How You Look…

There is no secret behind the fact that how you look affects how you are perceived. This has itself manifested in various way throughout my life. First starting with the random rule “Dress for the job you want and not for the job you have” to having attended several “Dress for Success” events.

Opinions on the appropriate business attire are multiple and typically the rules vary from company to company and sometimes even from department to department.

The more artistic the more freedom you have the more classical Finance the more restricted your choices are.

My company had just very recently changed the dress rules. Jeans are now permitted. Every day. Not just on Casual Friday. Thank goodness! I find nothing less appropriate to wear than khakis. Khakis are just not flattering on anyone. And men have way too many khakis in their wardrobe. This is probably my heritage. Jeans are a very appropriate wear in Germany — I remember many people wearing black jeans to weddings or replacing other formal dress pants frequently. This would have been unacceptable in the US.

It took everyone a while to get comfortable with the new way of dressing. At first only engineers dared to wear jeans on Friday. Now even the Finance folks are wearing jeans whenever they do not have a higher up meeting that day. Jeans are now established.

With the relaxed guidelines, unfortunately, also the odd dressers are coming out. People that do not know acceptable from risky. Worn out shoes, pants with holes, leggings… I have seen all here. And I wish I didn’t.

To me appropriate clothes for success are the ones that fit perfectly. Get them tailored if they do not. If you cannot tailor them, just do not buy them.

Shoes. Invest in reasonable and quality shoes. If you like to wear high heel, do so. Just make sure you can actually walk in them. I have a female colleague who insists on wearing the highest heels, but she just cannot seem to muster a fluent walk with them and looks like a stork with knee problems. Not a good look.

Also make sure your feet don’t hurt from the footwear you choose when you have to walk around a lot as part of your job. This is just common sense.

Occasionally, you may want to clean your shoes. Nothing screams “I do not care” as much as worn out shoes or dirty shoes. If you have to walk through mud and snow on your way to work, wear boots and change them inside. Do not, under no circumstances, wear snow boots at work. Unless it is a winter outing somewhere.

Invest in good sweaters, vests, or jackets. This can pull any outfit together. Remember — Casual attire does not mean sloppy attire. If you feel that you can go to bed in the outfit or cuddle under a blanket on the couch, you may want to reconsider what you are wearing.

If you have to wear sensible shoes for orthotics or other health issues, invest in a good and stylish pair. I know this is hard and expensive, but well worth it. Not everyone seeing you walk around in your New Balance shoes understands why. Judgment too often will not be made in your favor.

Do not wear leggings or flipflops ever.

Unless it is part of your company’s culture. And even then — avoid as much as possible. Please. There is just hardly any person who can look both professional and reasonable in that outfit. Maybe leggings with a dress-like top can work, but if not, there is noone that should be able to see the outline of your butt that closely or even care to see it.

Setting trends is not always easy. Too often you will unintendedly violate a departmental or cultural dress code. Be subtle with what you introduce. I for example have successfully culturalized scarves in my department. I wear neckerchiefs and long scarfs with nearly every outfit. It is my final touch of style or color. And I now see people copying me.

Another trick I learned from another female manager was that before open toed shoes were allowed, they one hot summer day sat together as a group of women and decided to all wear peep toed shoes the next day. When all over sudden 10 people wear the same type of shoes, it appears a lot less revolutionary. And slowly over time this footwear became acceptable.

It is important to invest in how you look, even if you think you do not care. Others do and they will judge.


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