Dress for Success: Do Your Clothes Really Make a Difference?

Dress for the Job you Want

Dress for the Job you Want

A couple of ‘blogs ago’ I wrote about  the organisation Dress for Success. Run by Sonya Lennon of RTE fame – the organisation provides clothing and interview skills for women who are out of work or looking to move up to the next career level. It’s a terrific organisation – Google it and get the full story yourself. It’s good for the soul to see how much time and effort people devote to others – without any visible reward.

Looking Good:  I was reminded of the links between ‘success’ and ‘dress’ on a recent executive development programme. We (Cathy Buffini and myself) secured a ‘gig’ with a major pharmaceutical company.  A development  programme covering Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, Personal Branding and Teambuilding with a group of high potential engineers from 8 countries. During the Leadership module we covered off on all the ‘usual suspects’ (definition, visioning, role modelling and so on).  It was going well, with solid debates across a number of topics. Then, we touched on the issue of dress code. Whoosh!

Check Shirts:  Being a bit flippant (I know, I know. You’d never have guessed it), I drew a ‘picture’ on the flipchart of a stereotypical male engineer (75% of the group were men).   Short-sleeved, check shirt. Sometimes with an accompanying vest! Pocket full of BIC biros. Dockers pants with attached key ring hanging from the belt loop. Very comfortable shoes – with an emphasis on the feel rather than the look. It was meant to be funny and provoke a debate. Hey, that worked!

Two Camps: The group essentially split into 2 camps. There was the ‘why should it matter group’? They argued that productivity and dress code are mutually exclusive.  There is no crossover, whatsoever. Success is about brains, hard work and delivery – not shoe type.  The second group (of which I was an honoury Member) argued that the first group were technically correct. Dress code shouldn’t matter. But, it does. Look at the ‘Chiefs’ in any tribe (from a Wall Street law firm to the Catholic Church).  They dress differently.  If you want to become an elder in your tribe – dress is somewhere in the mix.  A Louis Copeland suit won’t overcome a low IQ or laziness, but it’s part of the success jigsaw when you want to rise above your peers (assumption: you do want to rise above your peers?).

Over-Egged: It can be overdone too. Some people just try too hard. Gucci handbags and Jimmy Choos are neat – if – they are not being used to ‘outshine’ your peers or as a barrier to hide personal insecurities. In similar vein,  some men wear heavy Gold Cufflinks which almost require a forklift to raise their arms because of the extra weight. What’s going on there? (“Look at all my Jewellery. See, how important I am”).

Many years ago when I worked with General Electric, we promoted a shop floor worker to a supervisory role. The response? He raced into town and bought a chalk-striped suit which made him look like a racehorse owner! Respectfully, I had to ask him to go home and change when we came into work the following Monday. He would never have survived in that rig-out  (he later morphed into a great manager; sin scéal eile).

The dress code theme is such an interesting debate – with shades of opinion on all sides.  I personally hate wearing ties and am probably happiest wearing ‘dog walking’ gear. This works fine, when walking a dog – but it’s not appropriate when going to work.  So, here’s the skinny. Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.

Now, where is the nearest clothes recycling bin.  I sure have a lot of check shirts to get rid of. Ssshhh. Just don’t tell anyone…


Lighter Moment: 9 WORDS WOMEN USE (from the resourceful and ever-so-slightly sexist Kevin Griffin)

  1. Fine: This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.
  1. Five Minutes: If she is getting dressed, this means a half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.
  1. Nothing: This is the calm before the storm. This means something, and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with nothing usually end in fine.
  1. Go Ahead: This is a dare, not permission. Don’t Do It!
  1. Loud Sigh: This non-verbal statement is often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about nothing (refer back to # 3 for the meaning of nothing).
  1. That’s Okay: This is one of the most dangerous statements a women can make to a man. That’s okay means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.
  1. Thanks: A woman is thanking you, do not question, or faint. Just say you’re welcome. (I want to add in a clause here – this is true, unless she says ‘Thanks a lot’ – that is PURE sarcasm and she is not thanking you at all. DO NOT say ‘you’re welcome’ . That will bring on a ‘whatever’).
  1. Whatever: Is a woman’s way of saying   F–YOU!
  1. Don’t worry about it, I got it: Another dangerous statement, meaning this is something that a woman has told a man to do several times, but is now doing it herself. This will later result in a man asking ‘What’s wrong?’ For the woman’s response refer to # 3.

Kevin’s suggestion: Send this to the men you know, warning them about arguments they can avoid if they remember the terminology. Send this to all the women you know to give them a good laugh, because they know it’s true!

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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2 Responses to Dress for Success: Do Your Clothes Really Make a Difference?

  1. John Condon says:

    I can relate to the whole issue of dress code and the impact it can have in an organisation. I worked in a manufacturing environment as a senior manager where the GM always insisted that his staff wore ties. The unionised people wore uniforms and the rest wore anything goes! This helped very much to spawn a them and us culture. Dress down day was on a Friday so it was a relief to leave the dreaded tie at home. it was interesting to see the increase in the level of engagement on a Friday and it also became more evident when the new GM threw out the ties !!
    So we don’t need to dress in a certain way, albeit you do need standards, to demonstrate who you are and what you stand for..

    • Thanks John for the thoughtful comment. While I agree with the sentiment expressed, it is ‘organisation dependant’. It shouldn’t be like this… but that’s the way it is in some organisations.

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