From Casual Fridays to Dressed Up For Meetings: What we wear matters

In this posting from the LinkedIn agency influencer program PHD's Simon Lawson asks whether the creeping trend of casual dress at work is having an impact on how people are perceived.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the idea of casual Fridays seems to have been steadily gobbling up the entire working week over the last decade. In many parts of the corporate world, it’s actually more accurate to describe the typical dress code as dressed up for special meetings rather than casual Fridays.

Simon Lawson

The corporate world has relaxed its dress code and that’s no bad thing. After all, what you wear shouldn’t affect the quality of your work. If you want to wear a t-shirt, jeans and runners, where is the harm in that?

Nobody wants to go back in time to the daily grind of formal business attire, but every now and then, I do catch myself thinking: Does what we wear to work matter?

There is an old saying that you should dress for the job you want. The idea is that you should dress up to the same level as your manager; it suggests you might get the next job you want if you look the part. It suggests that what you wear to work matters.

Is this idea old-fashioned and out of date? Is the corporate human race now so enlightened that we no longer judge others based on their appearance? Do we no longer fall victim to that?

I don’t think we have: People haven’t changed that much. First impressions do still count and our personal appearance is an important part of that.

Daniel Kahneman popularised the idea of system 1 and system 2 thinking with his book Thinking, Fast & Slow (2011). System 1 “is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach, and system 2 “the mind’s slower analytical mode, where reason dominates.”

We spend most of our time using system 1 thinking with people using mental short cuts or heuristics to make decisions quickly in order to successfully navigate today’s fast paced modern life.

In the corporate world, this means that people are making judgements about you based on what you wear and how you present as well as on the quality of your work, whether you like it or not.

So what should you do?

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is famous for wearing the same grey t-shirt to work every day. His rationale is that not having to think about what he wears to work each day frees up his brain to make more important decisions.

Zuckerberg’s grey t-shirt has become his work uniform

Karl Stefanovic, an Australian morning TV presenter, notoriously wore the same blue suit on-air every day for a year and nobody noticed. For Karl, this was a social experiment to point out the inequity of his viewers’ constant commentary on what his female co-presenter was wearing each day.

For me, both of these examples point out the benefit of creating a work uniform that is appropriate to your particular industry.

A good rule of thumb when you’re in the process of deciding on a work uniform is whether you would feel comfortable being called in to a snap meeting with senior leaders at your employer or attending an unscheduled meeting with a client or better yet, a potential client: If you’re comfortable in that situation, you are all good.

Create the right work uniform for you and you’ll neutralise colleagues and clients thinking about what you’re wearing and make sure they’ll instead be concentrating on how good you are at your work.

What do you think? Does what we wear to work matter?

Simon Lawson is general manager, PHD Melbourne

This article is part of the LinkedIn Agency Influencer program. See more from the program by clicking on the banner below.


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