Dress for Business Success

Man in business atire

Business success rarely surprises those who achieve it, they show up every day expecting it!

If you work in a professional office setting you have likely been introduced to the “business casual” approach to modern day workplace dress. The concept of dressing for business success is quickly fading in many work settings. There appears to be no baseline for what appropriate workplace dress should look like anymore. What was once casual Fridays has now become the norm five days a week. While I am all in favor of loosening (or losing) the stiff necktie look, workplace dress is still an area where you can set yourself apart from the crowd in subtle ways with a little planning!

Another contributing factor to the change in dress culture is the fact that many employees now have the option to work from home part of the time, making it even harder to dress appropriately when they need to make an appearance in the office. Then, there is the younger generation entering the workforce with very few examples of what business dress should look like. Regardless of the reasons, dressing correctly for your business setting should be something you leverage to your advantage.

I was recently touring the Indiana State Museum and ran across an exhibit about clothes with the following statement, “We choose the color of our clothes to express ourselves, follow fashion trends or to signal the roles we play in our personal or professional lives”.

Six simple steps to gain a professional edge and increase your personal brand

  • Know Your Color Pallet. Understand what colors work well for you personally and what they are saying about you professionally. For example, blue represents someone who is trustworthy, loyal, and sincere. White indicates you are inventive and self-confident while red reflects someone who is confident and impulsive (see a full-color map at the end of this blog). Regardless of color, solid lighter button-down shirts or tops are always going to look more professional.
  • Wear Dress Pants. Avoid kakis or other more casual pants that wrinkle quickly. Instead, pick dress pants that hold a crease well and create a good base for whatever top you chose to wear. Remember, the pants (or skirt) should be a darker plain color that does not draw too much attention, but rather complements what you are wearing on top.   
  • Keep a Jacket or Blazer at Work. I always have a jacket on standby at work. A solid black or navy-blue jacket or blazer can instantly raise the level of most any professional outfit. You never know when you will be pulled into a video conference with senior management or a surprise meeting where you need to take your look up a notch.
  • Wear a Watch. A watch not only provides functional value it also enhances the overall professional look. The trendy iPhone watches are fine but a classic timepiece with the hour and minute hands is preferable. You do not need an expensive Rolex to make the right impression, in fact, it might tend to detract. Get a classic looking watch and add it to your standard professional look.
  • Skip Casual Fridays. If you work in a professional office, take a pass on the casual Friday routine. Dressing the same on Fridays as on the other four days of the week will increase your opportunity to create the right impression by 20% over your coworkers!
  • Post a Professional Picture on Company Media. If you have Intranet work platforms such as contact profiles or workshare applications where posting a picture is optional, post one! Too many people overlook this free opportunity to increase their personal brand. Also, take your dress up a notch for this post. Avoid the awkward selfie and get a professional headshot made if you can. Make sure you do not post casual, non-work appropriate pictures on business media platforms!

I remember an executive telling the story of a visit to another city where he had some employees he had never met before. One employee that made a specific impression (and not the good kind) showed up to meet him in the office in shorts and flipflops. Her excuse was that she normally worked from home and therefore did not have the need to dress up. This was a monumental unforced error on her part!

If your personal business plan is to blend in with the office crowd, then pull out the jeans and sneakers or whatever casual dress others are wearing. If on the other hand, you are a leader, dress like one! Take a little time to evaluate your wardrobe and start dressing in a way that reflects your commitment to excellence. Remember, business success rarely surprises those who achieve it, they show up every day expecting it.

Full-Color Map

The following information is based on an exhibit at the Indiana State Museum named OUR CLOTHES TELL THE STORY OF OUR LIVES.

  • White. Reserved, Refined, Orderly, Elegant, Centered, Inventive, Self-confident, Reflective
  • Blue. Calm, Sensitive, Steady, Trustworthy, Introverted, Peaceful, Loyal, Sincere
  • Green. Sensible, Calm, Outspoken, Curious, Reliable, Balanced, Persevering, Respectable
  • Yellow. Optimistic, Happy, Idealistic, Faithful, Enthusiastic, Helpful, Spontaneous, Responsible
  • Orange. Social, Independent, Active, Adventurous, Happy, Witty, Open-minded, Playful
  • Red. Passionate, Confident, Vibrant, Ambitious, Energetic, Impulsive, Determined, Extroverted
  • Pink. Affectionate, Sympathetic, Romantic, Playful, Generous, Nurturing, Kind, Emotional
  • Purple. Creative, Supportive, Sensitive, Imaginative, Peaceful, Spiritual, Charismatic, Compassionate
  • Black. Dramatic, Bold, Powerful, Mysterious, Independent, Serious, Private, Elegant

Resources

Here are links to related resources you might find useful. If you find your life is out of balance, take action today to change that about yourself. I heard it once said, the time is going to pass whether or not you act. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time becoming the person you aspire to be?

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Key to Business Success

Fork

I dove into breakfast the other day only to be surprised by the unpleasant sensation of a fork with one prong that was bent and out of line with the other three. You might not think this would be a big deal but it definitely detracted from an otherwise great breakfast. With every bite, I was repeatedly reminded of the bent prong as it rubbed against my mouth. Many people I observe, and in the past even admired lead lives that are like a bent fork prong. They are known for their amazing leadership skills, entrepreneurial spirit, and overall business successes. But if you look a little closer, you realize something is out of balance.

I personally know people just like this. They seem to succeed at whatever business endeavor they put their minds to, but they cannot maintain relationship commitments, no matter how many times they try. Or they succeed in business to the detriment of their physical health, cutting corners on the basic building blocks of wellbeing such as sleep, exercise, and a proper diet. While I admire their business skill and entrepreneurial tenacity, I am now able to recognize that living a balanced life is a key facet of true business success.

Really Successful People

True business success must always allow for a constant rebalancing of work and the necessary elements of life such as relationships, health, and mental well-being. There is something about a good entrepreneur that overcomes anything that gets in their way. Unfortunately, this no-nonsense approach that brings great success in one area, can be the very thing that is detrimental to one’s overall life balance. Warren Buffett once said something to the effect that the difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say “no” to almost everything. In other words, they know how to focus on what really matters even though opportunities (and distractions) are constantly presenting themselves.

Living a Balanced Lifestyle

How do you know if you are striking the delicate balance between business success and the other key areas of your life?

First, you must allow a measure of self-awareness and introspection. You will never just fall into proper balance. It takes work.

Next, you need something to measure yourself against. This is where articulating core values is an absolute must. If you have not defined the person you aspire to be, you will never become that person.

Finally, a balanced lifestyle will only come through thoughtful pursuit. The next time you observe your work overtaking your life, remember the bent fork and take time for introspection, check your core values, and pursue a balanced lifestyle.

Resources

Here are links to related resources you might find useful. If you find your life is out of balance, take action today to change that about yourself. I heard it once said, the time is going to pass whether or not you act. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time becoming the person you aspire to be?

Man in business atire
Dress For Success
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