Dress the Part

Dressing the Part at Work

I wonder why so many people forget to check their attire in the mirror before they go to work. I’m not talking about what you wear after work or at home, but what you put on your body to go to work and get a paycheck. Two real-life examples follow.

Recently, a young professional woman got on the elevator in the building where I work.  She was wearing a black dress that flared slightly and was an appropriate length.  Now, as Paul Harvey would say, for the rest of the story.  The V-neck was plunging and not only was I doing a double-take, so were the others (male and female) in the elevator.  Her make-up was impeccable and her jewelry appropriate.  Her footwear – – that’s the rest of the story – – so help me – – she was wearing black flip-flops.  Yes flip-flops – – not dress sandals, not even sporty sandals – – flip-flops. As she got off the elevator, we could hear the flapping sound of the flip-flops as she walked to her office carrying a briefcase.  And she wanted to be taken seriously at work!!!  Give me a break!!!

Dress the Part

There is no way she will be viewed professionally if she wants to move up the ladder (small business ladder or big corporate ladder).  Why?  She doesn’t dress the part.   Is that important – – yes it is.

Example #2.  I recently was in a meeting with a man who had excellent credentials. However, as he talked, his credibility began to erode.  Slowly at first; then at a more rapid speed.  His speech pattern was peppered with basically.  By the end of his part of the discussion, I had quietly counted that word inserted in the wrong place 25+ times. Basically (pun intended), his vocabulary appeared limited.  It didn’t help that his pants were not neatly pressed, his shirt was wrinkled and his shoes had never, ever been treated to shoe polish.

Why does this matter?  Glad you asked!!  The world of business has many similarities to competitive sports.  I’ll only touch on one aspect in today’s column – uniforms.

For those who play competitive sports, they would never imagine not putting on the team gear before going out on the field.  Show up for football in soccer gear or swimming suit? Not going to happen. Then why in the world would you think the same premise would not apply to work?   It does.

Want a paycheck?  Want to be taken seriously for your work?  Dress the part, show up, speak professionally and play the game.

Kay Stout is a Managing Partner in Pacheco Stout Consulting and work as an executive career advisor for Oklahoma Professional Search, a leader in career transition. Her blog, Another Point of View is also listed on the Blogging4Jobs Link Love.  Kay is a regular on the Behind The Mike Radio Show.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Jamie says

    I AGREE completely! It’s almost insulting as a business professional when people don’t take the time to look respectable in the office place.

    Just because the office manual doesn’t BAN flip flops doesn’t make them acceptable. Image means so much, and flip flops say, “I don’t care.” Is that the impression you want to leave your boss or clientele?

    My personal pet peeve is jean Fridays. I (as a woman) pair jeans with heels and a dressy blouse. Others wear old sneakers, jeans well past their prime and a wrinkled tee. Dress down doesn’t mean “look your worst.”

  2. JACK says

    Wearing bad clothes not only costs the job, but costs money, too. People get paid partly by how they dress. In my Salary Coaching, I always tell people to dress ONE LEVEL ABOVE their position if they want to be earning one level above their position.

  3. Karen Crowe says

    Great points and I agree. Wearing casual attire or old, wrinkled clothes does not make a good impression.
    Now, consider the job seeking woman whose attire will either make or break her. Many women, fresh from training and/or college and women who are trying to get their lives on track may be prevented from securing great jobs because their clothes are not appropriate. Still others will simply give up on a professional position because they “have nothing to wear.”
    I would love to know that Dress for Success had an affiliate in OKC and would love to be involved with it, but I do not have the experience, the connections or the business savvy to take on the task.

  4. Rebecca Perot-Tripp says

    What people wear to work depends to a great extent on the company culture. Lot’s of small, entrepreneurial companies have more flexible dress codes (written or unwritten). Larger and/or “old school” places still seem to keep things more formal. I seem to recall several studies that say that what people wear to work doesn’t really impact performance anyway, so go figure.

    I predict that dress will become more and more casual as twenty- and thirty-somethings become company leaders. It’s an evolution (Believe me, I know! When I was in highschool girls couldn’t even wear jeans to school and I definitely have worn a few suits and high-collared shirts with little floppy ties to work in my time!?!?)

    Until then, everyone should probably learn to dress for their audience!

  5. SandeeP says

    I have to agree that the way you dress plays an important part on how others on the job perceive you.

    I cannot tell you how many times I have interviewed candidates who were not dressed appropriately.

    I only wish there was some way to talk to young folks when I was working up there … it is soooo important to have the correct verbage and be dressed properly when looking for a job.

  6. Lisa Graham says

    I worked with a flip-flopper! Every morning when she came in, I knew long before she got to my office that she was coming because I could hear her, and it was embarrassing when I was in a meeting or interview with a potential new hire and they were also distracted by her loud flip-flopping down the hall. Unfortunately, she was clueless… but she was the reason the entire company moved from a business casual dress code to a business professional dress code.


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