I talk a lot about developing your own individual confident style. However, an important ingredient to making your individual style work for you in business is to decipher and respond to the dress code in your working environment.
And just to anticipate an objection which I often hear to the above statement, if you work with other people, there is a dress code: whatever the official policy and whatever your approach to style, your clothes send coded messages about you – and the message depends on the context and the culture of the organisation.
What is not context specific is the ‘success factor’ – you should always dress as though you are successful in the job that you are doing or preferably the one you’re aiming for next.
Where uniforms and medals are worn, ‘codification’ – badges of rank, medals, etc… – makes it easy to detect success. But in business, the code is the sort that needs deciphering.
Men have long understood this code. We expect successful men to wear good suits – most men in senior management positions buy at least one new suit a season and refresh shirt collar shapes and widths of ties. It’s a pretty simple code and easy to adapt for the individual personality.
But women, particularly in the UK, seem to have two problems with dress code. The first is to do with guilt, worrying about what they spend on clothes to appear successful – not wanting to appear frivolous. And the second is that successful women, after decades of wearing either boring copies of men’s suits or clothes that are inappropriate, are only just (as they start to do business with stylishly dressed continental counterparts) beginning to learn how to respond to the code and make it work for them.
To be clear, I’m not saying everyone should have the same look.
If you are a modern classic person, who wants an up-to-the-minute but subtle look, you need to make sure that the design, fit and fabric are the best. Somebody who is in a more creative world will also need to dress in a businesslike way but can be a bit more edgy – this can also be done with modern classic clothes but accessorised more creatively.
Responding to the code means developing an individual style which reflects the organisation. With a little thought it is easy to decipher the code (see the little quiz below); figuring out how to respond is more difficult. Which is why it’s so important to get the help of a professional who can maximise all your personal assets.
Just for a bit of fun, and to illustrate the point about context, take a look at the pictures within the post and below. I think these are modern, edgy outfits that fit the codes of different types of organisation. I think there are a couple of city executives, a lawyer, an IT executive, a consultant, two advertising/creative execs, a magazine exec, an entrepreneurial CEO and someone working in a film company.
Can you guess which is which? Answers next week.