We’ve all heard the expression, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Maybe a better way to say it is, “Start acting like who you want to become, and you’ll slowly grow to resemble that person.”
So how do you want to be perceived by others? You’ve also probably heard of “personal brand.” The truth is, we’re all “branding” ourselves all the time, whether we realize it or not.
And your personal brand will help shape your apparel choices, especially when it comes to the old adage, “dressing for success.”
“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
What Does it Really Mean to “Dress for Success?”
Your image tells others on how you want to be viewed and treated. First impressions are key. Your look is literally telling others how to treat you. This includes your leaders, your customers, and those you meet in everyday situations. People make an assumption of what you do for a living, your income level, and your current level of success based on your appearance.
Why do successful people maintain a consistently strong image? They know their image is part of their brand. And a big part of getting ahead in life is looking the part.
Which leads to the next question, what do people in the positions you’re interested in wear? It depends on the industry, of course, but there are some common threads among what it takes to look “successful.”
Even if you work from home, dressing appropriately is also a way of expressing respect for your employer and your clients. The truth is, when you look good, you feel good. When you look your best, you’ll perform at your best.
Below are a few guidelines. And remember: if you’re not sure what to wear in a particular situation, it’s always wise to ask a trusted friend or mentor what outfit they’d recommend for that occasion.
How to Dress for Success
First there’s nothing wrong with following fashion trends if they’re appropriate. But in order to truly “dress for success,” you should generally avoid short skirts, shorts, flip-flops, sweatpants, or leggings. Unless you’re in a field that calls for it, stay away from graphic tees and even denim. Overly casual attire can send the wrong message. So does the fit of what you’re wearing. Your clothing should fit normally and shouldn’t be revealing, too tight, or baggy.
You usually can’t go wrong with a pants-suit or skirt or dress that meets the knee. Black pants and a nice blouse are generally always in fashion. Obviously, iron out any wrinkles and treat your clothes with respect – no stains, holes or missing buttons that may be distracting. To take it up a notch, plan for accessories such as professional shoes, whether heels or flats, in advance.
A little jewelry is appropriate, as long as it’s not too loud or eye-catching. Leave that choker that “pushes the edge” or the earrings with hoops as big as bracelets at home. You want them to see you, not be distracted by your bling. The same goes with hairstyles – save that edgy experimentation for a weekend night out. Remember, you’re not trying to make just any impression. You’re trying to make a professional impression.
The same goes with makeup – it should be modest and tasteful in a professional setting. That coveted job interview or competitive internship is not the time to break out the green eye-shadow or party like it’s 1995 with brown matte lipstick. When in doubt, ask a friend you trust for their opinion on a particular outfit or selection.
For men, a suit and dress shirt, or even khakis or slacks with a nice Polo is almost always in style. No wrinkles, gentlemen! And the fit should be right. Not too tight and not too baggy or saggy – use a belt when in doubt. No graphic or controversial tees. No flip flops – dress shoes or loafers are best. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie, per se, but a clean, crisp look is a must. Now, your career field will ultimately play a part in what’s acceptable and what’s not. If you’re in sales, for example, stay away from denim. If you’re a creative in the advertising world, fresh, clean sneakers could be ok. Use common sense and remember, “what do successful professionals in my field wear?”
You should also pay attention to hygiene. (Make sure your body’s odor isn’t preceding or succeeding you.) And make sure any facial hair is well-groomed, and not scraggly. For the very best first impressions, avoid displaying any jewelry or body art that could be distracting or offensive. You’re not hiding your individuality, you’re just dressing appropriately for a professional setting – it’s usually better to be conservative until you really know your audience. There is a time and place for nearly every outfit and those who truly know how to dress for success know the difference.
Many of the same rules apply for teens, with a few exceptions. Guys, we know you may not own a suit. Ladies, you may not be accustomed to high heels. And that’s OK. You just want to present yourself in a clean, simple way that shows you’re serious about this interview…or whatever the circumstance.
If this is a professional meeting of any kind, stay away from casual clothing like jeans, shorts, short skirts, sneakers, and t-shirts. Dress like you’re going to a more formal function like a wedding or awards ceremony. Think collared or button-down shirts for men and black pants or a fitted shirt for women. (If it’s a skirt you would have seen at Woodstock, that might be a fashion-choice for a Saturday night, not a professional setting.) Wear clothing that fits you well and isn’t too tight. When in doubt, ask your parents or a trusted adult. Get tips on what’s appropriate for the occasion. Knowing the dress code is key!
As for your everyday personal brand, you may think, “I’m too young to care about that.” But the truth is…you’ve got a personal brand too. Your teachers, other adults, and fellow students develop an opinion about you based on your apparel too. Not every day has to be formal, but be mindful of the impression you are giving off with your appearance.
Maximize Your Success with a Career or Life Coach
It’s easier to meet new people and express yourself confidently when you look and feel your best. For tips on putting your best foot forward and improving your life and career skills, try professional career coaching from Southwestern Consulting.
Our career coaches are trained to understand your professional issues and goals and help get you from where you are to where you want to be in life. To see if 1:1 coaching might be right for you, get a free consultation from Southwestern Consulting today!
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