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Dress For Success

May 25th, 2009 · 6 Comments

   I have been a long-time advocate of a casual work environment, but dress standards sometimes become too loose, especially in Summer.  As a CEO once responded when I recommended that the company should extend casual days to the entire week, not just Fridays:  “Unfortunately, some employees don’t know the difference between business casual and beach casual.”   

I first ran into business attire issues when I became a manager at Eli Lilly many long years ago.  My boss asked me to improve the dress standards of one of my staff members who appeared to wear variations of the same overly casual outfit every day, including on days of important meetings. 

I went into the conversation with the first edition copy of John Malloy’s then best seller, Dress For Success.  At first, it didn’t seem to help.  Initially, the employee was insulted, but she eventually calmed down and asked me if her wardrobe choices would hurt her career.  Rather than answer in the affirmative, I suggested that she ask herself that question after observing what others in management are wearing.   Since she was eager to succeed, she took the book to heart, improved her business attire and today continues to enjoy a very successful career. 

Bottom line:  Wardrobe does matter. 

Excellent advice on dressing for success is provided in The New York Times Career Coach Q&A by Phyllis Korkki.  This is must reading for everyone, not just new graduates entering the workforce.  It’s far shorter than Malloy’s book, but the Q&As cover all the key points about what to wear to an interview and how to dress when you get a job. 

Illustration:  Chris Reed, The New York Times

Tags: Day in the Life · First Day on the Job · Job Search

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David Heiser // May 26, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Thanks for the link. My only issue with business attire is that I find most dress shoes pretty uncomfortable to walk around in. My hope is that one day someone will make a pair of nice looking leather shoes that feel as nice as the sneakers I wear when I’m not in the office.

    That being said, I just picked up a couple new shirts and a pair of Dockers at Macy’s today, so I should be looking pretty decent for my first day in the office next week.

  • 2 Culpwrit // May 28, 2009 at 6:38 am

    I agree about shoes. Most dress shoes are uncomfortable. However, I cheat a bit by seeking out shoes with rubber soles that are almost as comfortable as sneakers: Johnston & Murphy’s Trampolines, ECCO and some varieties of Rockport.

  • 3 Marg Malson-Stout // Jun 18, 2009 at 7:33 am

    For an interview, are pantsuits considered appropriate?
    Black?
    Or a conservative color?

  • 4 Culpwrit // Jun 18, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Marg: Pantsuits are fine with most organizations. No need to limit attire to black or navy, but keep it and the accessories conservative.

  • 5 Marie Brown // Mar 25, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Yuck! Corporate attire is ugly, boring, and for women – not feminine. It’s also extremely unimaginative; it all looks the same: so monotonous. But then, people in the corporate business world are a bunch of boring drones who think it’s wrong to be artistic. Who says the only way you can get the job done is to wear a drab, Chairman Mao pyjama uniform?

  • 6 Lauren Schaefer // Apr 10, 2010 at 10:08 am

    In a corporate office, I’m not much of a fan of “Casual Fridays.” I have always been a strong believer in how you dress is a reflection of how well you work. When you are dressed nicer, you work a harder and push yourself a little more. When you are able to relax in your attire, your work etiquette also relaxed.

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