Lesson from Sarah Palin: Don’t under-invest in your image at work

Categories: Career Talk


I am sure by now you’ve all read about the $150k that the RNC apparently spent on Sarah Palin’s campaign wardrobe. My reaction when I found out was something along the lines of “Doesn’t anyone on her team know how to find great deals?” I have admired a few of her blazers (a weakness of mine) but c’mon, even Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus (where the majority of the money was apparently spent) have awesome sales. (Want to see what Sarah Palin might be wearing if she shopped at Walmart instead? Read this.)

If we can keep ourselves from jumping into another political discussion about Sarah Palin’s candidacy I actually think this shopping spree raises an important point about image in the workplace. When I graduated from college I was what I call a career idealist; I thought that the only things that mattered for my career success was my hard work and intelligence. Completely naive, I’ve learned since, but that’s what I believed. Consequently, even though my first job was with a very high-profile company, in a very fancy office on Park Avenue in New York City, my work wardrobe was pathetic. It was so pathetic, in fact, that a few months in a senior manager (a woman) suggested that I invest in at least one great suit if I wanted to be taken more seriously.

It took me a while to understand just how important image is at work, or, to be more precise, how important it was in my line of work, in the world of business and finance. As a young woman I was starting out at a disadvantage, having to prove each time that I was strong and smart enough to be treated on par with my male colleagues. I cringe now when I realize that I didn’t help my cause by not dressing the part for many years. Eventually, I got the point and learned to find awesome deals on work clothes and shoes. Looking appropriate and feeling great about how you look is important, it projects confidence and removes yet another reason for someone to question your legitimacy.

But you don’t have to spend a mini-fortune to have a great work wardrobe. Not even a mini-mini one. I’ve been an avid follower of the advice and product tips in our very own The Working Closet blog (Ten Must-Haves for Your Casual Office Wardrobe is one of my favorite posts.) I’ve learned to invest in several good-quality basics and shoes that last several seasons and update them with fun accessories and jewelry. (Here are some inexpensive jewelry pieces I like this fall.) Online and store sales are my good friends and I’ve scored some awesome deals on work clothes. Would I have a field day shopping at Neiman Marcus? Oh, yes. But I don’t think it’s necessary in order to look great at work.

Do you think that image is important in your industry? Do you invest enough in your work wardrobe or it’s something you need to work on?

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2 comments so far...

  • As a Chartered Accountant, any time I work in an office (as opposed to at home), I always dress the part.

    Not only do others respect me more for it, I just feel more the part. Like I am fully in my role as a professional.

    Angella  |  October 27th, 2008 at 9:09 am

  • yup, like it or not, your appearance sets the tone of others perception of your capabilities. so might as well figure out how to dress in a manner that ‘tells’ people how you want them to see you.

    i do have to say that when i heard the $150k price tag i thought it was LOW! Seriously, men’s suits are pricy and we dont hear anything about any of the men…

    though maybe stacy and clinton should have helped her spend that moolah in a thriftier manner!

    oooh Nataly! how about a work it, mom! wardrobe shopping spree with WNTW? *drool*

    kate  |  October 27th, 2008 at 10:11 pm