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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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Last Updated on November 19, 2018

How to Find a Suitable Professional Mentor

How to Find a Suitable Professional Mentor

I went through a personal experience that acted as a catalyst for an epiphany. When I got fired from a job, I learned something important about myself and where I was headed with my freelance career. I realized that the most important aspect of that one rather small job was the influence of the company owner. I realized that I wasn’t hurt that the company and I weren’t a perfect match; I was devastated by the stark fact that I needed a mentor and I had almost found one but lost her.

Suddenly, I felt like J.D., the main character in “Scrubs,” chasing Dr. Cox and trying to rip insight and wisdom from someone I respect. The realization that a recognized thought-leader and experienced entrepreneur severed ties with me felt crushing. But, I picked myself back up and thought about five ways to acquire a mentor without having the awkwardness of outright asking.

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1. Remember, a professional mentorship must be mutual.

A professional mentor must agree to engage in a mutual relationship because, as the comedy T.V. series showed us, one simply cannot force someone to tutor us. We have to prove that we are worth the time investment through persistence and dedication to the craft.

2. You have to have common interests with your mentor.

Even if a professional mentor appears at your job or school, realize that unless you and this person have common interests, you won’t find the relationship successful. I’ve been in situations where someone I respected had vastly different ideas about what was important in life or what one should spend his or her free time doing. If these things don’t line up, you may find the relationship won’t be as fruitful, even when the mentor knows a great deal about one industry.

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3. Thought-leaders will respect your passion.

One of the ways you can prove yourself worthy to a professional mentor is through your passion and your dedication. No one wants to spend time grooming and teaching another who will not take advice or put the effort in to improve. When following thought-leaders on Twitter and trying to engage with higher-ups in a work setting, realize that your actions most often speak louder than your words.

4. Before worrying if he respects you, ask if you respect him.

On the other side of the coin, you should seriously reflect on those common interests and make sure you respect your professional mentor. Just because someone holds a title, degree or office does not mean that person is trustworthy or honest. Don’t be swayed by appearances and take the time to find a suitable professional mentor.

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5. Failure is often the best way to learn

I honestly have made more mistakes than I can count. I know I’ve learned a great deal from poorly organized businesses and my own poor choices. The most important quality I’ve developed is an ability to swallow my pride and learn from my mistakes. If life knocks me down nine times, I get back up 10 times. One of the songs Megadeth wrote, “Of Mice and Men,” resonates in my mind when I pull myself up by my bootstraps and try again for a goal I’ve set: “So live your life and live it well. There’s not much left of me to tell. I just got back up each time I fell.” Hopefully, this brief post can act as a professional mentor to you in your quest to find not only a brave leader but also a trusted adviser.

Featured photo credit: morguefile via mrg.bz

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