Clothes Talk, People Listen

February 13th, 2007

“We’d all like to be taken for what we’d like to be.”

“In corporations where a shirt-sleeve atmosphere reigns, it is possible to acquire high visibility by always wearing a jacket, which makes one look more solid, conservative and reliable than anyone else.

In the high-tech, high-speed world we live in, instant gratification is often not soon enough. We like our news 24 hours a day and expect tomorrow’s information to be here yesterday. Among the many perils of this fast-paced society is that we are quick to make judgments about the appearances of others. In such a world, we need to send signals immediately and hope that people get the message we intend to send.
When Steven Case, chairman of America Online, and Gerald Levin, chairman of Time Warner, nearly as much news as their two companies, their clothing generated nearly as much news as their business deal. Case, the epitome of a laid-back dot-com mogul, appeared at the press conference in a tie, while Levin, a lifelong corporate soldier, chose not to wear one. Of course, at the CEO level, one can, for the most a clear signal that two corporate worlds had already begun to blend.

So what are your clothes saying about you? It’s not always easy to know because, like having bad breath or spinach in your teeth, people are not likely to tell you when you are dressed inappropriately. The goal is to determine the ultimate message you want to send. And for the most part, that message is simple: You want to appear competent at all times and show people that you belong.
Each office, whether it’s a white-show law firm or a red-hot advertising agency, has a dress code. Adhere to it and you signal to everyone that you are part of the team. This Is not to say that individuality can’t be expressed, but sometimes the best impression is no impression at all. In other words, you dress so appropriately for the office that no one notices. It is simply assumed that always look the part.
Of course, adhering to the clothing standards of an office or industry does not guarantee that you will make a good impression. Imagine the two junior salesmen with very similar skill sets are up for the same promotion at an insurance company where the men all wear suit or sport and most wear ties. One of the candidates always dress in a sport jacket, crisp white shirts, and creased trousers, but he never wears a tie. The other always wears a suit and tie to the office, but his shirts are usually wrinkled, his ties are frequently stained, and his shoes look as though they haven’t been shined since he bought them. Who gets the job? Well, the first guy may never wear a tie, but he clearly pays attention to other clothing details, and others will relate that to his work ethic. He looks sharp and ready for action and eventually, perhaps from the money he’ll get from the promotion, he’ll get himself a few ties.
The lesson here is that dressing smart is not always about dressing formally. Paying attention to the subtleties of style may impact your appearance far more than simply adhering to an overall dress code.

In today’s business environment, there are more potentially hazardous clothing situations than ever breakfast meetings, client lunches, black-tie dinners, golf outings, board presentations, TV appearances and dressing smart means you have to be prepared for every one of them. Clearly, you cannot wear the same outfit for all of those occasions, but you can maintain a certain standard that suggests you could be ready for any one of then at a moment’s notice. For instance, a coworker calls in sick and can’t make in to a charity dinner that night. Your boss mentally runs through replacement options. He knows that you come to work in a suit every day, so he asks if you have a tuxedo. You do, of course, and suddenly you become the tenth person at the table seated two places away from the CEO.

How to Dress Smart
-The Chic Simple Process

Building the perfect work wardrobe does not happen by accident. You could go to work for a decade and not have a proper wardrobe because you didn’t identify your needs carefully enough. You could have built one in several years, but because you didn’t take care of your clothes properly, they are actually working against you. Or perhaps you simply have a wardrobe that is outdated.
The key to an ideal work wardrobe can be explained in there easy steps:

When you are finally ready to be serious about professional life, you have to accept this reality: All the clothes you normally wear are play clothes. Sure, you may get compliments on them and they might even look fine in a nice restaurant, but your career is serious business and you should now understand that you must have work clothes to match.
The first step in assessing your clothing needs is to recognize that your closet is like your desk. The better organized your desk is, the easier it is to find that stapler you need. The same is true is true for shirts and ties, shoes and suits. Arrange your closet by work and play, week and weekend. The suits stay with the sport jackets, the jeans and khakis are arranged with each other. Your dress shirts should be easily delineated from the casual shirt you wear on Saturdays. Sneakers don’t mix with dress shoes, and so no. With a little bit of work your closet will be ready for work.

Now that your closet is neatly arranged, what do you have in there? Are there clothes you haven’t worn is a year or so? Get rid of them. Are there sport jackets that are too big? Take them to the tailor. Pants that are two sizes too small? Give them to a thinner friend. Ties with soup stains? Let the dry cleaner hit the spot. Shoes with holes in them? Walk away.
The best way to determine your needs is to make a list. In one column, list all the thing in your closet. In the column next to it, name all the clothing that would make that item more versatile Left: Black-and-white houndstooth jacket. Right: White shirt, black tie, gray pants, black pants, black shoes, gray polo sweater>. The right-hand side will then become your shopping list. And if there are items in the list that can go with several other things in your closet such as the gray trousers, then circle those items and make them a priority when shopping. The more versatile the purchase, the smarter the shopper.

Too overwhelmed to deal with your closet? Start small. Look at your collection of ties the gifts, the mistakes and start to divide into recycle and keepers. Next week take the keeper pile and do it again.


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