Clear Comm Consulting

What Do We Portray by How We Dress and Why It Matters

Apr 27, 2017

Perhaps this is a question which rarely crosses your mind. Or, as a leader, employer or HR professional, maybe this thought hasn’t come to you quite this way. Here’s the question: What do we portray when we head out the door? Are we putting on clothes that are a good match for who we are and the job we have – or want to have? All of us see all ends of the spectrum every day and it impacts who gets hired, promoted and who gets heard.

The reason this phenomenon exists is something for the behavioral studies experts to ponder. There may be answers discoverable in a person’s self-image, family history or how they could not care less. For those of us looking at and making judgments about what others choose to wear, maybe it’s just shorthand in the decision-making process. We’ll let the truly smart people sort out those answers and for now focus on the impact of what we choose to wear.

Dressing that seems out-of-synch: We’ve all seen this situation. The person at work is too casual, too “night clubby” or too fancy. Is that fair? Not always, but it can be the reaction if we dress in a way that doesn’t accurately reflect the role we play. In a specific example, if you are already older than the person you are interacting with AND you dress in clothes more befitting your parent’s generation you can see the multiplier effect in play here. Can you see where there might be a bit of a disconnect? Or the man who walks in with a stiff suit for a “young and hip” workplace may be perfectly qualified, but could be finished before the interview even starts. Again, not fair, and actually illegal under U.S. labor law, but it still happens.

Understanding Your Role: Okay, how about the 40-something dude who ALWAYS wears a backward baseball cap and scruffy jeans? Or the mom who might be confused with one of her daughters – for all the wrong reasons? The most common complaint around these people is that we have a hard time taking them seriously – or they are frustrated when others won’t take them seriously. Again, I leave it to the behavioral experts to sort out the “why” here, but what I am asking is for you to look in the mirror, because it makes difference. Especially if you are looking to move up. Are you dressed for that role?

In my view, there is nothing “wrong” with anyone who dresses in a way not reflecting their best. The point is, it has an impact. Don’t forget that. If you are continually getting turned down as a job hunter, are you dressing in comfortable but out-of-date clothes? Or too fashion forward? There are plenty of current fashion options that can look dignified but current. Women can find a solid colored dark outfit and see if it makes a difference. Or, for guys, I know you love your favorite sports team jersey, but perhaps invest in a few good quality dress shirts that fit well and some nice dress pants. You might be surprised by the reaction.

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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