What's Your Story?

Biz Narrative Blog by Ruth Halpern

Observations and anecdotes about business narrative in the corporate world.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

We Are What We Wear

When I first developed my "Dress to Impress--What [Not] to Wear" workshop, I was secretly a little embarrassed. Wasn't this subject kind of trivial? How much does appearance really matter in the business world? Shouldn't professionals be more concerned with what they say and how they act than how they look?

But the sad fact is, as Malcolm Gladwell demonstrated so persuasively in Blink, we all have only about 5 seconds to make a first impression, so we need to make sure it's the right one. As the fashion pendulum swings back to the conservative end of the spectrum, it becomes especially important--and tricky--to make sure that our clothing sends the right message: You want to convey that you're thoughtful, aware of tradition, and yet capable of independent and innovative thinking. In addition, you want to show that you understand what "business casual" is--and isn't--that you're sensitive to the culture of your organization, and that you clearly belong there.

This was brought home to me by a partner at a recent "Dress to Impress for Attorneys" workshop that I taught. She described meeting with a client in her office, and wanting to introduce the client to a young associate whose abilities she thought were relevant. However, when she peeked around the associate's office door and saw what the associate was wearing, she changed her mind. She couldn't possibly introduce her client to someone who was dressed so inappropriately.

So, how much does it matter what you wear? It could be the difference between making a deal and never even entering the negotiations.