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Is There Really Such A Thing As “Dress For Success”?


My younger daughter was a drama queen. Wherever she went as a kid, she would choose her clothes to reflect who she wanted to be. From a young age she knew how she wanted the world to see her. Even if the event she was attending was very basic and she knew her friends might be dressed differently, she held strong to her belief that she always had to put her best foot forward in her presentation.

Similarly, during my last year of business school the professors spent a great deal of time with the students sharing their ideas of professional dress. Books were being written on how candidates should present themselves at interviews, down to which colors to wear. The Career Center’s directions to us were: “Dress for the job you want, even if you think it is a stretch job.” By projecting a higher-level job image might lead us to a better position. It was all about dressing for success.

I have come to realize that a leader’s appearance is important and a critical part of their brand. Think of it this way- our outward appearance is an essential element of our communication style. It reveals the leader within us.

Five ways to break the “dress for success” leadership code:

1. Decide On Your Leadership Image

The first question to ask yourself to identify the image you want to portray is: What appearance would reflect my leadership brand? We all have an idea of the kind of leader we are, in addition to the type of leader we want to be. Consider whether your image is:

  • Formal or Relaxed
  • Lively or Methodical
  • Loud or Soft
  • Open or Reserved

2. Choose Clothing To Match

The next step is selecting clothing that speaks to your image and style. Perhaps if you are more formal you might choose shirts, blouses, pants or dresses that are crisp and structured. Or if you are lively your color palette might reflect more vibrant tones. On the other hand if you are more reserved your color and style selection might be more subdued. Whatever our leadership image, our clothing should be consistent.

3. Use Communication That Reflects Your Style

The way we interact with our bosses, colleagues and customers is another way to allow our leadership image to shine through. Our communication can either support our “dress for success” behaviors or detract from them. Remember that our messages need to align with our leadership image. Some impactful ways we can connect with others is by:

  • Listening without interrupting
  • Using descriptive words instead of meaningless adjectives
  • Avoiding judgmental language
  • Keeping positive and respectful


4. Remain Flexible For Different Workplaces

When we move from one work world to another we might need to adjust our “dress for success” style. That doesn’t mean we have to dump our core values, but rather we might want to embrace the culture of the new place. For example, if we usually ate lunch at our desks in our previous job but in our new position the team connects for lunch, then we may want to flex. Or if in our new position there are weekly team meetings where everyone shares and we don’t speak up typically, pivot and try to share your ideas. An agile leader is always more successful.

5. Keep Looking Forward

To grow our leadership and career, we always need to keep an eye to our next move. Continually assess where you are and where you are headed. Sometimes the level up on our ladders may be in a different department or organization.

Be aware of what steps you may need to take to leap forward.

  • Are there skills you need to develop?
  • Are there new networks to locate?
  • Do you need to attend a conference or course?
  • Is your resume updated with all your new experiences?

To this day, in both her personal and professional life, my daughter still projects the image that is important to her. Her “dress for success” strategy continues to lead her way.

How do you “dress for success”?

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