Redefining Business Casual for Success
Friday, May 27, 2005
By Angie Miller
Business casual is dead.
As they do, times are changing and as the economy remains in a state of constant flux, maintaining a current position, earning a new job, or climbing the corporate ladder has become increasingly competitive. Gaining a competitive edge is central to the livelihood of successful and upwardly mobile business men and women alike. The job market remains challenging and job seekers, in particular, are forced to develop ways to position themselves above the competition.
Millions of dollars are spent each year by men and women trying to gain this competitive advantage by attending self help seminars or by downing miracle pills and elixirs. But what is being missed? Appearance. All things being equal, one of the easiest way to gain an edge is how you project yourself in the marketplace. As the saying goes, "the clothes make the man (and woman)" – the days of business casual.
The high tech and dot com revolution ushered in an increase in technology and communication in the workplace. Unfortunately it also ushered in a significantly more relaxed attitude regarding appearance and office decorum – and ultimately the '90s equivalent of the leisure suit – business casual. This adjustment in the way things are done also led to a shift in attitudes of workers. At all levels of business, workers began to desire more convenience and more relaxed work environments, including their style of dress.
Some say that taking the focus off professional dress provides comfort, which in turn increases employee productivity, creativity and morale. This shift in focus was also viewed as a company perk. Others say that dressing casually at work poses problems with quality of work equating how you dress to how efficiently you perform. While both cases have merit, there are strong disadvantages to dressing down.
It is your brand. Similar to how marketing executives for years have come up with new packaging to attract attention and coveted shelf space, employees must do the same in a choice laden market. How you wish to be perceived, putting personal beliefs aside regarding superficiality can depend on the package.
Dressing inappropriately or sloppily is simply no longer acceptable in the business office, as client or internal meetings may come about unexpectedly, or in presenting oneself to fellow employees. In addition, as your personal brand, being associated with untidy attire may go counter to the outward brand you wish to project – detail oriented, organized and professional. There is simply no substitute for a well pressed suit or slacks and blouse when setting an example to leadership, to clients and to coworkers that you are a "buttoned up" employee.
In addition, understanding how a prospective employer defines casual dress can be tricky, particularly during an interview. How one person interprets casual dress may not be the same for someone else. Hence, many employers run into the problem of having an employee show up in jeans or with wrinkled clothes that are missing buttons. In this highly competitive job market, this is not the image that should be projected to a current or prospective employer. As you try to get ahead, is this the attire that instills leadership and confidence as part of your brand? No.
Now, this is not to say that an expensive suit takes the place of competence and personality, but rather all things being relatively equal, taking pride in one's appearance is definitely a plus. The real skill is finding the style of your work environment, your comfort level, and what is realistic to wear in an effort to set yourself apart without being overly flashy. Even The Learning Channel has devoted an entire series, "What Not To Wear," on this very topic. To find the niche for your work environment, simply follow some basic guidelines.
Take a look around your office. What are other people wearing? More importantly, what does your boss wear? What is the company's style? Who is the audience that you are representing? Who will see you during the day? How do wish to represent yourself and what are your short and long term business goals? What clothing styles are "trendy," as opposed to what styles are more timeless? What do I need to purge from my overstuffed closet and why?
When you answer these questions, keep in mind that you want to dress to impress and be comfortable in your own skin at the same time. Wearing a suit or shirt and tie should not be uncomfortable, but rather an outward extension and expression of your brand and your product – you. And, dressing to impress doesn't necessarily mean a tuxedo or evening gown, obviously, but it's much more acceptable to be considered "overdressed," in a business setting than embarrassed by being "underdressed" when a situation arises.
Make sure that you keep yourself looking clean and crisp. A good dry cleaner will help you with that and save you a lot of time in the process. Slacks and skirts should be dry cleaned and pressed, with all the buttons intact and seams are sewn. Look for a reputable cleaner that will provide all of these services to you as well as be on the lookout for clothing problems that you may not have noticed. Dry cleaning is an investment in success, not to mention it keeps your professional clothes looking newer, longer. Having professional attire cleaned professionally also saves a significant amount of time, time that could be spent "networking" with those sharp outfits.
View your dress as a business communication tool. Choose clothing that will reflect that you are serious about the job you do and that employers and clients can be confident that you will represent them well and they can be confident in you. In reality, putting on the power suit is like suiting up for battle. Admit it, you feel more confident and ready to take on the world.
You are what you want people to see you as, and first impressions don't reflect your charming personality. In fact, what you wear and how you present yourself can be self fulfilling. Plan ahead. Before getting dressed, think about who you will be interacting with that day. Will you be out of the office on appointments or will someone be visiting your office? Like a well orchestrated stage show -- dress the part.
Represent the company you work for and your most important brand – you. You may be the only contact that your customers or clients see as spokesperson for your company and in an effort to climb the ladder or get it out of the garage in the first place, first impressions are indeed lasting impressions. People equate how you dress to how much you care about your job and in reality, how much you care about yourself. Whether trying to get that first job or advance in your career, brand packaging is as important with business people as it is with laundry detergent.
Angie Miller is the Marketing Director of Appearance Plus Cleaners. She holds a Bachelors of Arts in Business Organizational Studies from The University of Northern Kentucky. She has been with Appearance Plus since 1993. Appearance Plus, headquartered in Anderson, opened its first store in 1984 and has a 20 year history of commitment to making Greater Cincinnati look its best. The dry cleaner provides convenient and free pick up and delivery service throughout the Greater Cincinnati area and has storefront locations in Anderson, Downtown and Hyde Park. The Appearance Plus name and the bright white vans are synonymous with the highest quality dry cleaning, offering complete care of clothing and home goods, same day express service at no extra charge, and a dedicated staff committed to their customers. More information can be accessed at www.appearanceplus.com or by calling 513-231-5540.
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