There have been studies on the psychology of dressing well and how it can create a positive mindset. Have you ever watched athletes arrive at a sports venue before their games? They’re often dressed in suits, which is totally unnecessary to play football, basketball or baseball games. There is, however, science behind it. “Enclothed Congnition” is the concept that clothes can have an influence on the wearer’s psychological process. It’s a belief that dressing well can increase self-esteem, self-worth and create an optimistic mindset both consciously and unconsciously. All of these things can indirectly have an effect on performance on the job, field, court, arena, or in the office.
In reading several quotes on fashion, one of my favorite was from an unlikely source to share with a business school audience. Georges St-Pierre, an MMA fighter, highlights:
“If you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you do good.”
All grammar aside, this quote speaks to the fact that looking the part and feeling good about yourself has a correlation with your performance. Top athletes recognize it, as should top minds in the business world (ahem, you!).
The Carey Women in Business club and Career Development Office recently sponsored a professional dress event with J. Crew. A stylist from the store gathered some business professional, business casual and wardrobe essentials to show examples of what to wear in different work settings. Students had some great questions during the event and I believe left more knowledgeable on how to dress in a U.S. business setting.
Some tips from the event:
Business Formal: Wear for your interview, first day of work, important business meetings or meetings with clients. It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, so unless instructed otherwise, dress to impress! Our stylist said this style will make you look “sharp, smart, like you are bringing something to the table.” Who doesn’t want that? Also, always dry clean your suits!
Suits: Matching fabric and color, navy blue, black or grey (no white). Tailored pants with a crease down the leg, if the crease stops at your knee, the pants are too tight.
Women: Pants, skirt or a suiting dress with a suit jacket, again, matching color and fabric, no designs on the fabric, nothing too trendy (ex. flared pants). Make sure all skirts are knee length. Hosiery should be worn if it’s under 90 degrees, again, neutral color, no designs. Shoes with a 2” or less heel height. Simple accessories, nothing too flashy, and carry one simple bag or purse.
Men: Neutral colors, grey, navy or black. Button-down shirts with no pattern, neutral colors like white or light blue. When you are standing, button your suit jacket; when you are sitting, unbutton the jacket. Tie width of 2-2 ½ inches is recommended. Wear brown shoes with a navy suit, black shoes with a black or grey suit. Navy or brown socks go with brown shoes, never wear white socks. Be careful with patterned socks; if you want to show some personality, limit it to stripes or polka dots.
Business Casual: Here is where you can show a bit more of your personality and/or mix and match your colors, for example, black and navy, or wear more casual/seasonal fabrics like linen. Men can wear patterned or plaid shirts in a more casual environment. Women can wear a nice shell or sweater with a dress, skirt or pants, but be sure that they are still modest and work-appropriate in terms of the cut around the neck and that your skirts are still knee length. You can have a bit more fun with accessories now too.
Key Pieces to start your business wardrobe:
- Suit outfit – jacket, pants, skirt and/or dress, you can mix and match once you have a few pieces in a matching color to start
- Pants – 2-3 in neutral colors
- Sweaters/shirts – 1-2 button down shirts for suits, 1-2 shells for women, 1-2 sweaters or cardigans
- Shoes – clean/polished, neutral color
Remember, you can always ask the people working in any store that sells business formal wear for help in getting started; that is their job and they enjoy making you look good. Good luck starting your new career, making your first impression on new colleagues as a business professional and feeling confident in your skills while you do it. Put that Carey degree to work; as Oscar Wilde once said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”