You Don’t Need To Wear Heels To Make a Point

In the corporate world of power dressing, we often forget that our insights are far more valuable than our heels. Or is it?

Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash

I once had this interesting conversation with a colleague on this topic of corporate dress codes. They mentioned how they find some people in our wider division aren’t serious about their work and they think of them as ‘Freeloaders’. When I asked ‘Why?’, they were quick to reply ‘They are in sneakers and jeans every day. And this is a professional set-up, yeah, so that’s only fair to assume’

Now in my honest opinion, it isn’t fair to assume. But then that’s what I think and clearly not how most people think.

Perception plays a key role

Most times we are superficial in our judgement.

10 secs is more than enough to stereotype someone — their attire, hair, shoes and of course the colour of your skin (yes that plays a part too — not as much in the corporate circles in today’s times as compared to yesteryears but we cannot fully do away with the race factor, so yes, race too.) Even before we realise, we have made several pre-conceived notions about our colleagues and it all shows up in our conversations, judgements and decisions.

Your speech comes much later in that hierarchy.

So an unkempt hairstyle is fine when you are the Prime Minister of Britain or US (although they get ridiculed too); but not when you want to advise your customers or enable a workshop or draw a solution design for your initiative.

You are judged each time. Every time you float a new idea, discuss the risks and challenges you foresee or try to find a solution — your views are looked upon subjectively.

I am not underplaying the importance of the content or issue on hand. But there is a human factor involved in each of those decisions. This human factor encompasses emotions, values, cognitive bias and outer appearance.

How you look or how you are perceived plays a significant part in the outcome of those conversations. Not to say if you wear a suit and a tie every day you will have easy conversations and all the desired outcomes. But you’ll get the attention of others — something we all vie for secretly.

The other common counter-argument that people have is ‘I am going to focus on my work and not bother about the whole perception game.’

Unfortunately, perception is not a game, it is how the world sees us.

It plays a big part in the entire cycle of perception-body language-self-confidence.

If you get this line, you get the crux of this article.

The effort you put in personal presentation signifies the effort you’d put in that piece of work. It may not reflect reality but remember, this is how people perceive things.

How people greet you in the morning when you arrive then translates to a positive outlook and a more positive body language. All of this is happening in our subconscious, so we don’t even realise that’s what causes some mornings to be better than others.

The mind then picks up on the non-verbal cues and connect them together to boost the confidence levels.

A few can counter-argue saying — ‘Steve Jobs wore the same set of clothes, so does Mark Zuckerberg.’

They are perceived as super-technical, highly intellectual and a gregarious person. They created a cult for themselves and carved a new benchmark in the technology space — how they lead teams or how they manage work.

They have in a way created their own style statement. They are trend-setters.

And that sets them apart. However, for an average Joe or even more than average Jane who wants to be perceived positively, we need to work on the cycle of perception-body-language-self confidence.

There is a famous social experiment done in one of the episodes of ‘Just for Laugh Gags’. The experiment was to understand how people perceive power and authority. Here is how it goes.

An actor with a microphone and a fake badge was sent to a neighbourhood mall to interview people on some random topic. Shoppers trusted her to be an authentic journalist without even reading the badge and provided their genuine feedback and comments on the questions posed by her.

On the other hand, when an actual journalist tried to interview on the same topic in the same mall, she failed to get any reasonable responses. When the shoppers were revealed this is all part of a social experiment and they said that without a badge and microphone it was difficult to identify if she is an actual journalist. She perhaps failed to develop the trust and so she failed to get anyone to interview.

Dress your Job

We want Professionals to look a certain way.

We’d want to believe a doctor who is in his white coat with a stethoscope around their neck rather than someone in a hoodie and a pair of jeans.

We’d rather trust a lawyer in a black coat or a black suit than a lawyer in plain clothes.

Why should it then be any different for people working in the corporates

So you’re saying that if we dress our job, we would be taken more seriously?

But what if we are serious but just don’t have a fashion acumen.

I would say keep your wardrobe to a minimal set of clothes you love, don’t be ashamed to rinse and repeat. Focus on your work and be comfortable in your skin. Here’s an article on how I revamped my wardrobe to embrace minimalism and it has helped me immensely in focussing on the right set of clothes that requires minimal effort but looks classy and presentable.

These thoughts are also articulated in the Linkedin article that went viral titled ‘Should you dress to impress?’

Even there, people are divided on their opinion between formals and casuals or how much you should invest in a wardrobe.

Unfortunately, there is no one answer that suits all.

To each his own.

Dress one Level Up

One of the strategies as mentioned by Eric Yunginger is to dress one level above what’s acceptable. So you aren’t an outlier but you still stand out.

“If the workplace is casual, dress business casual. If it’s a blue collar job, a clean pair of jeans and a nice polo shirt would more than suffice. But if the work atmosphere is acceptable of hoodie and jeans, a suit and tie for the interview is overkill and may hurt you.” — Eric Yunginger

Dress your day

I have always been in the banking industry. And banking is formal. However, over the year's things have changed and the dress code policy has significantly changed.

They have relaxed the guidelines to allow ‘smart formals’ and ‘business casuals’ or the more recent ‘dress for your day’ concept that’s implemented — It offers a lot more flexibility to the employee to decide what to wear depending on their day, whom they are meeting, etc.

I have loved this simply because I don’t need to dump all my formals or my casuals. I love them both equally and would love to switch often depending on what’s on my diary for that day.

Days when my calendar is packed, there is an important forum I am attending or training that I am delivering I shall dress formally. But on days when I have just internal team meetings or a lot of desk time I want to be just as comfy as being in jeans and a tee.

In summary, perception management is important. What we wear or rather how we carry ourselves at work shapes the image we want to build for ourselves. It plays an important part in how our work, our discussions, our thoughts and ideas are perceived.

To successfully overcome any subjective bias that plays at a sub-conscious level, it is important

to ‘dress your job’ — to accurately and adequately represent the profession you are in,

to ‘dress one level up’ — wearing clothes that are above the acceptable dress code policy at your workplace,

and,

lastly to ‘dress your day’ — finding that balance between ‘what you should wear’ and ‘what you like to wear.’

So ditch those heels if ‘you need to’, but embrace them if ‘you want to’!

Rethinking Self-Improvement from Mindfulness perspective

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