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Do you even need to dress for success anymore?

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The move to flexible work environments has had a revolutionary impact on the way we dress – and you can use it to get ahead.

Right now, as I sit working from home in trackpants, about to slip on a jacket and lipstick for a Microsoft Teams call, we are going through the largest change in how we dress for work in the last 40 years.

The change is so great that, as a personal brand and PR practitioner, I've coined it The Casual Revolution.

Like any revolution and period of change, there are benefits, downfalls, false starts and misses.

Casualwear, sneakers and workout gear – outside of any workout – have become accepted as mainstream.

But we haven't quite caught up with the impact of this change on our lives, careers, reputation and most importantly how others perceive us.

Why though?

Keeping up appearances (in a post-lockdown world)

Whether we like it or not, our appearance has a lot to do with how we're going to get on in life – from gaining the attention of a potential life partner to standing out when applying for that perfect job or promotion. And most importantly, it affects how we create impact in or out of the workplace.

While the dress code may have changed post-pandemic – and it's easy to be casual – your appearance and ''how much you bother'' still has an impact on how others perceive you.

People can tell how much you've bothered.

Your appearance affects first impressions, and first impressions of you by others determine how you fit into a team and its pecking order.

How you present yourself may even determine whether you are accepted, able to influence others and get the job done.

If your role involves influencing others, how you dress and how much effort you put into how you present yourself matters.

The important thing here is it's not about being good-looking or not. But the effort you have put into your presentation goes a long way towards showing your ability to approach any task and make things happen.

Looking "fit for purpose"

In my personal brand sessions, I explain the concept of being dressed ''fit for purpose'' and how important it is to find the most appropriate "armour" for the task at hand.

For example, comfortable is fine but what if comfortable isn't getting you results or is inappropriate?

And if it's not about being ''done up'' or in expensive clothes – but about being dressed according to your environment – you can still actively plan to ensure your success.

Take a building site as an example.

If you worked on a building site, you'd need an appropriate uniform from your armoury. This would include things such as high-vis gear, a hard hat, certified safety boots, protective gloves and clothing adapted to fit the changes in temperature – cold weather or hot weather gear – on open building sites.

A full building site uniform is not the appropriate get-up for retail, a startup or corporate setting. But on the building site there are those who will have more influence or less if their gear is in the best condition and they are wearing what's required.

Those who don't fit the dress code may not get to carry out their work that day or worse, they may be injured. They also may not set the necessary example to inspire other more junior tradies.

It's not that different in any workplace.

There are those who lead by example and influence, those who need to get things done and make an impact and those that are trying to make the best impression but simply don't get it right (and wonder why).

Being in the right armour for your environment – whether it be retail, hospitality or corporate – will affect each and every one of these criteria:

  • Cultural fit
  • Respect from your peers, managers and people who report to you
  • Impact on others
  • Team fit

Creating your competitive edge

Since the pandemic, people have become more tired and business is hard. So it's tempting to go for ease and comfort.

But take a moment to reflect on your own choices. Is comfortable the best outcome for you? The movement to a more casual wardrobe is a tide you can change – if you wish.

By creating a differentiator on how you dress and how you appear, you have an immediate competitive edge to stand out from the crowd.

You've created an opportunity before you start.

I recommend you create differentiation with your dress and overall appearance. Attention to detail matters, so consider your hair, teeth, nails, footwear, accessories, jewellery, scent and what you carry with you.

Let your personality and uniqueness shine through. But make sure you are dressed fit for purpose to create the impact you want to make.


Sharon Williams is a personal branding expert, public speaker, CEO, entrepreneur, media commentator, international marketer, editorial contributor and founder of Taurus Marketing. Sharon's global knowledge and experience with entrepreneurs is an unbeatable combination and she has been reinventing brands for over 25 years.

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