Throughout your career, looking professional can make a huge difference in your success and advancement potential. First, dressing professionally helps you make a good impression during interviews and initial meetings. Researchers estimate that a first impression is established within the first one to seven seconds, maybe even less. You have very little time to win over a potential employer, colleague or client; since the first thing most people notice is how you dress, it presents an ideal way to win their esteem.
Second, dressing better may help you perform certain tasks better. Dressing professionally may improve your abstract thinking abilities and help you to perceive the bigger picture. In other words, you don’t just change your clothes, your clothes change you. Dress your way to success by following a few simple guidelines.
Your first consideration should be suitability. In the financial and legal fields you will want a very traditional look, whereas the tech trade favors more casual attire and the fashion industry demands more creativity. Know your audience and tailor your appearance to the situation; you want your most formal business suits for occasions such as interviews, presentations and when on camera (such as during video conferences). Any time making a powerful first impression matters, favor classic styles. That means a suit in black, gray, navy or brown with a collared button-down shirt. If you opt for a skirt suit, the skirt should fall at or below your knees. A tailored fit and quality fabrics are a must, and keep the suit in immaculate condition by following care guidelines to the letter. Proper shoes include pumps, flats or heels with closed toes. For less formal situations, your everyday look can include a cardigan instead of the suit jacket or a blazer in a coordinating color. The key word is conservative; avoid glitter, sequins, sandals and revealing garments. If your outfit would look great at the beach or the nightclub, it will look bad at the office.
Aside from the suit, shirt and shoes, many other pieces make up your outfit. These accessories are where your personality really gets to shine. Patterned socks can add a fun, colorful spark to an otherwise unremarkable suit. Use scarves, eyeglasses and statement jewelry for pops of color and texture; they can add interest and express your individuality, but be removed easily if you need a more formal look during part of your day. Keep makeup conservative; nails should be neat but not garish. Hair can be stylish — no librarian bun necessary — but avoid wild fashion colors or gaudy clips and combs.
Use color deliberately to evoke the response you desire. Inspire trust by wearing blue, especially navy; suggest luxury and prosperity with gold. Red is an energetic power color, with orange as an enthusiastic alternative. Black is sophisticated but too much can hint at sadness. That classic black suit can be brightened up with white but also needs pops of color; try a fresh, vibrant green or a regal dark purple.
Dressing professionally is important, but many other factors create your total look. Start with good posture: shoulders relaxed and pulled back, spine straight. Keep your head up and look people in the eye when greeting them. A smile is perhaps the most important thing you can wear, as it will convey confidence, warmth, cheerfulness and approachability. Fidgeting makes you appear nervous or as if you have something to hide, so do your best to keep hands and feet still but not stiff. This may seem like a lot to keep in mind, but spend some time practicing prior to an interview or presentation and it will become second nature. Look good, feel great, dress well and succeed.