Dear Matt: I started a new job in a large office setting and see a variety of clothing styles. I'm confused. How can one dress to impress? Does it even matter?
Matt says: I have a friend who works in IT support. The only people who see him are his co-workers. He wears a tie every single day. He swears by it. Does it help his professional image and reputation? He thinks so — and claims it helped him with a recent 15 percent pay raise. Chances are it was his good work, not just the tie, that helped him earn the salary increase. But your professional image can be judged (for better or for worse) by how you dress.
That's the message Vicky Oliver (vickyoliver.com) is trying to send in her new book, "Live Like a Millionaire Without Having to Be One". When it comes to workplace success, dress to impress, says Oliver.
"Our office attire speaks volumes about us," says Oliver. "We want to look professional, well put together, and confident. Can clothes do this for us? Yes. But they can send unwanted messages too."
Here is how, according to Oliver:
Eccentric clothing: There's the guy who only wears plaid shirts and bow-ties and the woman who favors flapper-style dresses with shimmery hose. Generating stares and conversation with your "look" will also generate thoughts such as, "Can I trust him to meet with our biggest client?" or "Why does she feel the need to express herself this way?"
Ostentatious jewelry: If you love to be dripping in gold and diamonds, great. But keep this look for your weekend and nightlife. One expensive item — a gold watch or a pair of emerald earrings — can dazzle and enhance work wear. Too much, however, makes people suspicious, envious or confused.
Comfort wear: Birkenstock sandals, hiking boots, flannel shirts, floppy knit caps or faux pajama bottoms — no way. "Whether you mean to or not, you're telling co-workers that you're super chill, and maybe even a bit flaky," says Oliver. Will they be able to count on you to put in long hours, to make your sales quota and to sacrifice for the good of the team? Find out what "casual" means — then dress a little nicer than required.
Trendy clothes may scare away colleagues and clients alike, making them feel intimidated by your aggressive style. Male or female, a good, classic dark suit with a light-colored shirt is a safe choice and appropriate in most settings. But wearing the uniform pegs you as conservative, a tag that can either help or hurt your image, depending on company and industry, says Oliver.
My advice: Dress like those who are successful and admired in your company. Fit in. You won't find success based just on how you dress. But you can fail to boost your professional reputation, image and chance to get that raise or promotion. Just ask my tie guy friend.
Contact Matt at email@example.com.