Dress For Success – Proper Dress
In the opening paragraph of his book, Dress For Success, by John T. Molloy, he states the rules for proper dress,
“FACT: Most American men dress for failure. They do so because they make one or more of four suicidal mistakes: They let their wives or girlfriends choose their clothing. They let their favorite sales clerks choose their clothing. They let designers and “fashion consultants” choose their clothing. Or they let their backgrounds choose their clothing.”
Let Research Choose Your Clothing
Mr. Molloy goes on to suggest that, for success in business, men and women should let research choose their clothing. After over 15,000 interviews John points out several patterns that lead toward successful dressing. He points out the obvious that it is not fair or just or even moral for a man’s success or failure to depend, to a large extent, on how he dresses, but that is very much the way money-oriented sectors of our culture work. We may not like it but, for success in our line of business, we must adhere to it.
As a field rep, you may work or have to present to very conservative companies (ie., Sony, IBM, Lotus, HP, Mitsubishi, Canon, etc.). Many of these companies have strong corporate dress codes and styles that, whether they are conveyed to us or not, are expected of all field reps–whether you work for that company or not. It is absolutely essential that field reps match the highest dress standards of the strictest of these companies to achieve acceptance and succeed. We do not want our resellers to avoid taking us to their best accounts because of an “unbusinesslike” appearance.
Our “company flag” (as demonstrated by our dress code) might professedly show our image as that of strong, conservative, professionals. Our dress, at least outwardly, demonstrates our ability to comply with our companies desires and needs to have a clean, conservative, honest and moral (that’s right, moral) perception. It is interesting to note that IBM corporation when deciding its renown code of dress for “white shirts only,” based its decision on research that clearly showed executives with white shirts as having “greater moral strengths” than that attributed to men wearing the “other colors.”
Considering the importance associated with our corporate image, what then is considered proper and “effective” dress?
The Look That Kills
When working on a national launch and deciding on the type of resellers to visit it is often easier to work in reverse and point out the type of accounts not to see, thus allowing the reps some discretion with the resellers in their area. It might be easier to do likewise in deciding the type of dress for us to follow. There is some obviously major no, no’s:
- No “flaming” attire. This unequivocally refers to the “flammable” polyester clothes (beware of sitting beside a smoker with polyester clothes–if their clothes catch fire (and they do burn well) the polyester flame is hot and spreads fast). You might ask: If the label has worn off, how can you tell if the shirt or pants you wear is polyester? Answer: First, don’t wear clothes that are so old that the label has worn off. And Second, if your clothes develop little fuzz balls that require a hand razor to remove–be assured–they’re polyester and should be discarded (quickly!).
- No “hellfire” pants. These are the type of pants that are obviously worn by the recent convert expecting all the world to burn and hence is preparing for another great flood. If the pants you wear don’t cover your socks, then either have them altered to fit or cut them shorter and use them for the next company picnic–at the pool.
- Beware of shoes that float. Any good pair of leather shoes have leather soles that, when wet, tend to unmercifully fall apart. As a convenience, you may decide to get the “Tom McAnn” type with the invincible (plastic) sole. Be assured that the only advantage to this type of shoe is to help you stay afloat–while fishing–because it does not make the impression that leads to fast-track, advanced employment.
As humorous as this partial list of no, no’s might appear it does make a point–there are some extreme styles that we can all recognize as inappropriate. We might not always take such obvious sides, especially if we discuss some more relative clothing styles–perhaps a style we may be wearing right now while reading this section. Yet it is the nit-picky clothing issues that may be our current concern.
If you were hired as a field rep then it is obvious that your clothing was not so inappropriate as to keep you out the door–even though it may have been some other hiring asset that was of significant offsetting redeeming value. New reps, however, will be scrutinized even more carefully as the company develops its own style and request adherence.
The Bottom Line Means Business
Here, without debating the issue, based on what works–not on what we may each “personally” prefer, is what we expect (by the way, this information was originally created for a rep firm with multiple conservative vendors–it may or may not apply in your case):
Proper Dress For Women
For women the standard is easier:
- Well managed hair and a manageable amount of well applied make up–if desired (avoid the “Tammy Baker” look).
