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How to Dress for Success in Today's World


In these times of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg wearing t-shirts and hoodies at work, you may think that the idea of dressing for success has been upended to some degree, but it's still pretty clear that what works in Silicon Valley would be out of place on Wall Street and vice versa.

Knowing how to dress for the job is critical, but clothing norms vary so much by industry and region that reading these cues is increasingly complex. A study from the psychology department at California State University published last year found that, in fact, formal clothing made people think more expansively and abstractly—more like a leader. The study of men and women found that those less formally dressed tended to focus on more immediate, pragmatic concerns.

A tongue-in-cheek suggestion from a Fast Company column: showing up for work wearing a ball cap backwards (unless you're a major league baseball catcher) isn't good for business since there's compelling evidence that wearing a ball cap backwards instantly reduces the wearer's IQ by up to 70 percent. Besides the effect formal clothing has on employees' gray matter, it reminds everyone they are at work and not at a garage sale.

It isn't exactly clear why clothes shape thinking, except that it appears to tap in to peoples' sense of power, the Cal State study found. It isn't that clothes actually make the man, but they can set off a positive chain reaction. They self-reinforce, they reverberate.

The Yale School of Management studied the connection between clothing and financial advantage in negotiations. In a 2014 study, it paired men in suits against peers in sweatpants and flip-flops in a mock negotiation. The men in suits negotiated, on average, about 10 percent more profit than their casually dressed counterparts.

Men in suits tended to behave more dominantly and compromise less.

What's clear, this study found, is that all animals respond to signals of dominance, and for humans, it's still the business suit.

Dressing for success becomes especially relevant in job hunting. We know that first impressions really do count. Indeed, when you greet prospective employees, the first thing you'll probably notice is their attire. You expect them to make every effort to wear the proper clothes for the job they're seeking. How they're dressed sets the tone for the interview -- even if you don't consciously realize it.

As a manger, you want prospective employees to look like they will fit into the organization and that they care about the job they're applying for. I's always a safe bet for them to wear formal office clothes. They shouldn't assume that they should wear jeans for an interview because your company is a Silicon Valley start-up. 

Here are some things to look for in a prospective employee to make sure they care:

  • Clean and polished dress shoes.
  • A well-groomed hairstyle.
  • Cleaned and trimmed fingernails.
  • Only minimal cologne or perfume.
  • Minimal visible body piercings, especially if this is a customer-facing position.
  • Only minimal jewelry.

Of course, being presentable is just one small part of being a good employee. But you want a prospect who is taking the application process seriously, who is saying by their dress and grooming: "I am treating this interview seriously, and am dressing to show that."


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Kim & Lee
Kim & Lee, LLP
2305 W. 190th St. Suite 100
Torrance, CA 90504
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