately for your position, people notice. Particularly managers. Not knowing how to dress correctly is one of the biggest reasons people aren’t hired or promoted.

2. Respect

When you wear clothes that command respect – like dark colors, firm fabrics, and strong details – you tend to get it. Which is why world leaders, the clergy, and the military all wear those elements. When you wear clothes that are sloppy or non-descript? Not so much. How can you be totally awesome if there’s nothing awe-inspiring about how you look?

3. Credibility

If you say you’re an accountant but dress like the receptionist, people will question your skill set. If you say you’re the music teacher but dress like a linebacker, your students won’t pay attention. In fact, if you say you’re anything but don’t dress like it, people will assume you don’t know what you’re doing and won’t give you the time of day. Because if you don’t even know how to dress for your own job, then clearly, you’re not top tier.

4. Weight

As politically incorrect as it is to say so, it’s no coincidence that obesity rates skyrocketed once sloppy clothes became the norm. When you don’t have to deal with binding jackets and cutting waistlines, a few extra pounds here and there aren’t really noticeable…until suddenly one day you notice that you can’t bend over to tie your shoes or climb the stairs without getting winded. Overweight means “poor health” to most employers; combine that with the old “fat and lazy” stigma, and you’ve got tens of millions of overweight people who aren’t getting the jobs, promotions, or incomes for which they’re qualified, simply because of their weight.

5. Self Esteem

All four of the previous factors contribute to poor self esteem. When people ignore you or treat you like a second class citizen, you begin to feel that way. I know, because I’ve been there – and it’s not pleasant. People are meaner to you; they expect more and give less. They step in front of you. They’re rude. They make you feel even worse about yourself.

But when you’re the beautifully dressed “golden child?” When they regard your skills with awe? MUCH better. They treat you like royalty and overlook your mistakes. They give you “first dibs.” They vie for your attention. The difference is literally night and day.

And that, in a nutshell, is the biggest cost of dressing down: settling.

Because when you put comfort before all else – when you lower your standards – then you have to settle for what comfort gives you. Which isn’t much, unfortunately. Not the best jobs or the highest incomes. Not the attention and respect you deserve. NOT the first class life. You have settle for second best…or less.

Because nobody ever changed the world sitting in their comfort zone.

You have to go outside it.

Just ask anyone who’s built a first class life.

A-listers aren’t sloppy. They can’t afford to be. They have to work hard to stay at the top of their game, and they’re not going to throw it all away by dressing like a slob.

There’s a video of David Beckham making three perfect soccer shots while fooling around between takes on a Pepsi commercial. He doesn’t hem and haw, he just does it – much to the delight of the camera crew.  Notice how his version of “casual attire” includes firm fabrics and a collar.  He’s awe-inspiring from head to toe.

How many hours has he spent on the soccer field? How many times has he kicked a soccer ball? How many times did he stay late – long after everyone else had gone home – perfecting that shot?

Researchers say that it takes a 1,000 hours to become proficient at something and 5,000 hours to master it. So David Beckham mastered soccer, and then became an international superstar because of his good looks and sartorial savvy. He didn’t say, “I’m a great soccer play, hire me.” No, he played soccer at the very highest levels, and then continued to dazzle off the field to the point where potential employers came to him – including soccer teams, fashion designers, and dozens of other companies who wanted to be associated with him.

So…how many hours have you spent honing your craft? Are you a master? Are you among the best in the world?

If so, do you dress like it?

Or have you settled for a second-class life because you prefer comfortable clothes?

If so, don’t.

Don’t become a casualty of our “dressing down” society. Don’t allow an expandable waistline to kill your hopes and dreams. Don’t settle.

Step outside your comfort zone, dress better, and see what happens. I think you’ll be delightfully surprised.


Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton is an image consultant and author of Signature Style Blueprint, an ecourse that shows women to create a signature style that turns heads, makes them unforgettable, yet still gets them out of the door in a matter of minutes every day.


    44 replies to "The Staggering Cost of Dressing Down"

    • LornaMi

      Thanks! Great article that I had to share on Facebook. On top of everything, I DON’T want to see your funky pajamas, nor your stained saggy sweatpants. Show some mercy, people!

      • Diana

        Hi Lorna – glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the Facebook share!

