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Ina Teves, Organizational Development Consultant

Ina Teves is an organizational development consultant with a change management firm dedicated to making a difference wherever it goes by journeying with the client through the entire process of organizational transformation. Email your questions to ina.b.teves@gmail.com.

Why Should I Wear Formal Attire In The Office?
 

Dear Ina,

I’m 25, and I’m moving to a new job, and I’m excited about it. I don’t know how I’ll adapt to the new culture, though. They seem to be more formal, more into real office clothes. I’m used to working in an informal, projects-based environment, where it didn’t matter what I wore or what time I came in, as long as I could show results. Is it still okay for me to come in jeans, as long as I have a blazer somewhere for meeting with clients? Can I not wear make-up?

Ana


 

Dear Ana,

Gone are the days when clothing was nothing more than body covering. Whether we like it or not, clothes have a social meaning. It conveys exclusion or inclusion. It conveys economic status. It conveys rank. Though you may disagree with it, you know that you are judged by what you wear, and that is why you are concerned.

In your first six months, you would be under scrutiny. Wouldn’t you rather that your ideas were the subject of discussion and not your wardrobe? Someone once said, “Your clothes speak so loud, I couldn’t hear what you’re saying.”

Think of your clothes as a medium of advertising your capabilities. In your new company, find out what office clothes mean. What does the rank and file wear? What do your bosses wear? What does the top lady boss wear? If they could not distinguish you from a kid out of college, you would have problems being taken seriously. You could already see this thought balloon running through their heads: “Jeans=College=Teenager…” See where it leads? It is difficult enough being young, let alone good-looking and female. The human mind likes to oversimplify things and create stereotypes. You cannot change that, but you could turn this around in your favor.

I used to dislike wearing suits. I found them “uncreative” and conservative. Wearing office clothes became fun when I started think of them as costumes and my workplace a stage. I would dress differently for different scenes – meetings with top management, team building with rank and file, presentations to prospective clients, counseling an errant employee. I had costumes for giving bad news and good news – and the shoes, accessories, and make-up to go with all these scenes. You want your clothes to say, “I’m on your side. I like being with you. I’m in the team. I can do the job very well.”

Just make sure you follow-up on that message with actual action.

You said you were excited by the job, then focus on that. Focus your energies on getting that job done spectacularly. Clothes are – almost –a non-issue.

(You might want to read up more on Erving Goffman’s and his work on impression management and self presentation. A good starter is this page from the University of Pennsylvania: (http://www.psych.upenn.edu/courses/psych170_Fall2002/selfpres.ppt#15)

Glad to be of help!

Always,