I have always found it hard to find clothes that are professional and stylish. Finally, there is a group of fashion startups launched by women focused on clothes you can actually wear to the office. Bloomberg Business Week features four of them: MM. LaFleur, Senza Tempo, Argent and Les Lunes in its Fall Style Special.
It’s important, especially for women, to look the part at work because of the connection people make between how you look and how people perceive you and your abilities on the job. You’ll never make it to the C-suite if you look like a secretary.
Dressing for work has always been easier for men. Men tend to wear a uniform to work: a dark suit and tie in a formal office setting and khakis and a button down shirt for casual offices.
Women have more choices but also more opportunities to blow it. As the Argent website puts it, “Women face a sartorial double bind, too original or forgettable, too feminine or not enough, too uptight or casual. It’s time to change the conversation – and your clothes.”
How you dress is even more important than serving as a means to create positive perceptions about your abilities.
Studies have found that what we wear at work even affects how we perform. You truly can dress for success.
One woman I’ll call “Rachel” came up for a private speed branding session after a talk recently. Rachel’s boss had asked her if she could take on a new project, and Rachel gave her a truthful response. She said, “Honestly, I’m swamped. I can’t take on anything more.”
In the course of the conversation, Rachel’s boss told her that she wasn’t as productive as other members of the department – something that took Rachel completely by surprise. In fact, Rachel felt that she was one of the most productive members of the team!
It’s a common problem. Two people – a boss and a direct report – with vastly different perceptions of a situation.
The business world, like most places, operates on perceptions. As brand managers know, it often doesn’t matter which product wins in objective performance tests, what really matters is which product people perceive to be best. Likewise, you have to be perceived to be a top performer for it to count, too.
You have to care about other people’s perceptions about you, especially your boss’s perceptions about you. While it’s true that you have the most control over your self-brand, if you work in a company, your boss is probably your number one target market for Brand You.
Rachel realized that she had a serious problem. She was branded in a way that she didn’t want to be branded by her boss – someone important to her career success at her company.
What can Rachel do to change perceptions?