“Dress For Success” is BS

People try to get me to tell their staff what is appropriate and inappropriate to wear in the workplace all the time. How many times have they been told what to wear to the office? I’d guess it’s lots. If employees still aren’t “getting it,” it’s not them. It’s the way they are being told.

Most presentations and discussions about professional dress focus on “dress code” and “dress for success” advice.  While this information can be useful, it is usually delivered in a way that discounts the employees’ dressing preferences, personal style and self-expression. The dressing options offered are usually traditional, classic and…dare I say it….out-dated and boring! What’s worse, the employees often feel humiliated and unappreciated for their talents and brainpower.

A professional wardrobe can (and must) include more than navy blue suits, white button-down shirts and sensible shoes. Telling people they have to dress like this is the same thing as telling them that they have to wear a costume and hide who they are to keep their jobs. No one is going to do or be their best under those circumstances.

Here is the real issue – employees can’t figure out how to express themselves authentically within the confines of the dress code. If they knew how to do that, they would be dressing “appropriately.” Self-expression is so important that employees would rather suffer the consequences of dressing inappropriately than suffer dressing inauthentically.

So you’ve probably figured out that I don’t do “Dress For Success.” I do, however, show employees how to shed their corporate costume and make the clothes they like to wear, appropriate for the workplace.

3 Responses to “Dress For Success” is BS

  1. So very very true. Didn’t you and John B get “the dress for success” talk way back when we both worked at that environmental company? I never did get that ‘talk’ all the years I worked there – though I know others who did. I’ve been a hexagonal peg most of my life (I think ‘weird’ was one adjective used by a manager) & not managerial material – it evidently showed.

    • Hi MH – I don’t remember getting the talk specifically (I must have blocked it out). I do remember getting told I should use my femininity to get ahead. You might remember my totally unPC response to that :). And I remember managers talking about how inappropriately people dressed behind their backs and getting group “training” on professional attire.

      As for hexagonal peg – if that means kind, diligent, conscientious, works well with others, watches other’s backs, and does the best job she can? Then you are definitely a hexagonal peg….one that I loved working with. xxoo.

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