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Dress For The Job You Want

11 years ago I joined my current employer.  It was my third gig in the corporate world.  The culture at this place was somewhat laid back compared to my first two forays.  Their dress code was essentially wear what you want.  So why now do I dress in khakis and a button down every day?  That brings us to today’s topic, dress for the job you want.

My First Gig: Dress Holey T-shirts

So my first corporate gig was in the software and hardware development world.  Dress at this place was fairly lax even by my current employer’s standards.  How lax?  I remember a site wide memo that business casual Fridays do not mean shirts with holes in them.  *Ouch*  Extremes aside I still tended to dress in khaki pants and a button down for this gig.

My Second Gig: Dress Khakis

My second gig was at a more traditional large company.  Dress down days were khakis and a dress shirt!  I dressed to fit the part except for one issue, I don’t iron my clothes.  I will readily admit I was called out once or twice for wrinkled clothes.  At the time I didn’t care as I still hadn’t figured out the value of community versus the work we do.

I left that second gig for greener pastures when the layoffs rolled around.  As I was looking for a promotion, now in a career outside IT, I realized staying put would mean applying for my own job.  Promotions were not happening.  So I joined another large, but slightly smaller, company.  I’m still at that company.

My Third Gig:  Lax Dress Code

My current employers dress code stood out when I first came in for an interview.  Here I am wearing a suit and my future boss is wearing shorts and a tasteful t-shirt.  That really synonymized the culture as I would later find out.  It took about a year of working there before I started to lax up my clothes standards as well.  But eventually like everyone else I was dressing in a plain shirt or T-shirt and jeans.

Fast forward 8 years…Over the course of those 8 years I steadily rose the ranks from lowly process analyst to a senior project manager.    On that 8th year my manager approached me and offered me a job as a data analytics manager.  I accepted.  Then he proceeded to tell me I needed to change my wardrobe…

Dress For The Job You Want

What my boss was telling me was that while the culture of t-shirt and shorts applied to the masses, at the executive level the expectation was significantly different.  All the executives wore khakis and button downs.  None had wrinkles.  If I wanted to be seen as a member of the executive team I needed to dress like them, not the masses.

You Don’t Have To Wear Armani to Look Good

Shortly thereafter I replenished my wardrobe with business attire.  Now let me say before we proceed all this doesn’t mean you need to wear $100K custom tailored suit or spend a fortune on attire.  I buy mostly from Old Navy.  Many of my shirts cost like $10.  My only requirement is that they are wrinkle resistant since I still don’t like irons.

Since I’ve changed my wardrobe I’ve increased my pay 40% and changed jobs 3 times.  I’m now seen as one of the leaders of the company as I sit on the executive staffs as an individual contributor.  While the wardrobe didn’t give me the job, I know now that without that change I would not have been considered.

Pay Attention to What Those in the Job You Want Are Wearing

So remember, regardless of your companies dress policy pay attention to what those in the job you want are wearing.    Dress that way if you want their job.  Studies have shown that appearance plays a big role in position and earnings.  Take advantage of that rather than letting it hold you back.

Do you dress for success?

8 Comments

  1. Great post. While physical appearance “shouldn’t” matter, it still does….

    I wear dress pants and a dress shirt every day in my role because that’s what is expected. I’d love to wear shorts and a t-shirt, but at the same time, that would probably come with a pay decrease because it would be at a more laid back company.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance July 26, 2018

      I’ve actually found it’s less about laid back companies and more about wearing to match the people in the jobs you want at that company. IE. I know some of the companies in Silicon Valley have fairly lax dress codes. That may or may not be the right way to dress there. Pay close attention to what your bosses up the chain wear, as they are the ones whose professional dress level you should be emulating if you ever want to be them.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Mr 39 months
    Mr 39 months July 25, 2018

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Folks at work don’t realize they are being constantly evaluated for promotion. Most companies want to promote from within (it is cheaper).

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance July 26, 2018

      Very true, every thing you do plays in. Especially around review time.

  3. I don’t like irons either, but I spent most of my working years in a suit and tie. Your appearance makes an impression, even if it’s a subconscious one, so better make it a positive one.

  4. Caroline
    Caroline July 28, 2018

    100% agree with you!
    I always have and I am sure it helped somewhat along the way.
    Even for my last business trip, not knowing what to expect there, I was careful in selecting my wardrobe.
    You do have to dress for success! No matter what everybody else wears.

  5. The Poor Swiss
    The Poor Swiss August 9, 2018

    I still believe it should not matter how we dress, but I completely that it’s, unfortunately, very important. I’m also a software programmer and for now, can totally dress very lax. But I can already see that most of the managers are wearing good shirts and pants.

    Congratulations on your good result with dress and promotion!

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance August 15, 2018

      Thanks TPS. It really does seem to depend on where you want to go how important it is.

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