A suit of armour

If you don’t ‘fit’ the dress standard of your organisation and don’t want to remedy that, it may be that this isn’t the right place for you to work. By Jackie O’Fee.

How are you dressed as you read this article? Are you at your desk, in your work clothing or are you relaxing at home in trackpants? Perhaps you’re wearing something in between? How do you feel in what you are wearing? Are you comfortable? Do you feel like you are dressing to reflect who you are or dressing to reflect someone else’s values? 

Although we might not take the time to ponder these questions on a daily basis (most of us only stop to think about what we wear if we are feeling exceptionally good or otherwise uncomfortable) – they do matter. 

Study after study concludes that the way we feel in our clothing can have a profound impact on both our productivity and our happiness at work.

If we don’t feel we are representing our true self, we feel awkward and apprehensive, are likely to feel less confident and often resentful toward our employer. On the flipside, if we feel good in what we wear, those markers improve. 

So, does this mean that we can all wear our comfortable but slightly scruffy trackpants to work because we feel ‘good’ in them?  The answer is don’t rush to the shop just yet.

 The comfort applied here isn’t of the stretchy waistband and worn-in sweatshirt variety. 

Yes, wearing garments that feel comfortable and reflect who you are in the workplace will make you feel better as you go through your day, but I suggest that if you did turn up in your ‘at home in front of the telly’ outfit you’d feel pretty uncomfortable. 

This is in part due to the societal norms we all live with around appropriate work wear, coupled with the expectation of our employer as well as the fact we have different standards of dress for the different areas of our lives. 

Arriving at work in your most informal attire would likely have you feeling under-dressed rather than comfortable. We’d often be quite embarrassed having unexpected visitors to our home while relaxing in our ‘at home’ attire, so imagine how uncomfortable you would be meeting a client in that outfit.

In fact, people that work from home often report that although they could arguably wear their pyjamas and slippers all day, they feel they need to ‘dress’ well in order to feel like they are working. 

In a 2018 study undertaken by The Business of Fashion it was noted that the (mostly female) respondents in particular felt the way they dressed had an impact on their careers, with the majority believing the adage “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” was still relevant. 

More than 66 percent of respondents who said they felt their dress choices had positively impacted their careers also reported feeling happy and fulfilled in their roles. 

They likewise felt their work attire reflected their true self. On the flip-side, more than half of those who said they felt unhappy and unfulfilled in their role felt the way they were required to dress did not represent their true personality.

It makes sense then that as an employer you want your team to reflect not only who you are as an organisation in their dress, but to feel good when doing it. 

As an aside, it may well be that unhappy workers are possibly unhappy in many aspects of their role, regardless of how they are required to dress.

I also can’t help but suggest that if you don’t ‘fit’ the dress standard of your organisation and don’t want to remedy that, it may be that this isn’t the right place for you to work. 

By the way, the same 2018 study also concluded that both men and women will likely choose to wear something they feel they look good in (even if it is slightly uncomfortable) if they are experiencing conflict or having to ‘step it up’ at work. 

Much like the suit of armour of old, dressing to project an aura of confidence can have the effect of actually feeling it.   


Jackie O’Fee is the owner of personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations.  See signaturestyle.co.nz     

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