Back in 1975, John T. Molloy wrote a book titled Dress for Success. For many companies, the suggestions in the book made it into company dress code policy and was the image for how the company wanted its employees to present themselves to their customers. While I believe in a good presentation, and certainly first impressions do influence potential clients, I believe in a more practitioner-oriented approach to dress code.
Now that I’m semi-retired, my dress code compliance may have dropped off slightly. However, I do believe how you look does influence others until you have been around enough for them to know “actions speak louder than words.” Or in this case, actions speak louder than the clothes you wear. So before I offer up my dress code guidelines (DCG), let me first share with you the fine print at the bottom of my dress code manual: I’m color blind, so you need a significant other who shares in your professional image belief to help you navigate through all the colors that are available in clothing today.
In The Office
DCG-1: When in the office, dress to mirror those individuals who hold the position above you. In other words, dress for your future position.
DCG-2: You don’t need to go to expensive and/or trendy clothing stores to find comfortable, professional attire. For the most part, I have found people who shop in those stores do so for the label that comes on the shirt, pants, shoes, etc.
DCG-3: Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you would want this person working next to you in the office.
In Front of a Prospect or Client
DCG-4: Although everyone is well aware of the cost to live these days, the client still struggles with the billing rate of consultants and tradesmen/women. So put yourself in their place and go back to that mirror and say, “If I were the client, would I want to be paying this person $125/hr based on how they look?” If so, imagine what this client will think if she is paying $225 for the specific consulting or project management services. Lawyers and financial advisers wear suits and ties for a reason: so they can charge higher rates!
DCG-5: Mirror the client’s dress code. If the client wears more casual attire (e.g., pharmaceutical industry), then you should do the same. You don’t want your client feeling they are not professionally dressed for the meeting.
DCG-6: Colors mean something. While you may love bright colors or even dreary colors, in business color coordination is important. If you want to look like a clown, go to the circus.
On The Jobsite
DCG-7: The job site is another person’s office/workspace, so working in a mechanical equipment room, a service tunnel, construction site, etc., one needs to also dress accordingly. Mirroring the client applies here, but what also applies is the safety dress coat required to be in an equipment room or walking through a dark and dimly-lit service tunnel where safety dictates additional attire (e.g., personal protection equipment). After all, those expensive Gucci shoes probably don’t look good after walking around a muddy construction site, not to mention navigating across a wet floor.
DCG-8: Briefcase or backpack? Today, so many people have moved from carrying their business tools (e.g., laptop, iPad, etc.) in a nice briefcase or oversized handbags to using a backpack. Depending on what kind of jobsite you are visiting, each has its place. Handbags and briefcases may look more professional for that $200/hr person, but backpacks seem to be more appropriate when visiting a construction site or walking around an equipment room. Both the briefcase/handbag and the backpack can carry all the tools you need for your business.
DCG-9: Going to the job site from the office or returning from a job site to the office does not require a change of clothes, as long as the clothes are clean leaving one location (e.g., construction site) to go back into a hopefully cleaner environment such as an office building. The same can be said for leaving an office environment to visit another location. An individual should dress for the location where they are going to spend much of their workday, just as long as they are mirroring the client and following safety dress code requirements.
There is no excuse for not looking professional. The personal financial investment to fulfill this image can be achievable by shopping wisely and by making sure the clothes worn are clean and shoes polished when applicable.