The ‘costumes’ of our workplace – “Every Day is Class Picture Day”

What will you wear to work? It’s that time of year when we choose an alternate identity to celebrate Halloween. It reminds us that when we choose a career, we also choose a daily ‘costume’, identifying us as a working member of an organization.

Dress is a visible signal of career transition. Walk through a college campus and you can easily identify the seniors heading to an interview, riding bikes and skateboards clad in black suits with backpacks.

Dress is an outward symbol of an organization’s culture. As you begin the job search process, think about what your everyday wardrobe will look like. Does the ‘dress code’ fit with your personality and image?

Appearance matters and social media is influencing perception of our ‘personal brand’. Author Jennifer Weiner wrote an OpEd for The New York Times in May, ‘The Pressure to Look Good’. She described how social media has transformed the ‘image’ of writers, and women.

“The visual footprint of a writer was until recently limited to a postage-stamp-size author photo. Yes, you’d get dressed up for your book tour, if your publisher was generous enough to fund one, and for television appearances if you were lucky enough to have them. But in terms of your day-to-day work life, your looks didn’t matter. That made the job extra-appealing for those of us who realized early on that the path of the supermodel would not be ours to walk.

Then along came cellphones with built-in cameras. And blogs and Facebook and Twitter. Suddenly, you weren’t just that one tiny picture, you were every picture anyone might happen to want to snap, and to post and pin and share, images that would be tweeted and retweeted, scrutinized and commented upon and invoked to dismiss you as jealous, overweight, bitter, sexually frustrated and, maybe, illogically, also a sexually promiscuous hag. For some critics, a woman’s looks remain the first place they’ll go when they disagree with her opinions.

It used to be that, generally speaking, we all knew the occasions that required us to look good.

Now? Every day is Class Picture Day.”

OK, appearance matters but does what we wear effect how we work? Joe Pinsker writing in The Atlantic found research to support ‘Wearing a Suit Makes People Think Differently’.

“Clothes, it appears, make the man perceive the world differently.”

“A new study looks specifically at how formal attire changes people’s thought processes. “Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world,” says Abraham Rutchick, an author of the study and a professor of psychology at California State University, Northridge. Rutchick and his co-authors found that wearing clothing that’s more formal than usual makes people think more broadly and holistically, rather than narrowly and about fine-grained details. In psychological parlance, wearing a suit encourages people to use abstract processing more readily than concrete processing.”

We have come a long way since John T. Molloy provided career wardrobe advice in his 1977 book, ‘Dress for Success’. A social media footprint has become a public relations tool in developing a professional reputation.

Do the research. Use any opportunity to observe workers in your field. Take your cues from both entry level employees and senior executives. There are some who believe you should dress for your next level. The main thing is to enhance your image, not cause a distraction. You want your managers and colleagues to value your opinions and ideas, not be distracted by your ‘costume’.

If you are uncomfortable in the ‘costume’ of your employer, other things may not be fitting as well. It may be an early signal that it’s time to change more than your threads.

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