Do clothes really make the man ? Lots has been said and written on how what you wear could have an impact on how people perceive you and even react to you. It purely manifests from our social conditioning. A classic example is a video of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. Dressed up as a homeless man, Ronaldo played for several hours in the streets of Madrid, displaying his trademark step overs. All of this attracted limited attention.
On the other hand, as famously stated by Mark Zuckerberg, he wears similar styled clothes (Adidas flip flops, grey T-shirt and hoodie) simply to limit the time he spends on making ‘frivolous’ decision. There are several other super successful entrepreneurs who in a way fall within this bucket, including late Steve Jobs, Dean Kamen, Bill Gates (though with far more colour variations). Arguably the most powerful man in the world, USA President Barak Obama is seen only in gray or blue suits. Its then no surprise that you will hardly come across a startup company that has a strong push on dress codes.
So, are the above 2 paras in conflict? The answer is no. Dressing smart doesn’t necessarily translate into formal wear. It simply means following the dress code (if there is one) and more importantly, following some of the other cardinal principles of dressing smart. In case of each of the people mentioned above, they have taken the effort of creating a personal style of dressing that in facts sets them apart from the rest. I would say its more of a personal branding than not being mindful of what one wears.
Personally, when it comes to work, even with my current entrepreneurial endeavours, I am most comfortable (and confident) being at client meeting in a suit (have taken the liberty of doing away with the neck tie) and on week days being in business casuals. In a way I look forward to the weekends, since mentally it entitles me to wear my most comfortable jeans to work.
Now let me focus on some of the factors that may contribute to dressing smart.
Factors contributing to dressing smart
Figuring out the corporate ‘Dress Code’ – what is an appropriate dress code for a corporate is always up for debate. The most contested position is whether or not the men folks should wear a neck tie/ jacket (and you will have an equal number of people advocating one way or the other). Most large corporates have a ‘written’ dress code. However, it is seldom spoken about and even less strictly enforced.
So for a new joiner, how do you know what is the dress code? The simple way is to look around the office and follow the way majority of the people are dressed. In case you are schedule to attend an important event or a client meeting, make it a point to upfront confirm with one of the senior members of the team, to ensure you are not the odd one out.
Are brands essential for dressing well – I must confess that I am fairly into brands. However, my brand preference over the years has changed from being a ‘show value’ to being something that I am comfortable wearing because of the quality of the material and more importantly the fit. In fact, to the extent possible I now avoid wearing stuff that have a prominent branding on them. The good or bad news is that the brand you carry, especially in clothes, is rarely noticed. On a lighter note, the small pockets who do notice, anyways may not be the happiest to note a new joiner wearing an expensive brand.
Shoes, belt and bags too play an important – these are items that specially get ignored by men.
Being comfortable – ask anyone, thats when you look your best. My sense is that this point is even more acute when it comes to the women folks. Whether you are dressed in western or Indian formals, doesn’t matter. What really matters is how you carry what you wear. For instance, almost the entire set of women leaders in the Indian financial sector (and there are several of them) sport sarees, looking most elegant and distinctive. On the flip side, there are several women who are in western outfits but struggle to carry them. My advice, each of us know what works for us, just stick to it and specially don’t experiment on important occasions.
Colours – apart from what you wear, the colour of what you wear is equally important. Knowing what works in the day vis-à-vis in the evening or what goes better in which season is very useful. In men formal wear with neck tie, in my view nothing beats the traditional white or blue shirts with dark colour trousers. Women on the other hand have a much wider variety, however, the strategy of wearing a conservative colour always seems to pay off in a work environment.
Be prepared with one or two set of clothes that you wear only for the most important occasions – Might sound a bit strange, but simply wearing the clothes set apart for important occasions, actually puts me into a differential mindset, giving me a booster to perform better than normal. Give it a shot, it may work for you as well. Over a period of time, as you buy new clothes, they take place of the existing ‘important occasion’ clothes, which automatically move into the regular wear category.
Things to watch out for
• Drooping shoulders of the shirt
• Length of the tie
• Broken buttons
• Unpolished shoes
• Worn out belts or even shirts (especially collars)
• Body odour
• Uncomfortable heels
Preparing for Day 1
1. Try to find out the dress code in advance by visiting the office; however, defer the shopping trip. Wait till after spending a few weeks in office.
2. Clean, well ironed clothes and polished shoes is all you need.
3. Comfortable, well fitted attire is what counts.
Written bySanjay Chakrabarti
Post an 18 year consulting stint with Ernst & Young / Arthur Andersen, Sanjay took an entrepreneurial plunge in January 2015 through www.tag8.in . tag8's technology-enabled tagging offers solutions for facilitating tracking and returning lost valuables, enabling Warranty Management, and undertaking Asset and Resource Management. Sanjay is also involved in other startups as angel investor and mentor. He has been a guest lecturer at various schools such as NYU, ISB, Emory, SP Jain. His blog, startingat40blog shares experiences to help youngsters smoothly transition from being a student into a corporate role