Do you need to ‘dress up’ to be taken seriously?

Mental healthSocial healthArticleMay 11, 2022

We all want to be taken seriously at work. But besides the obvious – our personalities – is the respect of our co-workers and clients a good outfit away?

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Research certainly suggests that what we wear has influence.

According to studies cited in Social Psychological and Personality Science, donning formal attire is tied to greater perceived professionalism and less approachability, while casual clothing “is related to intimacy and familiarity”.

Image Consultant Jon Michail says that our dress is part of our “personal brand”.

“Not dressing to a ‘quality’ standard will impact an individual’s image – unfortunately it’s the way of the world.”

Indeed, according to Psychology Today, “people thin-slice others based on how a person looks and sounds, more so than their explicit verbal statements” and making a first impression takes a measly seven seconds.

But in the dress up (or down) debate, context matters

Personal style specialist Donna Cameron says that “it’s important to consider what is appropriate to the occasion”, as well as the culture of the company when choosing an outfit.

“Heels so high that you cannot walk properly in them is NOT professional,” she explains.

Nor is constricting clothing in occupations that demand free movement, she adds.

In recent decades, workplaces have become increasingly relaxed about their formal dress codes and the rise of remote working has given new life to casual wear, the BBC reports.

Ultimately, Cameron says that “regardless of whether you choose to dress up or not, both care and consideration should always be given to your outfit to demonstrate professionalism” because clothing is a “visual shorthand”, enabling us to “read the motivations and values of the wearer”.

Style tips for the professional space

Whether it’s for a job interview, presentation, important meeting, or business as usual, here are what the experts recommend keeping in mind:

  • Hygiene – Good grooming is a way to demonstrate respect for others, says Cameron.
  • Fit – Ensure “your clothes fit you well” and remember that “colour is powerful”, she adds.
  • Audience – “As with any other type of communication…consider your audience and dress accordingly,” says Cameron, adding “[don’t forget] cultural appropriateness if working internationally”.
  • Sustainability – “Wear natural fibres,” says Michail. “They’re good for your health and also the environment.”
  • Context – “Smart casual can be as effective as a business suit. It all depends on context,” says Michail.
  • Identity – “What you choose to wear is an expression of self,” says Cameron, who adds that in the workplace, your outfit should ideally “become a seamless extension of yourself, and…allow you to shine and to perform”.

By Kate Cross, LiveWell Reporter