Should You Dress For Success?

You’ve heard the expression ‘dress for success’ but what does that mean to you and your business?

I’m lucky, I work in a creative industry and the Dress Code for my industry is much more relaxed.

I’m not expected to wear a suit every day, however, if I have an important meeting I will dress in a more appropriate manner for each situation.

Why? Isn’t it better to be the authentic me? Yes, you need to reflect your personality and natural style. No, if your style is casual/natural and you’re presenting to a Board of a company, you need to adapt your style to appear more corporate but also feel comfortable as you.

If a company is looking to place a significant contract with you or your business, they might expect a certain level of dress. At the very least you need to look smart and clean, clothes should be pressed and not crumpled. You need to appear healthy and interested in what’s going on.

Appearance and Pay

You may be saying to yourself, I’m great at my job. Probably the best in my field so isn’t that enough?

While in your opinion, it should be more than enough, the stark reality is that people do judge us within seconds of seeing us for the first time. Don’t forget the old saying, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Something like 90% of communication is non-verbal and if we aren’t dressed the part we stick out like a sore thumb. They have already placed us in a hierarchy and we’ll fall further from the top of of the list if we are untidy, over/under dressed or are wearing colours which make us look unwell. This form of unconscious bias can hold you back.

Height, does it matter?

In 2004 Timothy Judge ran a large study in the US and UK. What they found was quite interesting…

  • tall people earn more than their shorter counterparts, irrespective of age, experience or maybe even ability.
  • each extra inch in height could add $789 dollars a year to their salary.

That means someone who is 7 inches taller than me, could earn up to $5523 year more than I would. All of a sudden, those 2inch heel boots are looking more attractive if they can help me earn an extra $1500 a year with little effort.

What can the height challenged among us do to combat this?

  • Focus on your achievements, what you offer to the company and why your experience is relevant, important and valuable to the company.
  • Common sense should override any unconscious bias in most cases, and if it doesn’t, you probably shouldn’t be working for a company who are so fixed on appearance anyway.


I’m carrying some extra weight and while I’m working on ‘removing it’ with good food and regular exercise, I hadn’t realised how damaging that weight could be to my career.

If you’re carrying extra pounds – take note, you might want to make some changes.

If you’re obese (BMI 30 or above) you’re less likely to get the job.   Let’s assume you are selected, the chances are you’ll end up with a much lower salary than your slimmer colleagues.

Let me explain.

There’s a fascinating study in the Journal of Obesity and they took test subjects for a ‘personnel selection exercise’.

The participants were shown a resume with a photo of a lady pre-bariatric surgery (BMI 38-41) and asked to consider her suitability and choose a pay grade for this person.   They were then shown a resume with a photo of the SAME lady after her surgery (BMI 22-24).     They consistently gave the slim lady a higher salary and higher assessment scores, despite it being the same person, same qualifications on both versions of the resumes.

In a study at George Washington University, obese workers were found to be paid less than ‘normal’ weight workers.    Anyone with a Body Mass Index of more than 30 is likely to be paid less than normal-weight co-workers.

The study estimated this to be equivalent of $8,666 a year for obese women, and $4,772 a year for obese men.

What could you do about it?

1. You can learn to style your outfits so you appear slimmer than you are.

I’m fortunate because I’m an image coach and I know what my best colours are.  When I started wearing my best colours, despite being the same weight, people kept asking if I had lost weight and saying how well I looked.     I do have a healthy glow and always look healthy, even in the depths of Winter.

Before I knew what I know now, I looked ill, tired and a good ten years older than I am.      What I wore made me look dowdy and invisible.    Does this matter?    Yes, I think it does because knowing what I know now, I am much more confident and feel great every day.

I am more employable, I win more business.   How I look inspires a level of confidence clients.    I look slimmer, so my weight will be less of an issue and most important of all, I FEEL good.

2. If you’re planning a change in lifestyle to lose some weight and get fitter, then you might find yourself earning more than the sedentary among us.

For someone who works out 3 times a week, you could find yourself earn 5% more, but someone working out more often may have a boost of up to 9% compared to their colleagues.

The gym does seem more appealing now, doesn’t it?

If you don’t have the budget for formal workouts, go walking in your lunch breaks, ask a colleague to join you, it all adds up and it will make a difference to more than your pay grade.    You can do bodyweight exercises at home for free or even sign up for a charity race to give you some motivation to train.

Fun blonde or bright brunette?

Well, it turns out that blondes don’t just have more fun, they also (on average) earn around 7% more than their darker haired counterparts.

Highlights anyone?  

We can’t all go full-on blonde and it needs to be the right colour of blonde to suit you.     I’ve seen photos of Kim Kardashian from a few years ago with blonde hair and I don’t think it’s a good look for her, she looks much better with dark hair or with more subtle highlights.

If you want to make that change, I recommend you see a professional stylist who has trained in colour and who will work with your natural skin tone and overall look.    Take along some photos of what you have in mind.

Make-up or not?

The London Times did have an interesting article about make-up and had asked Directors for their thoughts.

  • 64% of them thought women looked more professional when wearing make-up.
  • But, as with all things, moderation is the key and too much was felt to be a bad thing.

Your Personal Brand

Your image says a lot about you and it’s the first thing people notice when they meet you.    It’s part of your personal brand.   If’ you’re prepared to invest in your company brand, you need to consider how you as an individual need to align with that image.

All is not lost

The colour of your clothes, the styles you wear impact on your appearance.

You can easily make small changes to appear younger, slimmer, healthier and look more capable.

Have a think about the image you need to project, does it need to be strong for the Boardroom, is it more approachable for an HR role?     Make a list of half a dozen key words that describe what you need from your work wardrobe.

This will help you when you speak to an image consultant who can then advise you on what colours, contrast and depth you need in your work wardrobe.

Mornings are easier, you can dress quickly knowing your work items all work with one another, giving you a wide variety of potential outfits you can grab and go in a hurry.

It’ll also save you time and money when shopping, you can breeze past the colours you’re not going to wear and quickly pick out the things that work for you.

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