    • Tasi

      Hi Diana,
      I’m so pleased that you addressed this issue because it’s real and ignored by too many. As a hiring manager, I saw the difference in how people are perceived by the way they dress. Professionally it makes a difference. Socially, you simple command more respect.You hit the nail on the head in every area. I hope your thoughts get wide circulation

      • Diana

        Hi Tasi – thanks! I’m happy to offer some “food for thought.” 😉

    • Ruth D. Bruno

      I agree and I shared your article on my face book page “IMAGES”. I have also been guilty of this but after combing through this article I will dress UP. Actually I love to dress up. Thank you for sharing. Sincerely, IMAGES Ruth D. Bruno

      • Diana

        Hi Ruth – Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for the Facebook share! Appreciate it!

    • Anonymous

      This is a fact, people in general have become too self centered an have forgotten they roles.
      It is now take me as I am and have forgotten they responsibility

      • Diana

        Sadly, this is true…

    • Idalie Danter

      Thank You. It was so good to read it. I have noticed lately that I have let go and dressed for comfort and of course all the above have happened, so this article came out just on time.

      • Diana

        Hi Idalie – glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, when you relax your standards, things tend to go downhill, fast…

    • donnaestelle

      This is simply the best .. and most relevant .. article you’ve written in the 5+ years I’ve subscribed to your excellent newsletter. Yes, Yes, and Yes to everything you wrote!! Dressing appropriately deeply affects one’s credibility and self-esteem at any stage of life. I am passionate about this topic, and thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

      • Diana

        Hi Donnaestelle – Glad you liked it! Yes, it makes SUCH a difference when you upgrade your image. As I said in the article, it’s literally night and day.

    • norma

      Amen! Casual day at the office has become routine attire and casual day has become attire I would not like to answer the door at home in if at all possible and would wear for only the grubbiest jobs at home.

      • Diana

        Hi Norma – I agree. When I see professionals reporting to work in clothes I’d be ashamed to clean the house in, you know something is very, VERY wrong.

    • Marion Maney

      Hi Diana, Before I was a stay at home mom for the last 20 years, I was extremely comfortable dressing professionally and appropriately. It has been very hard to know how to dress correctly while not being in the workforce. What makes a casual but solid image that can work as a mom? I keep buying clothes that are either too dressy or too ordinary so I am find myself frequently out of place. Just can’t seem to find that tasteful middle ground, with a classy edge that doesn’t scream “business” or “housewife” in NH. What brands can help save me at 55 in a suburban town? Any advice for those stuck in the middle who are not working anymore? Still can’t find my clothing voice after all this time at home. Drives me crazy since I mastered the executive look in my career and profited from it so well. Thanks for your insight for those of us stuck in the middle.

      • Diana

        Hi Marion, when putting together casual ensembles think “one crisp element.” It can be a crisp shirt with a collar, a crisp jacket, or a crisp skirt or pair of pants. If you keep the other elements soft – like a knit dress, or knit top and skirt, for example – and add a crisp jacket, it gives it a casual yet pulled-together look. Deborah Borland at Fabulous After 40 has some great casual looks for women over 40.

    • PJ

      Why is this message lost on so many people? I don’t get it – I see people wearing things in public that I wouldn’t go to the mail box in. Somehow it’s not getting out there…

      • Diana

        Hi PJ – I don’t think it’s as much lost as simply not taught anymore. We now have a whole generation of people who think “dressing up” means “the good jeans.” I remember listening to a 20-something fashion reporter go on and on recently about how “cute” is was for Prince William to match his white tie with Duchess Kate’s white evening gown, like they were going to prom together. I was mortified for her. Because what she clearly didn’t understand was that the Duke and Duchess were attending a state dinner – a white tie event – and William was following the formal dress code. That the reporter didn’t know that and the news editor didn’t catch is shows just how clueless we’ve become. That piece should never have hit the airways.

    • Zohra

      Great article Diana! I couldn’t agree more!

      • Diana

        Thanks, Zohra! Glad you enjoyed it!

    • Valeria Martin

      Your article is spot on. Several years ago, a photo was posted in the newpaper of a university women’s lacrosse team posing with President George W. Bush during their visit to Washington D.C. I was shocked because they were wearing flip flops. FLIP FLOPS IN THE WHITE HOUSE? The ugly rubber ones. Only one woman made the effort to dress nicely for the occasion. A few days later, an article appeared in the paper about their overly casual attire. And then a few days later, letters to the editor. Sadly, people could not understand what is so important about their attire. It was not big deal to them.

      Note to Marion Maney–I’m 53 and self-employed(an artist). I wear this cute demin skirt I ordered from L.L.Bean. It’s called 1912 skirt. It’s a classic style you can wear year after year. It skims the knees if you like showing off your legs. I’ve been wearing it all summer with flats and my cute black patent leather flip flops. When fall arrives and the weather cools I will try tights and boots. I plan to purchase another skirt. They come in several colors. That’s one item you can start with. Just a thought!

