Dressing for “comfort” has become rampant in this world of instant gratification. It’s too much bother to get up early to fix our hair, put on a little makeup and dress with care.
I recently gave an “all hands” presentation to a large corporation. A woman from the call center told me before the presentation, “I take the time to put on makeup and dress nicely, but most people dress horribly. They think just because they don’t meet with clients, how they look doesn’t matter. It matters to me! I have to look at them all day, and it’s depressing.”
One intensive university study proved that when we look at co-workers who wear attractive makeup, both our attitude and our immune system improve. Other studies have shown that we’re more productive when we’re dressed professionally. The way you look maters!
Sometimes, though, it’s a damned if you and damned if you don’t world in the office. On a recent online forum for female professionals, a woman commented that she was dressed professionally at work and got a snide comment from a co-worker about “showing off.”
Under criticism from peers, most people react just like they did in high school. In those good old days, we dressed like everyone else in order to be accepted. Criticism continues to feel like rejection, and doubts creep in about our decision to dress professionally. Sometimes we simply need to remind ourselves that we’re adults and it’s okay to be true to ourselves.
Unlike most men, women generally love dressing up. It gives them pleasure. At the same time, they have an ancient and dread fear of being thought a show-off at the office. Women are conditioned from early childhood to reject the little girl who brags or shows off. That’s what boys do. Little girls are modest and must never brag. Gender conditioning is very strong, so women are sometimes afraid to be true to themselves.
Deborah Tannen, gender-bias expert and PhD professor at Georgetown University, asserts that our reluctance to brag holds women back. She observed that men take over board meetings and brag about their accomplishments. Women sit quietly by, often feeling they can barely get in a word. Tannen says men lunch with the boss and brag about their achievements. Women, on the other hand, take their staff to lunch and nurture them.
Professor Tannen suggests women brag more if they want to get ahead in the corporate world. And bragging includes looking just as powerful as men do.
Instead of criticism, it’s far healthier to be admired for looking polished and professional. A good way to get positive “image consensus” is to organize a “professional image” workshop for females in the office. Experience shows that not only productivity goes up when people dress professionally, both camaraderie and employee retention increase.
Sandy Dumont is a seasoned image consultant who helps women develop a powerful professional image that commands immediate credibility and respect. Contact her at www.theimagearchitect.com or 757.627.6669
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