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What Your Work Style Says About You

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“Anyone who thinks a shoe isn’t informative of who you are is making a mistake,” Jenna Lyons, Chief Creative Officer for J.Crew, said in a recent J.Crew on Film video on shoes. “You know a five-inch stiletto sends a very different message than a beaten up pair of Oxfords.”

Is she right? Can a shoe tell you about a person? And for that matter, what about your work style? Do clothes really make the woman?

According to data from Highest Paying Careers, 65 percent of bosses say that dress could be the deciding factor between two job candidates. There are a lot of little factors that add up in terms of your work style, but we couldn’t help but think about the different types of style we often see on women at work and how they are perceived.

The Fashionista Look

This is the woman who is top of all the trends. She was wearing her look before Gwyneth Paltrow made it well-known. She makes you feel like a grandmother. If you work in fashion then being on top of trends is often a job requirement, but in other industries this could hurt you. Michelle T. Sterling, the founder of Global Image Group, told Real Simple, “The perception is that you spend a lot of time keeping up with trends so it seems like you more about clothes than about the job.”

The All Business Look

This is the woman who looks like she has been wearing her power suit since she was 15. She is all work and no play. Jeans are for the weekend and no other time. She laughs in the face of Casual Fridays. Funky for her is a cardigan instead of a suit jacket.

But at the same time, adding a bit of pizzazz into your work wardrobe is alright, especially at the senior level. In fact, wearing a bold necklace or bright colors can show that you have earned your place. It has been found that female senior staffers at Goldman Sachs are known for wearing leopard print heels and carrying brightly colored bags. These women had earned the right to be a bit more stylish in the very black and white world of finance, but if a younger woman comes in with leopard print heels in a very corporate environment, someone who has put in years at a company and worked for their money may feel threatened and hostile about this.

The Sloppy Genius Look

This was a coin termed by Real Simple Magazine but every office, especially those in creative fields, has one of these. It stresses that you are working so hard that you can’t be bothered to do anything with your hair or wear something that matches. This can be appreciated sometimes, but not if you have a big presentation. Even if you are working hard you need to take the time to look put together.

The Adorkable Look

This look is also known as “The Zooey Deschanel.” Not that she was the first girl to make heavy-rimmed glasses the focus of an ensemble, but she has definitely made the style popular. But what really makes this look stand out is all the bright colors. Bright colors can be great, but be aware of the psychological effects of colors. If you are letting someone go, for example, consider wearing green (the color of empathy) over red (the color of power and assertiveness).

The Out-of-date Look

Just like the really fashionable woman can look like she cares more about shopping than work, so too can being unfashionable hurt you. It can make you look behind the times and automatically age you. This is not to say that you can’t wear a classic suit or button-down shirt, but if it doesn’t fit right, it can put you at a disadvantage. Get a tailor!

The Beyond You Look

It sounds strange, but dressing too well can sometimes be bad for your career, especially if you’re an entry-level employee. I’m not saying don’t dress to the nines and look super professional, but it might be too early for you to carry Birken bag if you are a 22-year-old working at a non-profit. Corporette founder Kat Griffin wrote on this subject that “[o]ur main hesitation towards carrying a Birkin bag at a young age is that it conveys something about you that isn’t necessarily a good thing: You’re rich. Or perhaps your parents are rich, or your fiance. Still, you’re not working for the money.” The consequence, adds Griffin, is that the summer associate will have to prove herself even more. “You might also find that your personality, your wardrobe, your attitude, and everything else about you will be under extra scrutiny as people try to reconcile their first impression of you (rich girl, maybe a materialistic girl) with whatever else your work product says about you.”

The Too Young Look

It’s really hard to figure out how to dress professionally, especially if you work in a casual environment. But just because you are not in a zipped up corporate office, this doesn’t mean you should dress like you’re at Bonnaroo. This doesn’t mean cutting your hair off (long hair can absolutely be professional if it is taken care of properly); it’s great to be young, but dressing young can prevent you from moving up. That goes the same for dressing too sexily. That is the number one clothing mistake women make at work, says Lea Goldman, Features Director at Marie Claire.

What have you learned about work fashion that everyone should know? Share in the comments!

Photo: Thinkstock

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This article was great! I think dressing also completely depends upon the industry. For example I work at a winery in production and if I were to wear a dress and heels I would be showing that I'm more concerned with appearance than my job. Even when I want to dress nicer for the day versus jeans and a north face vest, most of the employees including female employees say "You're looking nice. What's the occasion?" I think it's truly a judgement call, but it is nice to see all women taking pride in their appearance.

This article is really informative but I am still really worried that dress is playing such an important factor in whether women are selected for a job over, say, their actual skillset and talents. I understand the smart versus scruffy arguments, but as a young woman who cant wear high heels due to a back injury I'm never going to start wearing them just to get a job!

In engineering, especially when one is exposed to manufacturing environments, it's very difficult to gauge the dress code. You almost have to have three distinct work wardrobes: 1. Business casual for every day at the office 2. Suits for presentations, major client meetings, trade shows 3. Jeans/polos and/or oxfords that still look decent and professional, but that you will not mind when they are stained, torn, and otherwise ruined on a job site. You WILL tear jeans and shirts on exposed sheet metal. You WILL stain your clothes with product, chemicals, grease, paint, or adhesives. Not everyone gets to wear scrubs or coveralls. It's understood by all that the risk of wardrobe damage is part of the job, but the fact of the matter is, you still have to look decent when running between the manufacturing floor and project meetings. Consultants (like me) are held to a higher standard, women to a higher standard still, and leaders even higher still. I find that my struggle is balancing the needs of the job site with the expectations of appearance in a leadership position.

Dressing for the job can be your best and worst enemy. Great article for college seniors (like me!) getting ready for a job in a corporate setting.

Dress in clothing that you feel most confident in. Keeping your look put-together, but not overdone is very important.

As an older, new mom, just about to make a full time return to a very creative field, I have some serious fashion updates that are about to happen. I enjoyed this article very much. I need to be super polished/creative/comfortable all at once. Thanks for the article.

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