It was interesting to see the comments on Anna Akbari’s DailyWorth post. “Don’t Dress for the Job You Want” is a statement that seems to fly in the face of the general consensus on working wardrobes. But she does make some good points to consider when dressing to express yourself instead of your position:
- demonstrate that you get it
- connect with your audience
- exude confidence
Context is Everything
Those first two points are a reminder that we work with other people. The way we dress does affect how others react to us, and it’s naive to insist it doesn’t matter. To quote Ms. Akbari, “demonstrating that you understand the unwritten dress codes and larger ethos of any given context is the first rule of successful self-presentation.”
You have to connect before you can communicate, and if everyone around you is wearing a “uniform”, it shows they are all part of the same group culture. Wearing at least part of that uniform, or wearing the uniform in an acceptably unique way, will be a signal that you belong even though you are a bit different. If you don’t care about the group, you don’t try to connect or get what they are about — and at that point, why are you working there? In an interview situation, why are you saying you want to work where you don’t get the group’s culture?
There are times when a unique status symbol is an investment tool, but it entirely depends on the group you are in. Cowboy boots communicate one thing in Dallas and a different thing in D.C., but there is more to the symbolism than identity. If those boots are high-quality and well-kept, the wearer is signalling confidence even if everyone else is in tied-up Oxfords. That confidence is important, because you need it however you dress. If wearing a unique item makes you feel more like “yourself” and gives you confidence, that’s good. But make sure you are respecting the context of your surroundings.