Dress For Success

The beginning of a new year is often a time when we reflect on our lives – what we’ve already accomplished and the dreams we still have. Then we set goals, intentions, and resolutions to make these dreams a reality. One aspect of fulfilling our ambitions is to recognize the importance of first impressions, and then act on how to make them positive. First impressions are automatic, instantaneous, and made in approximately four seconds. In this short window of time, our clothing, body language, and grooming habits are judged. These judgments are then formulated into opinions. Once these assessments are made, it’s very difficult to reverse them.

Dressing well to make a good impression may seem daunting at first. Where do you start?

I’ve heard it said that our clothes “shouldn’t” influence the way a person is perceived – “I should be treated the same no matter what I’m wearing.” However, clothing is the first element of a first impression. It is a defining factor because what we wear says so much about who we are. As open-minded as we strive to be, we all judge and we are all judged. Simply put, people make unsubstantiated assumptions and decisions based on what we wear.

The silent language of clothing reflects how we feel about ourselves and determines how we are treated by others, who our friends become, and it can influence if we get (and keep) the job. Every time you get dressed, you send a message. A lackadaisical attitude toward dressing can reflect an attitude of carelessness; “I don’t care” is a clear statement. Think about it. If at your wedding, your future mother-in-law comes dressed in a sloppy sweater and dirty tennis shoes, you might think she doesn’t respect you, your ceremony, or your marriage. A simple dress is all it would take to change this scenario. Dressing with consideration is part of civilization, and it will help to make a favorable impression.

Psychological studies show that women who dress professionally are considered more intelligent and given more responsibility than women who dress casually or seductively. A survey conducted by careerbuilder.com showed that 41% of the employers who were questioned tend to promote those who dress more professionally. The fundamental question then is: what does “dressing professionally” actually mean?

Dress codes are often vague and can have different meanings in different business environments. Since these codes frequently have no exact interpretation, successfully adhering to them requires understanding what is considered appropriate for your office or industry.

“Business casual” typically gives women permission to leave traditional, formal business suits behind and allows them to express their personal style with dresses, and blouses worn with skirts or pants. “Casual” takes business casual down a notch. The main difference is that wearing jeans is acceptable. The decision is to decide on whether to wear well-fitting, dark-wash jeans or loosely-cut, faded, “ripped-jeans.” Your work place will determine just how casual you can go. Wearing jeans also lends itself to wearing more casual tops. Skimpy camisoles, tank-tops, and t-shirts with slogans will most likely not increase your chances for a promotion. These tops can affect your work, your work place environment, and can send the wrong message. Showing cleavage will also send a message. You determine what that message is by the amount of skin you show. You can express your personality and remain professional by wearing attractive blouses or sweater sets with your jeans. Add a pretty necklace or wear a colorful scarf to show your sense of style. Remember that it is always better to be a little over-dressed than under-dressed.

If you are unsure what is acceptable and what is not, take a cue from your supervisor. Remember the advice, “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.” You may not need to dress as formally as your boss, but dressing within the same standards will put you ahead of someone who dresses below those standards. Shorts, flip-flops, capris, and too-short skirts are typically not acceptable in any work environment. I would always prefer a reputation of dressing well than of dressing sloppy or inappropriate.

Dressing well to make a good impression may seem daunting at first. Where do you start? Start with the basics. A well-fitting pair of black pants can be the cornerstone of your wardrobe. You can pair them with a top of any color. Add a belt or a scarf, and you’ll have a different look everyday. You also don’t need a large budget to dress for success. Consignment shops are a great place to begin building your wardrobe.

After clothing, your body language is the next feature someone will notice. Having good posture transforms how clothing looks on you. Standing and sitting straight will help you look healthy, self-aware, and confident. A genuine smile with eye contact elevates perceived attractiveness and trustworthiness, and will open the door to dialogue. A firm handshake will seal the deal on a positive impression.

When you walk, avoid shuffling. Pick your feet up and walk with intention. Don’t fidget or yawn. Fidgeting will make you appear nervous and unsure. And nothing says, “I don’t care” or, “I don’t want to be here” like a big yawn during a conversation or meeting. If you are truly tired, get a drink of water and refocus.

In the animal word, grooming is essential to survival. An animal with a shabby coat is perceived as easy prey. This analogy may apply to humans who have received negativity when shoddily dressed or groomed. Neatness goes a long way toward making a positive impression.

Celebrate this first month of 2018 by making a great first impression!
And Happy New Year!

Style Expert, JeanAnn Taylor can be reached at jeananntaylor119@gmail.com.

JeanAnn Taylor
Written by JeanAnn Taylor