Dressing for Success: What Do Your Clothes Say About You?

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Have you ever wondered why it’s called a power suit? Two reasons: 1) It makes you feel powerful and 2) It exudes the look and feeling of power and control to others. When dressing for work, ask yourself, “How do I feel today and how do I want others to see me?” Once you know the answer, it’s time to choose the clothes best known to convey the appropriate attitude.
Formal vs. Casual
Make sure you’re going in the right direction by choosing the right type of clothing—casual or formal. With formal, professional men typically wear suits with ties while women wear skirt or pant suits with appropriate footwear. In a casual setting, on the other hand, there are many different variations. Some offices, for instance, consider khakis and a button-down on men and a simple dress on women to be casual; while others consider casual to be jeans and flip-flops with a t-shirt for both men and women. So, asking for a written office dress code or something similar is a big help. Paying attention to what others are wearing as you come and go from interviews will give you a clue into what’s acceptable as well.
Fashion Forward with Fit
You simply can’t be powerful in garments that don’t fit. There are not many people who can take something off the rack and wear it as it was meant to look. For this reason, a good tailor can be your very best friend.
Men, your formal suit sleeves should hit right at the base of your thumb so that when the jacket is worn naturally, the sleeves are just about ½” shorter than the long-sleeve shirt you should always wear beneath. The same rule applies to sports coats, except you’re not always required to wear a long-sleeve shirt. Then, on the pants, cuffs should always fall right to the top edge of the heel. Waists, quite simply, should fit and not have a “bunch” in front or back.
Women, for a formal skirt suit, your hem shouldn’t be shorter than 2” above the knee. The jacket sleeves, just like with men, should hit right at the base of the thumb. Remember that a well-fitting jacket should be form-fitted as well. This means, having tuck pleats or darts in the back and draw the jacket in at all the right places. The waist should also be tailored to fit your form nicely.
Networking Expert, Lillian D. Bjorseth, explains that success will come to those who follow these additional fit and fashion pointers:
  • Shoulder pads suggest authority
  • Single-breasted jackets with center vents are best for men and women of average height
  • Double-breasted jackets are best for taller professionals
  • Thin, vertical lines do wonders for the figure, on both men and women, and give the illusion of height; this is also achieved with classic, three-button jackets
So according to Bjorseth, wearing a long-sleeved coat with slightly padded shoulders and collar will make the wearer appear 1/3 more powerful.
Pick a Color…Not Just Any Color
You have the fashion, you have the fit, now you just need the right color. And, believe it or not, color has a tremendous amount to do with how others view you. Here are some fun and interesting facts about colors in business:
  • Dark – Dark colors in general are seen as more powerful colors, this is why charcoal grey and dark blue or navy are the two suit colors every man is encouraged to keep in his closet.
  • Black – While black is definitely dark, it can be seen as overpowering and threatening if too much is worn at once; so, make a black suit less intimidating by pairing it with neutral colored shirts and shoes, as well as basic, but colorful accessories and jewelry.
  • Blue – Trustworthy, loyal and wise are all adjectives used to describe the perceived character of people in blue. It is a calming color that tends to put people at ease. Wearing blue to an interview has been shown to increase the chances of getting hired more than any other color.
  • Purple – Be careful with purple. While it’s generally described as the color of royalty, it’s also the color men say they least like in a marketing pitch.
  • Red and Orange – While these are bright, charismatic colors that outgoing people tend to gravitate toward, they also stir emotion in others that can work against you. Dependent upon how they are worn, these fiery colors can be seen as aggressive and independent, which a manager can potentially see as meaning you aren’t a team player. So, wear these colors as accent pieces, accessories and jewelry instead of primary coordinates.
What do your clothes say about you?

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About Author

Amy Day

Amy Day is the Associate Publisher and a contributing writer for Strategy Magazine. She has an MBA in Marketing Communications and Strategic Leadership from Southern Methodist University and has been on staff with Strategy for nearly a decade. She is an award-winning business executive with customer service credentials from the Disney Institute. In addition to editorial oversight, her regular beat includes business, customer service, publishing, and family/child wellness.

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