Recently, Florinda got me thinking about the relationship between self presentation and self promotion. She asked, “What might you recommend for an office that’s more of a ‘mix?’ Where I work, the women tend to dress mostly business casual, but the men are more traditional (dress shirts and pants with ties, sometimes suits) and we don’t officially have Casual Fridays. (My boss is a man.) Would it depend on who you’ll be interviewing with? And then, if you get the job, what standard do you use?”
Let’s start with what to wear for the interview: go with the suit, particularly if the boss, or whoever you will be interviewing with, is wearing one. It’s always better to be a little bit overdressed for an interview, as long as you are wearing something appropriate, and if the management is wearing suits, then that’s appropriate.
Simple enough. But the larger issue is what to wear once you’re hired, and how that relates to advancement possibilities in this office or company.
Florinda’s office runs the gamut from traditional suits to business casual, which isn’t unusual. What struck me, though, is that the dress code in this particular office seems to fall out along gender lines, which I find fascinating; the men (including, I assume, Florinda’s boss) are dressing up while the women are dressing down. This division may have more to do with lifestyle than with corporate policy–it is entirely likely that the women in the office are the ones juggling children, for example, and their more casual work wardrobes may reflect their role as both employee and parent.
Women often fall into the trap of wanting every piece of our lives to fit together all the time. We need to feel like we’re still the mommy even when we’re being the attorney or the doctor or the accountant or the writer, and so we often wind up dressing more like the mommy than like a professional person. Men, on the other hand, are culturally conditioned to compartmentalize; when men are working, they’re working, and when they’re home, they’re home. Having a work wardrobe and a separate casual wardrobe doesn’t phase most men; they don’t feel like every piece needs to work together.
Then again, the suit is the easiest work uniform ever, so they’ve got that going for them.
I am a big believer in having a basics wardrobe that covers work and play, but I also think that it’s fine to have Work Clothes. You shouldn’t always feel like, at any moment, you must be ready to run to the playground; it’s okay to wear a dry clean only suit to the office, or a silk dress that you absolutely do NOT want peanut butter wiped on. Give yourself permission to have grown up clothes, clothes that are not what you wear when you’re the mommy. Because it’s good to be something else sometimes.
Beyond that, though, there is the issue of self-promotion. Like it or not, appearance counts when clients and superiors are evaluating your ability to do your job. If you LOOK like a manager, or like someone who is capable of taking charge and being responsible, people will be more likely to hand the reins to you. In an office where everything from a suit and tie to Casual Friday attire is acceptable, think very VERY carefully about how you are presenting yourself. While you shouldn’t feel compelled to wear a suit every day, steer clear of very casual clothes at the office. Skip jeans, for example, and strappy sandals; instead, wear a cotton-blend skirt and a pair of slingbacks or peep toes for something more relaxed.
Think again about Florinda’s example: in her office, the men, including her boss, are dressing up, while the women are dressing down. Let’s assume that one day, Florinda wants to be the boss; what she wears sets the tone. Dressing like a mom doesn’t do much to advance her career, but dressing up just a little more–not quite a suit but not Casual Friday–creates an air of professionalism and responsibility.
Have a question? Drop me an e-mail at fridaystyle DOT susan AT gmail DOT com. And don’t forget to join The Working Closet’s Flickr pool and show us what YOU’RE wearing.