Dressing for Success

You can’t judge a book by its cover, an old saying that might be true. However does that apply when dressing for success? After all, you’re not a book.


Career counsellors and coaches often advise professionals to dress for that job they desire, not the one they have at the moment. They understand that first impressions count, and quite often, the first thing someone sees is unforgettable.

Appearance and body language contribute to curating that critical first impression, so it’s important to make it count.


The standard

‘Office appropriate’ has definitely changed over time. Business suits are no longer the standard dress code in every work environment. Today, the corporate world is more of a “business casual”  environment. In some offices, employees interpret that as ‘anything goes’. Whilst in some offices, many professionals accept that their workplace may not be the place to experiment too heavily with fashion choices.


A great first impression is an essential step on the ladder to many places . This is a contributing factor to how successful your interview may be. Verbal and non-verbal cues will be evaluated. How you’re dressed, how you shake their hand, how you behave during the walk from the waiting area to the meeting room etc. All of these things will be taken into account when the final decision is made.


How you’re dressed precedes you, and can be an important indicator as to various aspects of your characteristics and approach to particular things.

Does it matter?

Dressing for success, or put simply, Dressing appropriately, creates the impression that you take the opportunity seriously. Dressing inappropriately may lead to the opposite impression. Whilst this may not be ‘fair’, and it’s certainly not the correct for organisations to assess candidates, it’s important not to avoid the reality that it happens, and can impact the outcome of an interview.


Depending on the organisation, conservative, yet professional clothing is always a safe option. Select clothes you’ve tried and tested before. Items you know that work.

If in doubt, seek advice from friends and family who’ll give you an honest opinion based on the role and company.


It goes without saying but your clothes should be clean, well-fitting and pressed. You should wear polished and cleaned conservative shoes. Again, this does depends on the company you’re interviewing for, however let’s assume the standard corporate gig here.


Select accessories which accentuate your dressing rather than detract from it. If you have any body or facial piercings, you should remove them as many industries unfortunately might not look favourably on them. It’s not ideal, however this advice is designed to give you best possible chance. The discriminative behaviour of organisations is a topic for another article.


Jewellery and fragrances should be kept to a minimum.


Your look should be simple yet classy. Less is more should be your watchword. This is to give you enough time to become accustomed to the work environment and the dress code applied at the company.

Appropriate dressing is either a conservatively fitted dress or a suit. Traditionally, skirts have been knee-length, however, slightly longer or shorter lengths are also accepted.


You should refrain from wearing transparent sweaters or blouses. They should also not have revealing waistlines, low necklines, or be tight fitting. In other words, your clothes should not have details or finishing that undermines from your face. Generally, arms should be covered to the biceps or at most the wrist.


Your perfume shouldn’t be strong. Having a heady fragrance can offend your interview or cause them to have an allergic reaction. If you are not sure, it’s better to err on the side of caution and wear a subtle fragrance. Don’t pair your briefcase with a purse. It should be one or the other.


Wear low heels or flat shoes in colours that aren’t loud. Your feet should not be the centre of attention. Ensure your shoes are polished and clean. Avoiding open-toed shoes is a smart idea as they are typically linked to social gatherings.


The accessories you choose should accentuate your personality and express your best features. However, it is pertinent that your accessories are kept simple.

Appropriate business attire is a suit in grey, black, or navy blue. Your shirt should be conservative in a light blue or white colour. It is best if the shirt has a contrasting colour to the tie or jacket. Generally, your arms should be covered all the way to your wrist. When you roll your sleeves up to expose your arms you adopt a body language that is seen as informal or less powerful.


Your ties have to be constructed of silk or a similar fabric. It is imperative that your tie coordinates with your trousers and jacket, however, it can contrast with your shirt’s colour. Your socks should either go higher than the calf or stop at the calf. Conservative colours to select from as grey, black, or dark blue.


Not only should the shoes you select be ones with laces, but they should also blend with your trousers. This means only dark shoes are permissible. Your leather belt should visually match your shoes.


Jewellery should be minimised. This means you should refrain from wearing a neck chain and you should have no more than a watch and a ring. For the cold months, a full-length coat is advised. However, you should refrain from wearing casual coats.


Your cologne need not be strong. Having a heady fragrance can offend your interview or cause them to have an allergic reaction. If you are not sure, it’s better to err on the side of caution and wear a more subtle cologne.

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