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The Shift in “Dressing for Success”

The Shift in “Dressing for Success”

To many people, the phrase “dress for success” conjures up the image of a man wearing a suit and tie with combed hair and a clean-shaven face. Business attire has come to represent the epitome of what it means to be successful. To a certain extent, this makes sense. When you picture a meeting room full of C-level businessmen, you almost certainly picture them being meticulously dressed, all wearing similar outfits that conform to the social norm of “business attire.”

However, studies have shown that those who make it a point to always wear a suit and tie are seen by the general public as being less prestigious than those who buck the system, choosing to wear whatever they please.

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Experiments

One study, conducted at Harvard University, had 159 participants read a short story about a professor. The participants were given two descriptors of the professor: one group read that he was well-dressed in suit and tie, cleanly shaven, and neatly groomed. The other group was told he came to class wearing a regular T-shirt, had scraggly hair, and wore a shaggy beard. Other than the description of the professor, the story was the exact same.

When asked about the professor’s probable qualifications, the participants who read that he came to work unkempt and wearing “regular” clothes reported that he must have held more prestige than his colleagues. Their thought process was that, since he was able to dress that way and still keep his job, he must be incredibly good at what he does. The other side of this coin is obvious: the professor who feels the need to dress to impress every day has to give off an air of elitism in order to appear competent.

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A similar study conducted in Italy asked shop assistants to read a story about a woman who came into a store wearing either a variety of different clothing: a dress and fur coat, gym clothes, high heels and an expensive watch, or flip flops and a cheap watch. They were then asked which woman would be most likely to purchase something from the store. Ironically, the shopkeepers reported that the women dressed in gym clothes and flip flops were more likely to buy items from the store. They believed these women to actually be more successful and well-off than those who came in dressed to the nines, as the ones wearing sweatpants didn’t feel the need to get dressed up just to buy something fancy.

Reasoning

There has been a recent paradigm shift in the definition of “dressing for success.” As previously mentioned, it’s those that dress the part that now often appear as if they’re simply playing a role rather than actually being the person they present themselves as. On the other hand, those who dress their own way are often seen as so important that they don’t have to conform to societal norms. Steve Jobs was famous for wearing a simple black turtleneck during Apple’s major press releases. He didn’t have to wear a suit to impress anybody; it was his ideas that made people stare in awe. Mark Zuckerberg can almost always be found wearing a grey T-shirt and jeans; he’s gone on record saying he doesn’t have time to waste trying to look perfect every day of his life. If you saw these people on the street and had no idea who they were, you wouldn’t think they were billionaires. But that’s the point: they want their ideas to define them, not their looks.

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Uniform Dress

So what does dressing for success mean? It all depends on the situation. Doctors can wear white coats, scrubs, or sometimes business-casual dress depending on if they are performing care, surgery, or a simple consultation. Policemen or security guards may or may not be uniformed, depending on if they want to keep the peace by making their presence known or if they want to catch someone committing an illegal act. Athletes, of course, wear their team uniform on the field, but will immediately suit up afterward for the press conference.

The Takeaway

The phrase “dress for success” makes it seem as if all it takes to experience greatness is to put on the right clothes. In truth, it’s the person inside the clothes that define what success looks like.

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Featured photo credit: Clark Kent / Nana B Agyei via farm4.staticflickr.com

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Matt Duczeminski

A passionate writer who shares lifestlye tips on Lifehack

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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