Suits, t shirts, flip flopsJeans. T-shirt. 80s style power suit with shoulder pads. Super hero cloak.

Clothes – we all need them. Unless you work in naturist setting. But working with technical and scientific people it can often be a bit of a mine field for my clients. Don’t get me wrong I love my jeans and a Marvel t-shirt but when I’m at work, they are not.

Luckily, it’s not just us that struggle with dress codes. An illuminating chat with a friend who works in the pharma industry the other day is a case in point. The (new) management decided to let staff choose what they wanted to wear. “They are all adults”. Yep, personal expression came out to play which meant several hundred definitions of what was appropriate for work. So outfits were either way too skimpy or simply scruffy and dirty. Middle managers struggled to find people ‘presentable enough’ to meet with clients.

Does it matter?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say yes. I am writing a blog after all. There is an old adage “dress for the job you want, not the one you have”. Now readers you are all pretty smart cookies. Someone should be looking to promote you. But if they can’t envisage you in the role, you have an obstacle.

It also effects what your peers think of you. Just look at these quotes from’s Work Dress Survey :

“I might think someone who is dressed down for work might not be that smart.”
“Men who are sloppy and women who show too much skin are viewed as junior.”
“I think when people are poorly dressed for work they come across as not being team players and as not having respect for the workplace.”

Dress codes – or lack of them – can also inform you of whether you will fit with a company culture. It can be helpful in that gut decision of whether some where is right for you. Over half those surveyed said it was ‘either very important or moderately important when it comes to accepting a job offer’.

You can still be you and look like you fit (and in certain workplaces t-shirts are the ‘uniform’). There is always room for personality but this can be expressed in many ways. I also like the ability to switch between work me and home me. Unless of course I know I’m home office bound all day. I which case the jeans are back in the frame.

When to make an extra effort

You never get a second chance at a first impression. So for those big moments in life, clothes are an important part of the package. Interviews. Presentations. Meeting key clients. For all of these there is an expectation that the process is given respect. So don a jacket or polish those shoes.

It can be confusing to know though just what is meant by ‘business casual’ and the like if the event gives you a dress code. I found this MoneyCrashers page helpful here. If in doubt dress more formally than you expect and you can always dress it down. Take off the tie or jacket. The reverse is also true. I know an academic who keeps a smart jacket on the back of her door to slip on when unexpected big wigs arrive (interesting phrase – explanation here). Hubby (a city type) keeps a tie in a drawer for the same reason.

Still confused? Hate the idea? One of the best things your Nerd Coach did was to get advice on what colours and styles suited her. I am not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination but thanks to Jane Brook I now have a effectively a recipe of what works. Makes shopping (which I used to hate) easy.

I can’t (and won’t!) take you shopping. But I can help you prepare for that next big career step!

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