The professional dress code may have changed over the years, but the importance of dressing the part has not. There was a time when I would not walk into federal court or even my office unless I were wearing a suit, stockings, and heels. Now in the age of “business casual” and “anything goes,” there tends to be a preference toward casual over business, often resulting in questionable choices.
Appropriate business attire differs by industry and varies widely by company culture, but failing to dress in a manner that is respectful to those around you is always a mistake. Inappropriate attire suggests that you are not a serious professional, or worse, it says to your audience that they are not worthy of your best.
Take your cues from the setting and the context. A power suit is not always necessary, but wearing sweatpants and flip-flops is likely never appropriate. If appearing in a formal setting such as court, ensure that the courthouse or judge does not have an official or unofficial dress code. When interviewing for a position, dress one step above what the employees are wearing at the workplace you wish to join. For an appointment with a client, choose attire that intimidates no one but still shows respect and your investment in the meeting. Choose a color to convey the message you want to send or the impression you want to make. When your goal is to take command of the situation, that’s the time to break out the power suit. At all times, know your audience and dress accordingly.
Clothes affect not only the observer but also the wearer. Suiting up tends to build self-confidence and gives one a sense of empowerment. It is also an opportunity for self-expression and personal style, but don’t take it to an extreme and commit a fashion faux pas. Likewise, don’t put a desire for comfort above all else. Be mindful of how you package yourself. In a business setting, you must remember the ultimate goal—to conduct your business and convey your message. Inappropriate dress can get in the way of the work. Appropriate attire allows you to be heard without distraction.
The right outfit makes a strong visual statement and leaves an immediate impression. Your choice of apparel tells a story about you. Let that story convey that you are professional, confident, and well-prepared. Use successful dressing to your advantage, like a weapon in your arsenal. Why not gain the nonverbal advantage by looking the part? As Coco Chanel said, “Dress shabbily, they notice the dress. Dress impeccably, they notice the woman.”