Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dressing For Your Boss

One of the benefits of working in a "creative" field is having a lot of options when it comes to choosing an outfit to wear to work. When I first started my internship at a New York advertising agency last summer, I was delighted to see the huge range of styles people wore to the office, everything from jeans and tees to classic business casual skirts and blouses all the way to power suits. Some people were obviously very fashion-conscious, others didn't seem to care at all. While I initially was excited at the prospect of getting to wear (almost) anything I wanted, I soon realized that within different parts of the company, there was an unspoken dress code that I needed to learn.

Because I would often spend time with a lot of different departments in a single day, I was unsure how to dress to impress both the young, laid back creatives and the more formal, high-fashion account executives. I finally settled on mimicking my boss on her more formal days, since I think it was important to recognize that her higher status allowed her more leeway in how she dressed, while I had to work to impress everyone as a lowly intern.


Another thing I noticed was that women dressed up more (or appeared to have spent more time on their look) in departments where the majority of employees were women. This could be purely anecdotal, but I definitely sensed that appearance was more important on my brand (where all but one of the account people were women) than those that were dominated by men. We talked about fashion, complimented each other on cute looks and (sadly), people were sometimes gossiped about when they wore something deemed inappropriate.

Recently, Fashionista had an interesting post on the topic of dressing for your boss. Some women talked about having to tone down their style with a more conservative, less fashion-conscious boss, while one female executive mentioned that she hires women who are better dressed than she.

I was curious what your experiences have been with dressing for the office. How much do you adjust your style in an effort to impress your boss or co-workers? If you're higher up on the corporate ladder, do you judge the people working under you based on how they dress?

13 comments:

maui-girl95 said...

Good post. I am always interested in how the dress code works at other companies.

I work in the IT department of a telecom company. My boss is male and in my team of 20, there are only 3 females (including me) who work in the office. The other two work remotely. Also, about 90% of our entire IT group consists of contractors who have come here from India.

I am Indian myself, but I have lived in America since I was 3 years old. I enjoy fashion and makeup and often feel like I am the most dressed up or fashion conscious person in the office. I only dress for myself. There are not a lot of females around to talk about fashion and I definitely don't dress to impress my co-workers.

My old boss was female and always dressed well. There were times when we discussed clothing and complimented each other on outfits. It was nice because I never felt in competition with her.

My work place is VERY casual, which is nice b/c I can be more creative with my clothing choices. Also, it's nice to be able to wear jeans any time of the week if I want. Overall, in my company, it doesn't seem like fashion is too important.

Anonymous said...

This is a relevant post. It's often a good idea to mimic your boss and not try to be too sexy or cutesy at work, save that for the weekends. I've also heard you should "dress for the job you want" and it's better to err on the side of being overdressed than underdressed. I work in a small law firm and I've followed the cue of my boss who is conservative but still fashionable. No cleavage, no short skirts. Pay attention to the atmosphere of your company because bosses and clients perceive and judge you differently based on how you dress. If you are young and trying to prove your competence and maturity, dressing appropriately is very important.

EthidiumBromide said...

As a scientist, this seems like such a funny thing to worry about. My "boss" (head of the lab) shows up in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt or polo shirt. I tend to be the best dressed in the lab daily, just because I am not really a jeans and sweatshirt kind of a girl, unless I am sick or know I have a 16 hour day of experiments. It is nice being in a field where it truly doesn't matter what you wear -- in fact, it would spur much more discussion if I showed up in a power suit than in a pair of pajamas. I can be as creative or lazy with my look as I want, and nobody cares, as long as I generate good data.
That said, I am perpetually working with bleach and coomassie stain and everything else imaginable that can destroy clothing, and have ruined quite a few nice articles of clothing that way, a hazard you don't face in other jobs...

Kasmira said...

I work in an office with a business casual dress code. Like your intern experience, I see the gamut from jeans/sweatshirts to full suits.

I dress much more formally and fashiony than my coworkers. And, often, more formally than my boss. I used to be uncomfortable with the way I stood out, but now I see it as an expression of my creativity and personality. If someone doesn't like how I dress, they can lump it.

