Dress to Impress: Why Your Attire Matters

Fact: People judge others based on their physical appearance.

Think about it, how someone chooses to dress is usually one of the first things you notice about them.

Appearances matter. Your clothing and how you choose to dress will be a big part of your appearance, and hence a big part of how people percieve you, and look at you.

This is especially true in the professional world. Professionals need to know how they should dress and how they should look in a working environment, as it could have a big bearing on how a job interview goes, or if they’re considered for a promotion, for instance.

We all got that office story where we unintentionally screwed up, haven’t we! Mine goes something like this:

I missed out on a big promotion a few years back in the office I used to work in, despite being well-qualified and heavily-favoured for the position. It was not until much later that I found out it was because of the way I used to dress, which, according to several members in the promotion committee, was ‘just too casual!’

Safe to say, it came as a big shock to me, and was probably the turning point in my life as far as how I chose to dress was concerned.

This article by Neil Patel from QuickSprout discusses his little ‘social experiement’ on how people percieve each others based on the way they dress. It makes for a very interesting read.

As one comment in that article notes, “you are what you dress.” Couldn’t have put it better myself!


Appearances, and reasons why ‘dress for success’ matters

1. Starting from the most-obvious of reasons: dressing for success portrays a positive image. Your appearance is one of the most basic things that you can change about yourself. If you look professional, well-dressed, or dressed according to the occasion, you’ll come across as someone who’s well-groomed, is capable of doing a job, professional enough to understand what is necessary for success, and has a good personality as well.

2. It leaves a great first impression on the people you meet. First impressions are everything, and as the saying goes, ‘the first impression is the last impression’. In order to leave a lasting impression on someone, you need to dress appropriately and according to the occasion.

3. You immediately gain an edge over the others. A well-dressed person tends to stand-out. If you’re well dressed for an interview, for instance, you will stand out in the crowd, and immediately attain an edge over the other people potential interviewees. According to studies, inappropriate dressing or grooming is behind 40% job rejections. Don’t be that guy who dresses like a chump and ends up getting rejected because of his appearance. A good suit, ironed trousers and a shirt, polished shoes and a good watch will go a long way when it comes to making an impression on others.

4. It shows that you prepared, and did your homework. Let’s consider the job interview example again: if you’re properly dressed (and we’ll get to that in just a bit), it shows the potential employer that you actually put in an effort in how you look, in your appearance, and it shows that you prepared properly.

5. There’s a ‘feel good’ factor associated with dressing well. Dressing professionally can make you feel better about yourself. It gives you more confidence. For instance if you dress up in a suit for instance, you project more confidence, which people will respond to positively.


How to dress to impress

The general rules for both men and women when it comes to attire have been well-summed-up in this article.

For men:

  • Suit up! Invest in a good, expensive suit, and keep it clean and essentially ready-to-go at al times. Standard black is usually your best bet, for day as well as the evenings. For formal-casual/business-casual, such as a corporate dinner or dinner with a client, it might be a good idea to invest in a good suit-coat or a blazer.
  • A white tee – you can’t go wrong with a white tee!
  • Clean shave – or a well-trimmed stuble if that works for you.
  • A long-sleeved shirt that matches well with the suit
  • A professional tie.
  • Coordinating sock color; no crazy colors or styles.
  • Professional, color-coordinated shoes – Once again, standard black works with everything.
  • Minimal jewelry (or how about none?) – a good analog wrist watch might be a good idea though.formally dressed man and woman
  • Well-groomed, professional haircut.
  • Aftershave and/or cologne.
  • Clean and trimmed fingernails.
  • A professional briefcase or portfolio – if you’re appearing for an interview, this is quote important. I’ve actually seen people carry printed sheets of their resume’s in their hands! Don’t make this mistake, put that resume in a bag or a portfolio.

For women:

  • A solid-colored, conservative suit that can easily be changed with a different color blouse. A good suit will come with a jacket, pants, and skirt. This makes the suit versatile.
  • A professional blouse that blends well with the suit. By blending we do not mean the same color, but it should be as professional as the suit and the color should coordinate well.
  • Professional shoes with a low heel.
  • A minimal amount of jewelry – classy and professional is the goal.
  • A well-groomed, professional hairstyle.
  • Skin-colored hosiery.
  • A minimal amount of make-up. You do not want anything that distracts the interviewer from the conversation. Your skills should stand out above anything.
  • Manicured fingernails and toenails with a conservative-colored polish.
  • A reasonable amount of perfume and try to avoid strong smelling lotions.
  • A professional briefcase or portfolio.

(Some more dress tips for men and women here)


Other considerations

  • For interviews, it is always a good idea to dress one step above what employees at that business wear to work.
  • Stick to the dress-code! It’s probably mentioned in your contract, but if it’s not (or isn’t explicit as to what you’re supposed to wear), it might be a good idea to send your contact in the HR department an email.
  • When you start working at a new place, use the first few days to observe what people usually wear.
  • Dressing professionally doesn’t only refer to your attire, your grooming and personal hygiene are also essential parts of your overall image. A good haircut, trimmed facial hair, trimmed finger-nails, clean face and hands, along with a light perfume and after-shave will immediately put a positive impression on the people you come across.
  • Some working environments allow their employees to dress casually, and wear what they want (Google comes to mind). Unless your job explicitly allow you to dress casually at work, don’t assume anything. It is still a good idea to dress formally for an interview; it could save you from the embarrassment of dressing too casually.
  • Interview pro-tip: An even better idea is to Google the company you’re interviewing for, or visit the official website, with the purpose of finding out what other people working there usually wear.
  • Keep your tees and jeans for casual Fridays.
  • If your work involves a lot of field-work, where you’re out in the sun for a long time for instance, dressing casually might be an option.
  • Watch what people wear on TV (think The Apprentice and Suits, for instance). Trust me, over the years, I’ve picked up a lot of pointers this way!
  • For remote workers or people who might telecommute or work from home, it is still a good idea to stick to the routine every day, and dress-up before starting work. It puts you in ‘work-mode’ from a mental-standpoint.


Over to you..

How do you dress for work? What dress and attire rules, if any, do you follow? Does your office allow you to dress casually? Woud you prefer working somewhere wehre the dress-code was formal-only or casual-only? And would something like this be a deal-breaker if you were looking for a job?

Do leave me your comments and thoughts below!

  • Robert Donat says:

    Matching a watch with an outfit can be as simple as one, two, three. But, it can also be nerve-wracking if you lack the basic knowledge to do it. Very useful & interesting tips. Thank you a lot!

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