Biz Smarts: Dress for Success Because Every Impression Matters

April 12, 2019 - 4 minutes read

I started my career at an advertising agency in Southern California, where casual business attire was the norm. However, I remember watching my boss leave for client meetings in a business suit and tie – every single time. So, when I was asked to join him for my first meeting with a new client, I too sported a (just-out-of-college, inexpensive, unlined, but nice-looking, if I might say so myself) business suit.

We met the client at his office and he walked in wearing nice slacks and a polo shirt. He looked at us, paused for a moment, and asked if we dressed up just for him. My boss responded with, “of course.” I will never forget the look on our client’s face. It was one of appreciation that we took him, his business and his time seriously. Something as simple as our attire helped set the tone of the meeting and the foundation for a longstanding partnership.

A first impression can make or break how someone perceives you. Obviously, being polite, smart, professional, poised, etc., matters. However, when more than 95 percent of a person’s first impression of you is visual, your attire becomes pretty important.

Within just five minutes, employers can draw conclusions about you based on your appearance. In those 300 seconds, people can distinguish politeness, expressiveness, sympathy, nervousness, dominance, competence, trust and other personality traits. Keep in mind, though — it’s not just about other people making decisions about your behavior based on your appearance — it also impacts how you perceive yourself.

In a recent study, individuals who dressed up were more likely to engage in the big picture and abstract thinking, like a CEO. Individuals who were dressed well were more likely to envision themselves being successful in a company. It can make them feel like their ideas are more worthy, giving them more confidence to share and engage. Those who weren’t well dressed tended to take a more casual approach, focusing more on tactical and minor details and lacked the confidence of their well-dressed counterparts.

Here are four quick tips to dress for success:

  1. Keep it simple. Save the loud or flowery prints for weekends and weddings. It’s hard to go wrong with solid colors and modern, simple patterns.
  2. Professional doesn’t mean old-school. Forget that cumbersome hardbound briefcase; a modern briefcase/backpack is as hip as it is practical – and professional!
  3. You don’t have to be the devil to wear Prada. A great pair of shoes can make an outfit, conversely, a great outfit with dirty or tattered shoes can unravel your entire presentation. If you don’t want to drop hundreds of dollars (or thousands) on a pair of Jimmy Choos, simply opt for a classic professional style in real leather and you’ll be going places!
  4. Don’t underestimate the power of, well, the power suit. A study conducted at Yale, for example, revealed that men who wear suits are better at negotiating than those wearing street clothes or sweats. The study noted that the more casually dressed participants backed down more quickly and weren’t taken as seriously as their suited-up counterparts. The suit may not actually make the man (or woman), but it certainly doesn’t hurt!

Studies continue to back up the notion that it does matter what you wear to work and elsewhere. Not only is your confidence affected by your clothes, but people make snap judgments about your abilities based on what you’re wearing.

Originally published in the Sacramento Business Journal.

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