I do try to avoid anything too revealing, if only because I find the long looks from men very uncomfortable.

earthpoweryyyyeaah said...

I worked at a small energy-efficiency consulting company over the summer, and I was almost always the most formally dressed person there. However, I was the face of our company. I was the first person clients saw when they walked in the door, and I also acted as hostess for any meetings. However, my official job title was 'Researcher.' In a client-based company, I would recommend dressing how you want other people to perceive your company. Since energy-efficiency still conjures up images of hippies for conservative folk out in the Midwest, dressing formally was important for positive PR and for creating a professional atmosphere that our clients could feel secure using our expertise.

LawGirl said...

I am a big believer in being well-dressed at work. If you look like a bum, you tend to shirk the details. At least that's how it seems to work in the law world. I tend to be better dressed than my boss most days. I am a professional, I dress the part.

Jennifer said...

Very interesting post! I'm a newspaper reporter and often tip-toe that line between too formal and too casual. Since I'm 22 and one of the younger women in my field, I often find myself trying to dress to look older than I am - which sounds absolutely crazy I know, but I've found that not a lot of people take co-workers in their early-20's, especially women, seriously. Is this something other young people have encountered?

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lisa (http://sololisaynadamas.spaces.live.com) said...

I work in a software company with no dress code, and most of my coworkers and myself never have to meet external people, so almost everyone dresses casually. I definitely dress on the casual side. Nonetheless, I still try to look groomed and put-together everyday, even if it's something as simple as making sure my earrings go with the sweater I'm wearing.

Jennifer - I'm 23 and fresh out of university, and other than the intern on my team I'm the youngest person here, so I definitely know where you're coming from. Most people are very nice, but I've had a couple of people treat me in a very condescending manner. In the end, you just have to prove yourself through your work. I've been here seven months now and proven to my manager that I can be productive, mature, and exercise good judgment. In the end that's all you can do.

Pattykate said...

I work for government and this is an issue that we are constantly dealing with. Our dress code is "business casual", but, for some, the "casual" is way too casual bordering on sloppy. We are constantly having to deal with employees who dress like they just got out of bed or y\they show way too much skin. My boss is a woman and she dresses impeccably, so I follow her lead. I like the comment that you should dress for the job you want. I would be reluctant to hire someone who didn't dress appropriately.

Anonymous said...

I'm a manager in a place with a dress code -- guys must wear ties. Women have more leeway. I wear pretty much what I want, except for jeans and sneakers. My boss says I should dress up, but I've been getting more and more casual. I look Old Navy-ish many days. I used to dress up more when I first started working here about six months ago. I figure I made my first impression and now my work should speak for itself. As a manager, I don't especially care how people I manage dress unless they deal with the public. I agree that women dress more for women. I used to dress up a couple of jobs ago and used to get many compliments and I noticed that women started dressing up more after I joined the company. I didn't think much of people either way -- I dressed for myself, and I didn't notice what people wore much unless they were slobby.

210601 said...

Love your blog but never have attempted to comment before. The topic however is close to my heart. Being in medicine and working in a conservative Asian country, there are more women doctors than men but they actually dress much more casual than some of their patients! I think it's the perception that we are too busy saving lives to bother with fashion. I am a forensic pathologist and spend most of my work hours in blue scrubs. Nevertheless I still make an effort to look the part of a professional outside the mortuary suite with appropriate clothes, makeup and; groomed hair and nails. I definitely dress better than my collegues and even some of my superiors, but it's just the way I am. I've long since discarded the thinking that being in a serious job means you must dress down. Again, love your blog and keep it going:))

Lia said...

I work in a department where I barely ever interact with clients or external folks. Still, I’ve started wearing suits to work. Wardrobe is important to my female boss, so I definitely agree with others to dress for the job you want/take your cue from your boss. When I stepped up my business attire, my boss was very complimentary; I can tell she approves. On a practical note, my office is always cold (why can’t office buildings ever get the AC/heat right?), and having a suit jacket is handy, and looks more polished than always wearing a cardigan over my outfit.