Monday Mornings with Madison

Dressing for Success

While it’s been said many times that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, marketers know that people do just that.  That’s why product packaging plays such a pivotal role in product sales.  Product packaging designers know that looks matter, and without a properly designed package a product is hard to sell regardless of how good its other attributes might be. Indeed, packaging design represents what the brand stands for as much as other elements of the brand visual identity do, and in certain cases the packaging is almost as important as the product itself.

This applies not only to the sale of products.  It also applies to the most valuable resource any business has… its employees.  Career coaches and HR experts agree that applicants should dress for the job they want, not the job they currently have or last had. Applicants are evaluated first by their appearance, which is a key part of body language.  Employers want to hire someone who ‘looks the part.’  But ‘dressing the part’ applies not only to those seeking employment.  Dressing for success is a personal philosophy that everyone in the workplace should adopt.   While office attire has certainly changed over the years, giving rise to ‘business casual’ and ‘casual Fridays’, how employees dress for work still matters.  Here’s why.

The Outward Appearance Reflects The Inner Person

How managers and employees dress for work says as much about the business as it says about them.  That may be why so many employers have adopted either a formal uniform or a casual recommendation for attire that adds uniformity to the workplace.  Even in this age of remote employees and flexible workplaces, attire is it still important.  Here is why.

  1. Proper attire shows respect for oneself. Clothes make a strong visual statement about how the employee’s self image.  While comfort may aid productivity and creativity, there are items of sporty clothing that simply do not belong in the workplace because they are not professional. Rather than expressing individuality, it expresses a casualness and lack of seriousness about oneself.
  2. Proper attire shows respect for others. Appropriate dress expresses respect for the setting and the people in it. Depending on the business circumstance, employees want to fit in with the organization.
  3. Proper attire generates more respect from others. It’s been proven that people who dress well are treated with more respect. Someone who does not dress for success is likely to be overlooked for a promotion over someone who has gained the respect (through both appearance and performance) of management.  Like it or not, most people carry subconscious thoughts about what is acceptable or not. Especially in the workplace. When given the choice between a well-dressed candidate and one in sloppy clothes with unkempt hair, a manager will almost always choose the former.
  4. Dressing for success showcases a person’s full potential. It’s an outward way of expressing the symbolic “best foot forward.” In today’s ultra competitive marketplace, every competitive edge matters.

So what qualifies as ‘dressing for success’ today?  Apparently, in an effort to assist graduates who are preparing to go to job interviews, many colleges and universities post their recommended attire for the business setting.  The recommendations are all very similar, practical and provide excellent guidelines for what is acceptable workplace attire.  The key is to dress to enhance appearance so that the manager can look beyond the clothes to concentrate on the person’s skills.

A Dress Code That Highlights Substance

According to Forbes magazine, here are some tips for men and women on how to dress for success:

For men, traditional attire typically includes:
• A button-down shirt.
• Polished black shoes.
• A blue, black or gray jacket (in places that are more formal)
• Slacks that complement the jacket
• A conservative tie
• Socks
• Minimal cologne
• Minimal jewelry
• Groomed hair

For women, traditional attire usually includes:
• Skirt or dress that below the knee, slacks or suit
• Blouse, sweater or jacket (depending on the weather and position)
• Simple jewelry.
• Minimal makeup
• Minimal perfume
• Polished flats or moderate heels
• Pantyhose (with skirts or dresses)
• Hair should be neatly combed/groomed

Beyond Wardrobe

According to Mark Twain, “Clothes make the man.”  But dressing for success is about more than just clothing.  Dressing for success is about presenting a total positive image of success.  Clothing is just the first step in that image.


A smile shows approachability and a good amount of eye contact shows sincerity and a genuine interest in others.

Be positive.

Self confidence and belief in the ability to meet the goals set are also important.

Be prepared.

Dressing for success also includes being prepared. Again, this is part of image. Walking into a meeting with a notepad and pen communicates professionalism.

Use appropriate communication.

Don’t destroy the visual image by using inappropriate or casual language.  It is important to use an appropriate tone of voice, good diction and grammar, and be aware of body language.

While skills, experience, and qualifications are important, so are dress and grooming. Appearance expresses motivation and professionalism. When in doubt, err on the conservative side which will allow a clearer view of who you are without distractions from inappropriate clothing. Your clothing and grooming should create the image that allows the inner you to shine.

Quote of the week

“You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure.” Zig Ziglar

© 2013, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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