Dress for suc­cess

First im­pres­sions are still last­ing im­pres­sions

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

HAVE you heard the lat­est gossip? No, not gossip about the lat­est Hol­ly­wood ro­mance and/or the re­cent An­gela Jolie-Brad Pitt wed­ding.

Be­lieve it or not, the In­ter­net is abuzz with on­line gossip about what U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama wore dur­ing a re­cent for­eign-pol­icy press con­fer­ence. Re­ally, it’s true.

The U.S. pres­i­dent ap­pears to have sud­denly ven­tured away from his dark-coloured suits and in­stead chose to wear a sim­ple tan-coloured, tai­lored business suit, “breezy look­ing” as de­fined by one com­men­ta­tor.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, the change in colour style shocked the news at­ten­dees. Ob­vi­ously, they lost fo­cus, and in­stead of pay­ing at­ten­tion to the dire cir­cum­stances of the Rus­sian-Ukrainian con­flict and the pres­i­dent’s re­sponses, all the fo­cus was placed on what he wore. Com­ments ranged from suit from dad’s closet and sell­ing tor­nado in­surance to you can’t de­clare war in a suit like that. An ap­par­ent tongue-in-cheek com­ment sug­gested the tan suit was the “bold­est thing the pres­i­dent had done in months.”

So, it seems from th­ese quick and harsh com­ments the is­sue of dress for suc­cess is alive and well. Frankly, I’ve been ac­cus­tomed to read­ing cri­tiques on how the U.S. first lady Michelle Obama dresses, but this is the first time I’ve seen a cri­tique on male dress code. And the pres­i­dent yet.

The idea and the term “dress for suc­cess” orig­i­nated with a fa­mous au­thor named John Mal­lory. Mal­lory ini­tially par­tic­i­pated in a re­search pro­gram study­ing the ef­fect of teach­ers’ cloth­ing on class­room learn­ing. His con­clu­sions were cloth­ing sub­stan­tially im­pacted cred­i­bil­ity and au­thor­ity. He was then asked to work with law firms to teach them how cloth­ing can make them more cred­i­ble in court. Next, he worked with sales-based cor­po­ra­tions on how to use dress to in­crease sales. Over the next 25 years, Mal­lory wrote sev­eral books and be­came a syn­di­cated colum­nist. To­day, he con­tin­ues to speak and is a fre­quent In­ter­net blog­ger.

Over the years, as we all know, the pop­u­lar­ity of a dress-for-suc­cess mind­set has waned sig­nif­i­cantly. Although con­fus­ing to many em­ploy­ees, es­pe­cially women, business ca­sual and ca­sual have be­come the name of the game in many business sec­tors. Yet, it seems with this lat­est cri­tique of the pres­i­dent’s tan suit the mind­set is not quite as fully passé as I thought.

In fact, dress for suc­cess may be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a res­ur­rec­tion, es­pe­cially as a re­sult of re­cent mus­ings by au­thors such as Mal­colm Glad­well. His the­ory that peo­ple make sense of things re­ally quickly sug­gests all of us make snap judg­ments about what we see and hear. In other words, peo­ple con­tinue to make quick judg­ments about peo­ple they have just met, and this first im­pres­sion, or halo ef­fect, is hard to erase.

No mat­ter how we look at it, the first thing we see when we meet some­one is their cloth­ing, their hair and their face. Next, we ob­serve their body lan­guage, how they walk, stand, where they hold their hands and what they do with their hands. We next care­fully watch where the per­son fo­cuses their eyes and we lis­ten care­fully to their voice and speech pat­terns. Then, rightly or wrongly and with the blink of an eye, we make an as­sess­ment of their hon­esty, we guess at their ap­par­ent suc­cess and we pass judg­ment on their val­ues and even their in­tel­li­gence. Don’t deny it.

In other words folks, first im­pres­sions still count. And if that is the case, you need to pay bet­ter at­ten­tion to de­lib­er­ately mold­ing your first im­pres­sion. Ob­vi­ously, from the pres­i­dent’s re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence, you must ad­mit that dress for suc­cess is still alive and well. I con­tinue to be­lieve, as Mal­lory did, cloth­ing and dress are quickly in­ter­preted by oth­ers and can make or break their per­cep­tion of your cred­i­bil­ity and au­thor­ity.

At the same time, in to­day’s work world, we have to re­al­ize dress for suc­cess has a dif­fer­ent mean­ing for each business and or­ga­ni­za­tion. If your work­place is business ca­sual and you come to work ev­ery day in a suit (tan or oth­er­wise), you will look out of place. You will not fit in. In this case, you may be harshly judged as some­one who per­ceives your­self as bet­ter than your col­leagues.

The op­po­site is also true. If your work­place is more for­mal and you in­sist on com­ing to work in business ca­sual, or even less ca­sual, you too will not fit into the cul­tural norm. You may be la­belled a rebel, some­one who doesn’t fit in or doesn’t want to fit in. You may be judged as some­one who is un­pro­fes­sional and/ or in­sub­or­di­nate. Re­mem­ber, this judg­ment hap­pens in just the blink of an eye and you would have to work hard to over­come th­ese first im­pres­sions.

The en­tire is­sue of dress for suc­cess has be­come so con­fused over the years most com­pa­nies now have stated poli­cies out­lin­ing what you can and can’t wear. Some or­ga­ni­za­tions have re­verted to hav­ing em­ploy­ees wear uni­forms as one way in which to cre­ate con­sis­tent cus­tomer pres­ence and avoid any po­ten­tial wardrobe chal­lenges.

How­ever, there are still a few good pieces of ad­vice on dress for suc­cess to which read­ers might pay at­ten­tion. For in­stance, if you are not obliged to wear a uni­form, fo­cus on dress­ing for the job that you want, not the job you have. This al­lows you to be con­fi­dent, taken se­ri­ously and look like some­one who is ready to take on more chal­lenges. Dress to make an im­pres­sion, yet fo­cus on un­der­stated el­e­gance. Women in par­tic­u­lar who use flash and trash to get at­ten­tion have the mis­per­cep­tion that any at­ten­tion is good at­ten­tion. Sorry ladies, you lose.

Play close at­ten­tion to the fre­quent fly­ers that ar­rive in your mail­box and your In­ter­net in­box. What are peo­ple wear­ing to work th­ese days? What can you wear that has a pro­fes­sional look about it yet be part of the cul­ture of your or­ga­ni­za­tion? What can you wear that would en­sure you are viewed the way you want to be seen and un­der­stood. What can you wear that would take you to the next step in your ca­reer?

In my view, the real chal­lenge for to­day’s dress for suc­cess is not lo­cat­ing the clothes and dress that are popular, the chal­lenge is putting ev­ery­thing to­gether for your height, body size, job role and where you work. There is more to dress­ing than meets the eye. Be strate­gic about what you wear. I won­der if Pres­i­dent Obama will now seek out some help, he did look a bit washed out in his tan suit. Source: Dress for Suc­cess, The blog, John T. Mal­lory, cbc.ca/news­blog,

Au­gust 29, 2014.

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