      • Diana

        Hi Valeria – glad you enjoyed the article! I do remember the uproar when the lacrosse team showed up in flip flops. It seems like SOMEONE, somewhere along the line should have inquired about a dress code. But apparently, it never made it on the radar.

        Thanks for helping Marion with your suggestions! Appreciate it!

    • LaWanna H.

      I’ve been saying this for years! I started working right out of high school in the late eighties. Thank goodness I had old fashioned teachers who stressed that dressing well got you more respect in the work place. I’ve also had wonderful mentors through the years. I currently work at a university and you would not believe what some of these young men and women think is okay to wear, especially to an early morning class. Then their families show up to graduation equally casual!

      • Diana

        Hi LaWanna – yes, dressing well makes a HUGE difference in how well you’re treated. I used to live across the street from a university and know EXACTLY what you’re talking about – it’s ridiculous how poorly some of these kids dress. Not surprisingly, college students were among the first to embrace the pajama trend. It’s lazy, unimaginative, and sets the bar ridiculously low…

    • Michele

      THANK YOU !!! THANK YOU !!!!! THANK YOU !!!!!!
      Not going to make some people I know happy but I had to share !!!!!!

      • Diana

        Hi Michele – glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for sharing! Appreciate it! No, it probably WON’T make some people happy. People really like their comfort zone.

    • Betty Hamline

      This issue has been brought to my attention recently. I go to church in an upper middle class church. I have gone there 12 years and never really gave it too much attention. I had started wearing nicer clothes every since I could afford them. There was a lot of years I could not afford to do so. I had began to start getting remarks from one of the “church leaders” over the seniors. He would make a remark about any place I had “messed” up in the clothing I wear. Periodically, I would but I tried my best. Anyway, I mentioned this to one of my friends. She told me to look at all the other people in the class. the number of the people in the class was around 35. She said she dressed the best she could afford…tried to look nice. However, look at the rest of the class. I have been so busy I have not did so. She said everyone in the class dressed extremely poor. They saved all their monies and used it for trips and all kinds of recreational activities. I was really shocked at what she said but I know it has to be true. I was in shock to find so many people are dressing “down” now. The seniors should be setting an example…the best they can. Of course, not everyone can afford hardly any clothes but those who have money are now “dressing down.” EEK!

      • Diana

        Hi Betty – dressing presentably doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. There are decent clothes at every price point, including at Walmart, Kmart, and the Salvation Army. All it takes is knowing which styles best suit your body and clothing personality, a good iron, and a determination to look good. The problem is, that’s WAY more work than most people are interested in. Sloppy is easy. Sloppy doesn’t require thought. That’s what happens when you lower your standards…

    • Linh

      Very interesting post! Can you do another one, or perhaps even a series on the cost or financial aspects of being clothed, well and not so well, throughout the past century?

      You say so yourself: “But the lower class was distinctly different – few trends, poor fit, durable fabrics. They couldn’t afford to keep up with fashion, so this is how they dressed in the late 1980?s”

      So how did people manage to dress well back then? And how do people manage to dress well today? And in between? I ask because while I am professional dressed for work, fit is generally pretty decent (not too tight, not too loose) I wouldn’t be called fashionable or stylish by a long shot. And in my personal life, much more casual. The thing is, I love the drape and weight of good fabrics but I’m not going to give up my financial stability (like saving for retirement) in order to keep up with Jones-es. Certainly you can buy cheaper clothes..but they look cheap, or they will after a few washes (by hand or machine). Clothing is a class signifier and I think I’d rather be thought of as poor and be rich, than to look rich and be poor. Because of that, I’ve been thinking in the past few months of getting some tailor made clothes instead of buying from the horribly overpriced shops in the mall.

      • Diana

        Hi Lihn,

        You don’t have to spend a lot of money to dress well – you just have to spend wisely. Getting tailor made clothes is certainly a start – for about the same as you paid for nice clothes at the mall – as is shopping consignment. Another trick? Go to the Goodwill or Salvation Army in the best part of town and have a look around – you’ll be shocked by what’s there.

    • Judy

      Food for thought! When I retired 15 years ago, jeans became my new uniform, I forgot to put some jewelry on (i.e. even earrings), I love yoga pants and t shirts, although I will dress up for the right situation. But after reading this post, I put on a comfortable casual skirt and top, a pair of earrings, decent shoes and went to my weekly sewing group. I felt great! Thanks for the kick in the pants to spiff things up a bit.

