A cursory look at the history of clothing shows a lot of change, and it is a fascinating way to spend some time. Who knew that both men and women wore makeup and high heels in some European courts? Clothing has always been an indicator of power, and that fact will probably never change. But when you are trying to figure out how to dress for the success of your career, there isn’t much help in the styles of the past. What matters today is the impression you make on those around you now.
There Is No Single Business Uniform
It’s a mistake to think that you can read up on business attire and get it right for a specific business environment, because every workplace is slightly different. There are some general guidelines, though, and I think the best one I’ve seen is Business Insider’s look at How To Dress Like A Leader In Any Work Environment. It identifies 5 levels of business attire, from “baseline casual” to “boardroom attire” and gives a complex subject some simplicity.
But the reality is that different regions in the world can vary on their idea of what to wear, and when. CEOs in the Silicon Valley are going to look different than a similar executive level in New York City, while the boardroom in Hong Kong has way more suits in it than the same company’s boardroom in Hawaii.
There Is A Universal Standard of Excellence
While the colors and styles may change, all higher level wardrobes have distinct similarities:
Everything fits and flatters the wearer
Everything is in good condition
Everything is high-quality in material and construction
All accessories are equally high-quality
Dressing for success definitely still matters in today’s business environment, but you need to do some research to determine what your success strategy will look like.
It’s funny that this still has to be pointed out to people, but it does. When you are interviewing for a job, you need to dress in a certain manner. Torn jeans, a dirty t-shirt, and uncombed hair will simply not cut it in the corporate world. Neither do gauges, visible tattoos, or piercings. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of those things, but they may work against you. The arguments I most often hear are, “Things have changed,” and “It’s not my style.” Or more recently from some young, still-in-college, twenty-somethings I know, “But the company I want to work for will have a cool, hip culture and they won’t mind if I have gauges, tattoos, or piercings!” Be that as it may, certain standards are still expected. The best resumes, cover letters and recommendations will still only get you to the first interview. You have to take it from there. Even in companies that at best could be called slacker style, expect those interviewing for a job to be dressed appropriately. Keep in mind that even if you are planning on working for a “hip” or “trendy” company, you still have to interview with the HR person who might be a forty- or fifty-something person that does not agree with that Coke can-sized hole in your ear. It also means men should wear, at the very least, trousers not made of denim, a pressed shirt with a tie and a jacket; a suit is better. For women, the same attire as for men, if you like, or a conservative skirt and pressed blouse; a suit would be better here as well. The attire should be conservative, clean and pressed. Your goal is to get through that first level of interviewing. Once you do that and you get to speak to the person you will directly report to, check out his/her style. If they seem like they encourage more of a unique style, then you are in luck. If not, you may either want to ask them, or look around at the other employees as you are walking through the office. What do they have on? The point here isn’t as much about your clothing as the image that clothing presents to the employer. You can have the best resume in the world but if you look like a slob, or have too much (visible) body art, the company is going to think twice about hiring you. You want the company to see you as a serious candidate who takes care of himself and presents himself well. You put out the wrong image when you appear looking like you slept in your clothing, or forgot to wash your hands. If you look like that on the day you are trying to show them your best, what on earth are you going to wear on casual Friday? Dressing the part is often the first step in getting the part. Look at it like this: If you dress well and everyone else dresses down for the interview, you will have set yourself apart in a good way.