I’m a recent college grad who’s about to start interviewing for my first “career” job in an office environment. I know that most businesses are more casual than they once were, but I’ve also been told that it can never hurt to be the best-dressed person in the room. Before I spend all sorts of money on a new wardrobe, I’d like to know your opinion on the matter. Should I “dress for success” or “go with the flow”?
Short answer: Dress for success — but that does not always mean a suit and tie.
A casual trend swept the through the workplace during the ’90s, thanks largely to the success of work-as-play Silicon Valley, but the pendulum has begun to swing back the other way. Many people, myself included, enjoyed loosening our ties and wearing golf shirts to the office. But one of the reasons the trend has reversed is because the casual dress codes seemed to invite in lax attitudes.
It does not take a psychologist to recognize that how you dress will affect how you think, behave and hold yourself. When people dress professionally, they act more professional; when people dress casually, they act, well, more casual. A “just-hanging-out” attitude at work can affect results, deadlines and conversations.
Err on the side of more professional as you begin your career. This will help you establish your professional edge. Like it or not, you will be judged by what you wear, and when you’re getting your start you don’t want your choice of attire to negatively affect your perceived value to the company.
In virtually every culture, it was long customary to “dress up” for important guests, job interviews, religious ceremonies and special events. We did this because we valued special guests, respected legitimate authority and esteemed special occasions. In other words, we did it for reasons other than pleasing ourselves. Today’s society trumpets self-expression and rights-assertion as some of the bravest and most noble acts anyone can perform. But what’s so virtuous about telling people, by the way you present yourself, that you couldn’t care less what they think of you? You’re essentially telling them nobody matters to you but you. It would be hard to sustain a community, much less an entire society, if everyone lived that outlook to its logical conclusions.
I am sure that Pope Benedict would choose to dress much differently than he does were he not the successor to St. Peter. His attire is one way he signals his respect for the fact that the office he holds is bigger than he is. He must rise to it, not bring it down to him.
Just one last thing. When you consider your attire, keep in mind that you are made in the image and likeness of God. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Do your best to dress with the dignity those truths demand.
Dave Durand is online at