      • Diana

        Hi Judy – you’re welcome! It’s so, SO easy to get sloppy. But you’re treated so much better when you don’t…

    • Janet

      I talk with my daughters regularly about the importance of dressing for the job and life you want to live. In January 2013 following the November elections I had a wonderful teaching moment with them. ABC news did a story on the record number of female senators [you can see it here http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/us-female-senators-make-history-18128636%5D. I asked them to tell me what they noticed about these women. They immediately pointed out that most wore dark, solid colors, jackets, pumps and just a few accessories. They also were quick to point out that the women did not have visible tattoos, piercing, gauges or hair colors not found in nature. I also pointed out that these women were impeccably groomed. Young and old alike they looked like women ready to lead. Somehow I doubt I would have had the same reaction to a room full of women in flip flops and sweat pants.

      • Diana

        Hi Janet – success leaves clues. For men and women in power, it’s tailored clothes in dark colors with impeccable grooming. And no, those who dress sloppily would probably not notice that…

    • Frank

      ran across your article and read it through. It doesn’t just apply to women, but also to us guys. You are so correct in noting that our sloppiness has led to overweight. I remember when I used to “dress for success” and somewhere along the way stopped doing it. I’ve let myself go and it shows, unfortunately. I shared your writing on FB because I believe it is time for everyone to take back their identities and cease being part of the invisible masses that we’ve become. Thank you for an excellent “wake-up call!”

      • Diana

        Hi Frank – glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, it’s easy to get sloppy in sloppy clothes, unfortunately. Thanks for the Facebook share!

    • Sarah Liz

      Diana, I love this article – it is just so true. And yes, there are plenty of options for nice clothes in thrift shops – when I used to study, I could only afford thrift shop clothes. No one knew, and my thrifted wool blazer lasted me years – good clothes are actually economical. I still have white cotton shirts that are ten years old – classic quality always works.

      • Diana

        Hi Sarah,

        Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it! I, too, used to visit thrift and second hand stores in the best part of town, and came home with some amazing pieces. You don’t have to spend a lot to dress well – you just need to spend wisely. Thanks for sharing!

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for the the wise sentiments. However, I wonder, is good dressing all about the cost of clothes or what exacty is it about. Are poor people condemned to poor fashion and the rich to class and style? I believe style cuts across social classes, one can ooze style even in cheap clothing, what do you think? Cheap is relative though, what could be expensive to me is cheap to someone else.

      • Diana

        You can dress well on any budget – provided you know what to look for. I have seen women stop traffic in $40 worth of clothes from Walmart while others fade into the woodwork in $4,000 worth of designer apparel. It’s all in knowing what to do with what. True style knows no class lines.

    • Janet

      I am traveling on business today. At my convention location there are two hotels connected by a breezeway. I walked into the first hotel to check in and my heart sank. The desk clerks were dressed in jeans and t-shirts with tattoos running up and down their arms with horrible bleached blond hair. We quickly realized I was booked at the hotel next door. When I walked in at the second hotel I was thrilled to see the desk clerks dressed in navy blue skirts, blazers and crisp white shirts. First impressions matter and are very powerful. I also noticed that I was one of the few guests checking in that was wearing business causal. I saw lots of old jeans, tennis shoes and t-shirts advertizing everything from beer to favorite sports teams.

      • Diana

        Hi Janet – thanks for your story! Ah, yes – the power of first impressions. Your heart sank at that first hotel because you were wondering if those ragamuffins were going to be able to give you a good home-away-from-home experience. If that first contact has you worried, you know you’re going to find problem after problem once you get into the place. Navy blue and crisp white, however, engenders trust. That second hotel wants you to be comfortable there, which is what most hoteliers strive for – particularly if they want repeat business.

        As for the tattered jeans and slogan tee shirts, yes, it reiterates everything I’ve been preaching for years: you can stand out and get ahead easily just by dressing the part. It’s the fastest, easiest path to success these days.

    • Paula J

      Great article. One of the things that astounds me today is the way people dress for church. I saw a lady this summer in a halter top that left her back completely uncovered to her waist. On another occasion, a woman wore a dress which was obviously designed to have a cami underneath. We all need to assess our appearance from the standpoint of modesty when we appear in public.

      • Diana

        I agree, Paula. Houses of worship call for modest attire, yet some people don’t even consider this when dressing. More education is needed all around.

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