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Danny Chung
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Stephen Crowe

Managing Director

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dressing

My dad used to wear the same thing to work every day: dark suit, white shirt, sober patterned tie, black shoes and belt. My mum’s workplace had rules for women: no pants, no open-toed shoes, and always stockings, even in summer. It might have been hot and boring, but it sure was easy.

The rules have loosened, leaving us more able to express ourselves in today’s workplace, but also more confused. How casual should casual Fridays be? Should you really dress for the job you want rather than the one you have, or will that make you look unapproachable and over-ambitious? If you’re trying to set the standard for your team to follow, how will you interpret your organisation’s dress code? Even the advice to dress like the rest of the office is difficult if you are moving from one temporary assignment to another: before you see the workplace, how will you know what’s acceptable?

According to research by 34SP.com, 55% of workers agree that wearing business attire makes people more productive. And 20% also believe those who dress too casually are ‘slackers’.

The benefits of dressing well are clear. So here are three basic principles to remember about dressing for work.

  1. How you look is an important part of your personal brand.

Research on job interviews showed that an observer could predict whether or not the interviewee would be offered the job from watching just the first 15 seconds of an interview. Looks matter, no doubt about it.

  1. If you are in any doubt, dress more formally and more conservatively.

Whether it was for meetings, dinners, interviews or your first day on the job, people I spoke to were unanimous that a more formal and conservative outfit did no harm (whereas anything revealing, sloppy or too casual could be the kiss of death).

  1. Outdated clothing makes you look out of touch.

Sticking to looks that have long passed their use-by date gives the impression that you can’t be bothered to keep up, and that your work habits may be as inflexible. This is particularly the case in image-conscious industries and workplaces.

So how do these three rules apply? Context is key, and it definitely pays to research the industry and the specific workplace if possible. The aim is not to stick out, but to show that you want to be part of the team.  When you dress in line with the rest of your organisation, you show that you are working in the right place.

In banking, law and finance, you can’t go wrong with a suit, neatly groomed hair and low-key accessories. Anything that shows off too much skin, is too brightly coloured or otherwise draws attention to itself is a no-no. In more creative industries, the code may be ‘business casual’, in which case wear a neat shirt with pants and a belt and leather shoes for men, or a modest dress or skirt that covers the thighs for women.

What about specific occasions? At this time of year, dressing for the Christmas party is top of mind. You may want to break out and show everybody what a party person you really are, but remember you are still at work. Plunging necklines, short, tight skirts or your favourite singlet and board shorts are not okay. By all means wear something fun that expresses your personality, but not to the extent that you are the talking point on Monday morning. Don’t deviate too much from your day-to-day look, and ask the party organiser or check the venue’s dress code if you are unsure.

One last word: body piercings and tattoos. Although they are becoming more acceptable in general, it’s probably wise to assume that they are not part of a professional look. Remove jewellery (apart from a pair of small earrings for women) and cover tattoos. Maybe they are acceptable in your workplace, but it doesn’t take much effort to hide them and they could make the difference between getting the job or landing the contract, or not. When in doubt, remember that there are very few occasions where being well dressed and well groomed will work against you.