No Doubt About it: Looking Good at Work is Still Important

We are a very visual society!  With YouTube and the variety of entertainment shows, gossip magazines as well as the hundreds of reality shows, we give a lot of clout to what we see.   As someone in the advertising and marketing industry, exposure on TV is where it’s at.  Trends and fads get their forward motion via the media either by TV or the internet, both being visual in nature.

All across the world there are distinct definitions of what is beautiful.  What is beautiful in one country may be perceived as ugly in the next.  Why is beauty so important?  It seems that most people associate with what is beautiful with what is good.  There has been a lot of research on this topic with the same findings.   For example, a study done in measuring student success found that students that were perceived as “beautiful” were also perceived to be smarter and more inclined to succeed in school.  Outward beauty is defined by a culture and drives a multitude of product and service offerings.

As I mentioned earlier, human beings subconsciously or perhaps unconsciously, size up other people, places and things on first encounters on very little information.  Attribution theory states that for human beings to function in a society where we face a barrage of stimuli constantly, we need to be able to categorize it quickly and do so on limited information.  It’s kind of like organizing your computer files, putting all the files in various folders as well as the recycle bin.  Or think about all the emails you receive, some you read some you delete and some you save for later.  It’s how we, as human beings, can simplify our lives and move on.

So understanding this mental process what are the nonverbal messages or cues that human beings use to categorize people that they encounter on a daily basis.  Some of these factors include clothes worn, body image, mannerisms, and overall appearance.  Everything about a person communicates messages about them.  For example, if you see someone and they have acne you might infer that they’re young, like teenagers.  If we see someone with glasses perhaps we might infer that they’re smart (or want to be) or do a lot of reading.  If we see a woman covering her head we may infer that she is a member of a particular religion or from another culture.  Bottom line we make inferences about people on very little information that subsequently influence how we interact with them.

That’s why so much consideration is given to appearance.  The sum of the factors, such as clothing, body language and type, that constitutes an individual’s appearance and is perhaps considered beautiful and favorable in the eye of the beholder, subsequently promotes interaction between these individuals.  In fact appearance is about 55 percent of the evaluation in first impression situations.  Frankly, in the first 3-4 seconds people size up the people they meet on all the cues that are available such as hair, body type, clothes and mannerism.  All of this is done before we ever say hello!  And once that happens does what they say fulfill those expectations or break them?  As they say first impressions count and are so critical in the workplace, in interviews and on first dates!

Further, in 30 seconds people make at least 11 assumptions about you including your occupation, social status, marital status, trustworthiness, credibility, ancestry, and most important, your likelihood to succeed!  Everyone wants to be around a winner!  In interviews, about 75 percent of the decision to hire you is based on your appearance.  The actual interview itself is whether you fulfill the expectations set when you both saw each other.   Additionally, there is an 8-20 percent difference in the entry salary you receive based on your appearance.  Maybe you look like a person that the company wants to invest in and maybe you don’t – it’s up to you.

Moreover, research has shown that people are attracted to others that dress like them.  Often, someone’s appearance infers their political beliefs, values and attitudes.  Let’s say you are interviewing for a position at Saks Fifth Avenue.  Do you look like a Saks Fifth Avenue employee or someone from Walmart?  You decide – do you want to look the part?

A theory that operates successfully in the workplace is Role theory.  Basically, what the theory states is that when we see someone in a uniform, perhaps in a military uniform, we will conduct ourselves in a manner respectful of it.  As well, the person wearing the uniform will usually take on the role associated with it, such as a military officer.  Often, companies will have its employees wear a uniform in part because of this theory.  As well, this helps the company maintain their brand image and saves you on YOUR clothing budget!  Many companies have addressed the issue of appearance by mandating uniforms such as hospitals, airlines, and restaurants.

This theory also translates into how we dress for work outside the realm of a uniform.  Many companies that introduced a casual dress code found that they had to revoke the privilege because employees took it too far.  Not only did it sabotage the company’s brand image but affected employee performance.  Generally, when there is a lack of consideration regarding our dress for work, there is also a lack of professionalism in performance in our work as well as our interactions with our peers, customers, and coworkers.

Although you may dislike the employee dress policy think about this.  Inasmuch as you are trying to reinforce YOUR brand image through your appearance and mannerism so is a business.  A brand’s image is critical to a company’s success.  We buy BRANDS of products and services based on the image or meaning of the brand to us, therefore, businesses try to control all aspects of their brand including contact points that involve employees.  If the brand name is important to you, then you can understand why companies try to manage theirs all the way down to its employees.  If bank employees wore their favorite jeans would you really think that they know what they were doing when trying to execute that loan for your house?  There is a reason they want us to dress for work.

Today most people are very forgiving when it comes to appearance and most are very open about what others wear, however; we don’t want to not totally ignore its significance.  Most people recognize the value of individuality and therefore the definition of what is appropriate for work is rather open.  We are all individuals and it’s important to communicate that; however, when working and dealing with people that come from different backgrounds and experiences, we are going beyond our peer group to and need to keep this in mind when getting dressed.

Many of us are established in our profession and perhaps have a reputation.  It’s important to maintain that positive reputation in all associations either with clients, prospects, employers, coworkers, and employees.  Looking your best shows respect for others and makes you feel good.  Think about it, if you show up in your sweats to a business meeting, what would that communicate to prospective clients, customers, employees or coworkers?  You may be an expert in your field; however, it is still important to build a bridge and communicate your expertise instantly.  And today, that doesn’t necessarily mean a suit; there are many options that are just as appropriate.  The bottom line – no matter the “uniform” at work – looking good at work is still important.


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About vseitz

Marketing Professor at California State University, San Bernardino and author of "I Don't Wear A Suit."

One response to “No Doubt About it: Looking Good at Work is Still Important”

  1. Gigi Karmous Blog says :

    I agree with you. I design handbags for professional women, maybe you can be a guest blogger on my blog

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