Dress for the Life You Choose

It’s important to look your best to make a lasting and positive impression on others, but must we spend a fortune to do so?

A few years ago I worked with a young professional who was about to graduate from a very prestigious MBA program. He had just gotten married to a very stylish young lady and was still in debt from their engagement and wedding. Every day he wore a very simple uniform (Khakis and executive plaid, compliments of The GAP) and ate a small Tupperware’s worth of lunch while surfing the internet. Presuming that he was either working or studying over his lunch break, one afternoon I suggested he go out for a walk and enjoy the day. “Take a break for once.”

TimingThat’s when he shared that over his lunch break he browses for his dream wardrobe — the one he will buy as a gift to himself upon graduating, when he doesn’t have to be a student worker. “See this? This is what my friends all wear to work. I want to look like that. I’ve been saving up. If you want to look and be successful you have to dress the part.” He was just biding his time to purchase the first item on his list — a $1,000 watch. 

At first I thought he was joking, but he then went on to explain how he did this for specific status items: His wife’s favorite earrings (and matching engagement/wedding bands), their home, his dream watch, and so on.

I’d honestly never thought about it — I was preparing to become a college professor and a writer — but really, when we dress for work we’re expected to reflect certain messages. It’s essential to look confident, knowledgeable, successful, and approachable no matter what type of job you have in order to be taken seriously among your clients and peers. 

With this in mind, there are certain things to take into consideration:

cchprofessionals(1) Know the environment: A job in an executive firm, administrative office, a fitness center, an educational facility, a construction site, the ballet… each profession has a type of costume or uniform that is appropriate for that milieu. Know how to dress the part.

Five hundred replicas of the Stormtroopers characters from "Star Wars" are seen on the steps at the Juyongguan section of the Great Wall of China during a promotional event for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" film, on the outskirts of Beijing, China, October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Lee

(2) Wear the clothes, don’t let the clothes wear you: It’s so important to let yourself shine through by picking clothes that suit you (pun intended). No matter what your friends, colleagues or mentors are wearing, don’t just become their clone. See how they dress but pick a style, size and color palate that best suits you. (Not sure how to gauge what works best for you? Contact Tavia Sharp of Styled Sharp for a consultation.)

(3) Have the essentials without spending a fortune: While my colleague was systemically paying a fortune to impress his peers, it’s best to be reasonable about building your wardrobe. Know what you need to have to make a good, positive impression versus what you want to have in order to impress.

For Women: The following are recommended (fitted, not tight)…
— A Coat/Trench (Winter/Spring)
— Tailored Jacket
— Suit (Winter/Spring)
— Pants (Winter/Spring)
— Pencil skirt(s) (watch the hemline)
— Basic Blouse (watch the neckline…)
— Silhouette Dress (watch the neck/hemline)
— “Work Jeans” (at least one nice pair for Casual Friday)
— Work Flats
— Work Heels
(Click here for additional tips.)

For Men: The following are recommended (fitted, not tight)…
— A Coat/Trench (Winter/Spring)
— Tailored Jacket/Blazer
— Suit & Suit Separates (Seasonal Vests/Pants)
— Basic Dress Shirts
— Dress Pants (watch the hemline)
— “Work Jeans” (at least one nice pair for Casual Friday)
— Work Shoes
— Dress Shoes
— Ties
(Click here for additional tips.)

Appropriate accessories include a reliable watch plus choice of belts, ties, jewelry, etc. that suit your position, personality and environment. (To make a positive impression it’s good to be original, but not over the top.)

Colors and patterns should be in keeping with the season. Standard business attire include shades of black, blue, grey, beige and white with some pops of color to suit the season and your personality.

A nice wardrobe does not make up for poor personal hygiene. “Sound body, sound mind” is a Greek expression passed to us by Thales of Miletus (ca.600BC). Your overall appearance is a reflection of your confidence but also of your mental health and aptitudes. 

(4) What makes your outfit look great? POSTURE, POSTURE, POSTURE! Even if you’re wearing a newly tailored Armani and driving a Lamborghini (or, you know, a Maserati if you’re really slumming), if your posture does not look confident no one will take you seriously. Know how to “Walk the walk.”

(5) Be ABLE to walk the walk: Related to #3 and #4 above, I’ve seen both guys and gals wear shoes and other clothing items that kill them just because they’re a name brand. Before you splurge on a temptingly high-end item just remember that you won’t impress anyone if you look like you can’t walk towards them in shoes that cause as much pain as an Iron Maiden (or constantly fidgeting with some part of your outfit).