What Are You Wearing?

I get my clues from a variety of sources, but I need your help with my wardrobe. Have times changed? Has the dress code for business changed? Can you have success in casual dress? Let me get to the point: Can I wear my jeans?

First some questions. Who (no names please) was the most inappropriately dressed person you’ve encountered in the workplace? Has someone whose dress is off kilter, or out of the norm really impressed you because of it? Do you choose to do business with people who dress like you do? Do you dress a specific way when you are meeting potential clients or partners? If a person’s clothing is too expensive or ostentatious, are you turned off? Turned on? Is that bad? What about contemporary jewelry? Would you hire someone wearing a nose ring at their interview?

As I’ve said before I work at home and “no one is watching,” but they find out what I’m wearing anyway. While waiting for a conference call to begin, I was chatting with some colleagues and the conversation turned to attire. We are a casual group: Joel (who you can actually see right now by checking out his blog here at StartupNation.com) was wearing a baseball shirt. His favorite. His open love for America’s pastime is a part of his public and private persona. I think his choice of clothing contributes to his success even though it isn’t traditional business attire. Heather, the Associate Producer of StartupNation Radio, was wearing business casual tailored slacks and a dry-cleaned shirt. She is a bit more buttoned up, and in tune with the office style at StartupNation. When the conversation came to my attire, I thought it better to stay mute. I get up in the morning, put on whatever piece of clothing is on the floor next to the bed and head for my computer. Often it’s the t-shirt my husband wore last night (Hey, I do the laundry too, so it’s a water-saving strategy).

When it comes to dressing for success, the first role model that pops into my mind is Mr. Rogers. Here was a man who took off his sports coat and put on a sweater, but left the tie tightly around his neck while he played “make believe” with the neighborhood. My husband’s least favorite part of the day is putting on his tie. I swear, this barbaric device will take years off his life. But, John T. Molloy and my husband’s boss both think the tie makes a difference in how he is perceived by the business community. And I have to admit, he looks pretty handsome while wearing it.

I was never the blue suit type. I have lots of flowy dresses and skirts and art fair jewelry. Left to my own devices, I wear jeans a good deal of the time. In my corporate years I struggled with the “dress for success” concept. I always wore a suit or dress and jacket to a job interview just to be safe, but always avoided blue to protect the iconoclast in my soul. Even now, I think about whom I am meeting or where I am going to be seen before I get dressed. My repertoire is pretty varied and I try to dress the part–sort of. I don’t change my style too much to impress potential clients, because I want to work with companies that suit my personality. (But I usually blow dry my hair and almost always wear my own clean clothes.)

There is no shortage of information on this subject. Image expert Sherry Maysonave’s book, “Casual Power” delves into the impressions we make with our clothes, and she doesn’t think you have to wear the tie all the time. She has separated business attire into different categories from business formal to casual. Then she goes further and separates all the sub categories into sub sub categories. I think her overall point is that different clothes gives different impressions and you should be aware of what message your clothes are sending out.

So close your eyes and tell me what outfit you see when I tell you my role: Mom; Radio Consultant; Rock Concert attendee; Cocktail Partier; Home Office Executive. You see different clothes, don’t you? I’ve always hated to admit it, but people judge you by the clothes you wear and you might not get the results you want if you are wearing the wrong outfit. This is not just for job seekers, it’s for business owners too.

Do you think it matters for you? I really want to read your opinions.

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