Dress For Success At Work –

Okay, you’ve graduated with your business degree and landed your first job in the corporate world. Those in the business workplace are expected to maintain a certain level of professionalism, but how big of a role does style of dress play in that professionalism? What is the appropriate way to dress for a business environment?

These may be common questions for new entrants to the workforce, such as recent business school graduates of Arizona State University, Ashford University, Florida Tech University, University of Phoenix, University of Southern California, or anywhere – who could stand to gain some insight from seasoned business professionals.

“I generally tell people, especially when they first start a job, it’s better to overdo it than underdo it,” said Michelle Coussens, dean of Kendall College’s School of Business. “People don’t get fired for overdressing, but they may get fired for underdressing. Until you know for sure the dress code, it’s better to err on the side of caution.”

For some people, the idea of “business attire” equals dull and boring. Not so, according to Coussens.

“I’m a big fan of individuality. I don’t think people should just wear brown, blue, black, and grey,” she said. “It’s nice when people pick out styles and coordinate with interesting accessories. For example, a woman might wear a black skirt with a fuchsia blouse or scarf for a touch of color, which works in your favor as a woman because it accentuates confidence and flair.”

However, the accessories women choose to wear can greatly influence how they will be received.

“The key is you don’t want to distract people with excessive accessories, like dangling bracelets, for example,” Coussens said. “If you want people to look at your face while speaking, that can be a big distraction. If you want them to remember the message you are trying to convey, it’s important not to have too many distractions.”

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Though women generally have more latitude than men in what they can wear, Coussens said, there is a little more flexibility for men than in the past.

“Suits today are a little more trendy than what they used to be,” she said. “Men should certainly wear collared shirts. The main thing with them is they cannot be wrinkled.”

Coussens shared that she offers the same words of wisdom to her own sons in college.

“One of the things I told them before going off to college was you must have a blazer, a pair of khaki pants, and you must hang up your shirts,” she said. “There is even a sort of hidden weapon available now — wrinkle release — so they don’t have to iron.”

Coussens said businesspeople should think of their job as a theater: dress for the part.

“What message do you want to send people? You only get one chance to make a first impression,” she said.

Coussens referenced a study on enclothed cognition – the effect clothing has on the wearer’s psychological process – in which a group of people were given a test. Some participants were given a white lab coat before they took the test and others were not. Results showed that the participants who had the white lab coats performed better on the test than those who did not wear a coat.

“The style of clothes makes the person. What you wear relates to your self-confidence level,” she said. “Dressing like a business professional doesn’t mean you lose your individuality. It’s more of finding a way to still express that individuality. That’s part of the fun of it, I think.”

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