Whether your workplace has a dress code or not, what you wear — and how you wear it — plays a huge part in how you are perceived.
Yes, you definitely need to do more than dress well to get the job you want. After all, doing the job well will always be the most important factor in anyone’s career. But there are good reasons why dressing the part can help your career efforts. Here are some ways a poor wardrobe can hold you back at work.
1. Lost Trust
When what you wear mirrors the message you want to get across — whatever that is — you will come across as authentic, and authentic people are seen as trustworthy. If you want to seem responsible and organized, but you wear wild colors or clashing prints, it might be hard for people to believe that you have the characteristics you’re trying to embody.
Figuring out what your message needs to be can be complex. Think of words that describe a person who does the job you want well. Then evaluate your wardrobe based on those descriptors. If, for instance, your company tends to hire people who are intense to be salespeople, see if your clothes match that adjective. If they don’t, make some changes so that they do.
2. Lost Power
Wearing a great suit not only changes how you are perceived, but also how you feel about yourself. When you dress formally, people perceive you as powerful. You begin to pick up on these feelings and so begin to perceive yourself as more powerful, as well. This is a feedback loop that can help you move up at work, since powerful people tend to get what they want.
If a suit isn’t appropriate in your workplace, figure out what the equivalent might be. What would it mean to dress even slightly more formally? Try that out and see if it helps you. The only places where this doesn’t always apply are jobs where everyone wears uniforms. Even there, though, changing something like your footwear or your accessories can often make you look more formal.
3. Lost Professionalism
There are many ways clothing can cause people to see you as less professional than you might actually be. If your clothes don’t fit right, are too casual, or show inappropriate amounts of skin, you won’t have as professional of an air as you would have if your clothes were up to snuff. This can cause you to lose out on promotions, especially those that might make you more visible.
If you aren’t sure whether your clothing is appropriately professional, ask someone. Find someone whose clothing you admire and see if they would mind giving you some feedback. Ask them how your own wardrobe comes across at work and what they would do to improve it. Yes, this requires you to be vulnerable, but it can also help you make huge strides ahead in the workplace.
4. Lost Sense of Belonging
When you’re part of a department or a team, it’s important that you dress on par with those around you. Look at the people you work with and evaluate their wardrobes. Are they stylish? Do they wear brightly colored accents, or do they stick to neutral tones? Do they stand out in a crowd or try to blend in? If you dress like the people around you, you will look more like you belong in that particular workplace. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your particular personality and workplace goals.
Make sure that you don’t become part of the background, though. Your clothes roughly match those of your team of coworkers, but they still need to fit well and be appropriate to your personality. And, if there’s any doubt, dress a bit more formally than the people around you. It makes you look like you are competent and in charge.
5. Lost Respect
There are so many ways your clothing can cost you respect at work — from unprofessional or inappropriate attire to clothes that make you look too junior for your role. Most employers want to bring on and promote people who respect themselves and respect the workplace, because these are people that they, in turn, can respect.
Many of the issues that cause you to lose respect can be easily remedied. Buy a new suit for your interview and have it tailored to fit. Err on the side of formal dress, rather than informal. Make sure your clothes are clean and pressed and that nothing is hanging out where it shouldn’t. These basic steps can mean the difference between having the job you want and having none at all.
If wardrobe is a struggle for you and you feel like it is holding you back at work, consider working with a wardrobe consultant. You can find these people online, though different wardrobe professionals may focus on different industries or different levels of dress (business casual vs. business formal, for example). While this can involve a significant financial investment, that will pay off over the years if you can get a job that makes you happy and pays more.
Do you think your wardrobe is holding you back at work? How can you change that?