DRESSING FOR THE JOB
There was a time when dressing for any white-collar job meant wearing “boardroom” attire, a crisp white shirt, dark suit, and dress shoes. Then, the age of the internet and 20-something CEOs made casual Friday the norm. Now that those 20-somethings are 30-somethings, has the standard changed?
Earlier this year, Daniel Davidson, 34, moved his family across the country for his wife’s new job. Looking for work himself, he went on several interviews in search of a position in Information Technology. He had spent the first part of his career with a company that he had been with since he graduated college. The internet boom had yet to change the way people dressed for work, and certainly had yet to change the standard dress for the interview process.
“I had several great interviews. I wore my dark suit with a simple tie and a white shirt. My wife buffed my dress shoes and I looked sharp, perhaps a little too sharp. I work in tech. The standard dress is very casual especially since I primarily do phone tech support. After a series of great interviews where the position was down to me and another, younger guy, I kept losing out. I really started to wonder if the suit made me seem old and out of touch. The next interview I had, I wore dress slacks, a white collared shirt, sweater, and a pair loafers. I landed that job. I can’t say that the way I dressed landed me the job, but it is the only thing that makes sense to me,” Daniel relayed to me in a phone interview.
“Dress for the job you want,
not the job you have.”
There is a famous quote from the 1997 movie Picture Perfect that goes, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Many people have taken this to mean the standard traditional “boardroom” dress; however, a survey by CareerBuilder showed that 67% of C-level and senior vice presidents regularly wear “business casual” to work. Of the two-thirds that wore business casual, 18% “regularly wear jeans or shorts.”
So, how do you know how to dress for the job you want without coming off as too old or too casual?
KNOW YOUR INDUSTRY
Whether you like it or not, your clothes and style help to define your place in your industry. People either consciously or unconsciously assign your place and ability based on how you dress.
In order to dress for success while still maintaining industry standards can be difficult. Sylvie di Giusto is an image consultant based in New York City. Her book, The Image of Leadership: How Leaders Package Themselves to Stand Out for the Right Reasons, outlines five levels of dress that she utilizes with her clients.
Sylvie di Giusto, author, on Lead or Be Led.
Her basic rule of thumb is to establish the baseline dress code for your industry, then dress at that level or the one above. Dressing one level higher can help you rise through the ranks; however, she warns that dressing two or more levels up can work at a disadvantage.
Wearing a three-piece suit in a tech position where you answer the phone all day and do not have any interaction with clients would be considered out of place and possibly make you seem out of touch.
SYLVIE DI GIUSTO’S 5 LEVEL DRESS CODE
- Level 5 Baseline Casual: a clean, crisp, fitted t-shirt or collared shirt paired with dark denim jeans, and a pair of new, tasteful sneakers or sandals.
- Level 4 Mainstream Casual: color and patterned collared shirts and sweaters, slacks, corduroys, knee length skirt, relaxed, but elegant shoes.
- Level 3 Executive Casual: brightly colored shirts and ties, a blazer or sportcoat, dress pants, loafers or closed toe shoes.
- Level 2 Traditional Business Attire: traditionally patterned shirts, ties, and suits paired with oxfords. For women, high necklines and tights, however, the suits can be brightly colored.
- Level 1 Boardroom Attire: crisp white shirt, modest tie, high quality accessories, dark charcoal gray or navy blue suit, with black oxfords. For women, black high heels and black tights.
If you are unsure which level is most appropriate for your industry, assign a level to your direct boss, then their boss. If still in doubt, use Sylvie’s basic rule of thumb she shared with Business Insider, "the more you deal with a client's money, the more traditional and conservative you should be dressed.” Industries like finance, real estate, accounting, and law typically dress at Level 2 traditional business attire. However depending on where you are located, you might need to dress at Level 1 or Level 3.
Los Angeles is a city known for its creative industry. Although, downtown Los Angeles was known as the finance hub in the city for the better part of two decades. In recent years, there has been a boom of tech companies moving to the downtown area. Real Estate agents have needed to adjust their attire to accommodate the new sector. Previously, they dressed between Level 1 and 2 for their finance clients, “I bought a new wardrobe after a potential client told me that I was too slick for his taste. Five years ago, I couldn’t land a client without wearing a suit and a Rolex. Now, these tech companies don’t see my Rolex as a success symbol. They see it as an emblem that my percentage is too high,” said a broker who chose to remain anonymous.
“I bought a new wardrobe after a potential client told me that I was too slick for his taste."
“Over the years, I’ve learned it’s better to craft the way others are going to perceive you rather than to sit back and hope it’s going to be in a great way. You have to package yourself in a way that represents your product in the best possible way,” says Sylvie di Giusto.
FOUR TIPS TO CONSIDER
Make sure all of your clothes and accessories fit your body type. An off the rack suit taken to a tailor can save you money and make you look like a million bucks. Etiquette coach Barbara Pachter told Executive Style, “If your clothes are too big or too small, they are not going to look good. Ensuring a proper fit applies to everything you are wearing,” says Pachter. “One interviewer said he was distracted by a man's short tie.”
A visit to the barber or a hair stylist on a minimum monthly basis should be worked into your budget and calendar. If you have facial hair, it should not overtake your face and needs to be well-groomed. Ladies, if you wear nail polish, it needs to be fresh. Chipped nail polish is a sign that you could not be bothered to take it off. So if you are one of those ladies, either stop wearing nail polish or be more attentive to your nails.
Your watch is the most noticed accessory on men and women. If you wear a watch, this is an item that will make or break the way people perceive you. The Los Angeles broker was able to land clients with his Rolex, but in a different sector he lost clients. Know that people are looking and it might be the deal breaker.
Learn how to wear perfume or cologne. Powerful perfumes were used to hide body odor in previous centuries prior to indoor plumbing. It’s the 21st Century and most people shower or bathe daily, so go light on the fragrance. Having a scent that lingers is not a good thing. No one should walk into an elevator and know you were recently in it.
EVERY JOB HAS A DRESS CODE
Most companies have a dress code policy that you can read, but others leave you to figure it out. If you think your company does not have a dress code, then let me share this with you.
Professional and college athletes all wear the same uniform on the field. But, did you know that even these teams have a dress code? When the team travels to a venue, you should notice that the players wear suits.
Some players add more personal flair to their outfit, but that usually aligns with their skill level and position within the team. The players with endorsement deals can wear nearly any color suit and accessorize any way they like because they have earned it. You’ll notice that the players that usually sit on the bench normally wear a standard traditional business suit.
Mark Zuckerberg and his hoodie made way for casual attire in the workplace. However, unless you have achieved the success of a billion dollar company or that of a superstar athlete, put away the hoodie, graphic t-shirt, and cheap jeans.
Use these guidelines to define and represent your personal brand.
About Simon Johns
Simon Johns was glued to the television watching old black and white movies as a kid. He’d run around the house pretending to be a reporter with a piece of paper tucked into his hat. Simon’s mom bought him a Remington 5 when he was 12. If you hear a typewriter at your local coffee shop, Simon asks that you refrain from breaking his concentration. Creative types, am I right?