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Dress for the job you want, not the one you have

Posted By Natalie Singer, 06 June 2013
Updated: 06 June 2013

"Always be well-dressed…even when begging” Hindu Proverb

Professional dress can be a bridge or a barrier to clients, customers and interviewers. If they don’t like the messenger, they’re not going to get the message. Communicating professionalism through dress is important, particularly when being interviewed for a senior or skilled role. 

Who makes the rules about business dress code? 

Most people agree that what you wear to an interview matters, but how do you decide what is appropriate? Most of today’s job seekers, particularly Generation Y, believe that it shouldn’t matter what you wear, so long as you can deliver the goods, but considering they’re likely to be interviewed by a Baby Boomer who still believes strongly in corporate dress codes, this is not the case.

Your choice of dress should be guided by the kind of job you’re interviewing for, and the corporate culture of the organisation. Generally, a more corporate office will have a higher expectation for professional dress and certain professions, like legal and finance, tend to be suit and tie environments. An artistic role, like graphic designer, PR consultant or advertising executive would expect an element of creativity and boldness. Wearing a dull suit with no personality will likely cost you the job if this is the environment you’re interviewing for. 

Wearing what an organisation expects you to wear, including to the interview, shows them that you’ve made a conscious decision to be part of the team. If the interviewer can look at you and "see” you sitting behind the desk for the role they’re recruiting, you’re halfway there.

What about personality? 

For many individuals, the thought of wearing a uniform to work, whether official or unofficial, is off-putting. I mean, who wants to look just like everyone else, and how boring to wear the same thing day in and day out.  Just because there is an expectation for a certain look, doesn’t mean that you can’t allow your choice of outfit to reflect your personality.

A successful dresser finds a distinctive way of dressing that is appropriate for what they do and is a true reflection of their personality. A feminine woman could add a touch of the romantic by choosing a ruffled blouse in a soft pale pink fabric to wear under a traditional dark business suit, or an outgoing man might opt for a bright red tie to show off his bold personality.

The Power of Colour

Using colour does not only help your personality shine through; colour psychology can give you the edge when attending an interview or an important business meeting. Whether we are conscious about it or not, the colours we choose for our business attire sends a strong message. The image you project with a beige suit is very different from the way you’d look in a navy suit, for example.

 There are a few simple "golden rules” to consider when choosing a business outfit, based on colour:

  • The darker the colour, the more powerful the "look”
  • Monochromatic colours, like different shades of grey or brown, look sophisticated.
  • Bright colours are less formal. You’re likely to be taken more seriously if you avoid colours such as yellow or orange in the business environment

True Blue

Studies show that navy blue is the best colour to wear to a job interview, because it inspires confidence. Have you ever noticed how many companies use blue in their logo? Blue inspires confidence, trust and security and it’s no wonder that banks and insurance firms tend to opt for this colour in their corporate branding.

Yeah, Grey

Grey is associated with neutrality, respectability and reliability. It works well across all tones but should be paired with a small injection of another colour to make it more interesting. Grey is less authoritarian than black and is especially good for negotiation including during job interviews. 

Beware Red

Red is a powerful colour that demands attention. It works well if you’re giving a speech but not as well if you’re aiming to be seen as a team player. Depending on the perception of an individual, red can be seen positively – as a sign of confidence – or negatively, as aggressive or overbearing. It is not a good choice for an interview, except if used sparingly as an accent colour, because you cannot be sure how it will be perceived by the interviewer.

Green for Girls

Although green is proven to be the easiest colour for the eyes to process, when we think of green we think of nature, tranquility and relaxation. Green indicates informality, predictability and even laziness. Green should be used sparingly in the business space and usually only by women. The deeper greens, when used in a well-cut garment, are acceptable for business wear for women but should be avoided by men unless they’re dressing down. 

Boring Brown

Brown implies dependability, conservativeness and dislike for pretension. As a neutral colour, brown is a good alternative to black, navy and grey but should be accompanied by lighter, more eye-catching colours to lift it. Rich, warm browns are unthreatening and will help people to feel comfortable around you but beware of using them at functions or events where you’re likely to literally disappear into the woodwork.

10 rules for successful dressing

Think about these ten things when dressing for an interview, or important meeting.

Rule 1: Colour

Choose a maximum of 3 colours only and ensure that one of them is neutral.

Rule 2: Line and Shape

Select clothes that have clean, uncluttered lines and simple shapes for a strong, professional impact.

Rule 3: Detail

Use detail as a focal point. If you choose a pair of bold earrings or bright tie, ensure that the rest of your outfit is understated. Don’t risk garnering the interviewer’s attention for all the wrong reasons!

Rule 4: Pattern

Avoid mixing matters in a single outfit. Choose a single pattered garment and pair it with block colour.

Rule 5: Texture

Consciously combining textures helps to create interest. Pair shiny satin with a dull matt finish of wool, for example.

Rule 6: Balance

Know your body and balance any "out of proportion” area by adding visual detail where necessary. Balance wide hips with a top with shoulder interest, or use a solid dark colour on the bottom and a bright, interesting necklace to draw the eye up.

Rule 7: Proportion

Remember that unequal proportions are visually more dynamic. Think about the size and placement of bold patterns, large jewelry or hair accessories to get this right.

Rule 8: Harmony

Select individual garments for an outfit that connect with each other by picking up a common element of colour, line, shape or texture. 

Rule 9: Contrast

High contrast colours, like red and black project authority. Medium contrast cool blends, like blue grey suggest sophistication and low contrast warm tones like rust with cinnamon suggest approachability.

Rule 10: Emphasis

Use accessories to emphasize your ‘style and personality’ either to add a twist to classic business dress or emphasize attractive features, for example bold framed glasses to highlight eyes.

Don’t blow it by forgetting instant image breakers

It doesn’t matter if you’ve chosen an outfit that "fits” all the rules, if you forget to avoid these instant image breakers. Image breakers can be grouped into dress style, clothes maintenance, and personal habits and grooming. The most common turn-offs reported by interviewers include overpowering fragrance, careless shave, unpolished shoes, bad breath, laddered stockings, strange body odour, chipped nail polish, dandruff on collar, shoe heels in need of repair and scruffy hairstyles.

Personal hygiene and grooming are non-negotiable in any business setting but more so in an interview situation where all eyes, and attention, is focused on you. 

Plan your interview outfit and get it ready at least the day before you are scheduled to attend the interview. The last thing you want to have happen a few minutes before you need to leave the house is to realize that your trousers don’t fit anymore, a button’s missing off your shirt or your forgot about the coffee stain dribbled down your front.

Get a second opinion.  Ask someone you trust to give you honest feedback about your planned interview outfit. Let them give you frank, but constructive, advice on what the outfit says about you. Does it portray the image that you intend?

Remember that above all, you need to feel professional and confident in the outfit if you wish to make a good impression.

Tags:  accessories  clothing  colour  confidence  dress code  employer  interview  job search  personality  planning  recruiter  style 

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