- Conservative, modest dress or skirt and blouse. Slacks and a blouse may be appropriate for trade show events–no regular or designer jeans or the like.
- Well kept shoes and accessories.
- Follow additional suggestions from your local manager.
Proper Dress For Men
As a standard for proper dresss, always lean toward the finished, classic, high quality, traditional clothing presenting an image that is self-assured, never self-conscious. Be sure to avoid the trendy look–it is not for business. Also, pay special attention to the majority of your account’s business dress: if they don’t wear it–you shouldn’t either (they don’t always tell us their dress standards but they do show it).
In addition, you should adhere to the guidelines for the proper business dress as described in “The Tailored Wardrobe for Men” (a Nordstrom publication). We have found that this manual succinctly describes the appropriate style, fit, material, accessories, and options that appear appropriate for our business needs. Pay particular attention to the fit and style sections–it is of no avail to have quality, conservative clothing that fits sloppy or is later neglected. This publication should be available through the company headquarters or direct from your local Nordstrom department store.
You will be expected to gear up your wardrobe to match the exclusive recommendations suggested in this publication as a company standard and avoid any type of dress that would not match the guidelines it suggests. To avoid confusion, some of the guidelines and tips are included below:
- Slacks: they should be well pressed, conservative style (avoid trendy designs, corduroy, denim styles), of quality material (cotton, wool, blend) with a proper fit.
- Suits: All reps should have a full suit for special events. It is not always necessary to wear it to traditional training yet highly recommended. Dark “traditional” suits tend to lend more credibility to younger men. They should be the best quality you can afford. Materials should be of variable weight (depending on the season), be made of 100% wool or a quality wool blend. Double-breasted suits may be appropriate but traditional soft shoulder styles, with a single vent (double for a blazer), are more practical and appropriate (avoid the “cowboy” styles or the “young person’s” (no vent) style). Chuck the old “Swedish Knit” suit as soon as possible–it is a long-wearing utility suit, not a business suit.
- Fit: Fit is “all-important” when purchasing a suit. Usually, you must insist on a double fitting for proper tailoring (the first fitting to get the proper dimensions, and the second fitting to fine-tune the lines–get rid of bulges, etc.). At the price of suits, an additional $15-$35 refitting cost to the store is not too much to ask.
- Shirts: Shirts should not have different colored collars, ALWAYS have long sleeve and should never be rolled up. Mr. Molloy, in his aforementioned book, further states: “If you intend to take anything I’ve said in this book at all seriously, note well the following: “You will never, ever, as long as you live, wear a short sleeve shirt for any business purpose…” His book decisively describes why. You may want to get a copy for further reference.
- Material: All shirts should be of 100% cotton or a high blend and should be clean, meticulously pressed and starched! Nothing beats the look of a well-fitting, well-starched shirt! Cotton is the look we want but it wrinkles like heck–unless you select “broadcloth” or “Queens Oxford” which holds up better throughout the day without excessive wrinkling.
- Care: It is highly recommended that you have your cotton shirts professionally washed (ask for washed–dry cleaning your shirt is not necessary, nor preferable–it dries out the natural fiber) and starched–most professionals have this done–light starch will still look great, is cooler, and your shirt cuffs last longer. You can wash and press your own shirts if you want but it doesn’t look as good and for about $1.10 apiece (or about $4-$5 a week) you can avoid the required 15 minutes apiece over the ironing board!
- Ties: Silk is the preferred fabric and the pattern should be conservative (no flying toasters, etc.). Learn to tie an appropriate knot (avoid the “puggies”) and, for business purposes, avoid loosening your top button–it usually shows that you didn’t buy the proper sized shirt.
- Pocket Squares (Handkerchiefs): Pocket squares may help you achieve that “finished look” and in our business are almost always appropriate. Avoid buying a prepackaged, matching tie/square set–it looks too pat and suggests that you can’t coordinate your own dress.
- Belts: Exotic buckles should be worn with Levis–not business attire. Pick a conservative leather, well-fitting belt. The color should usually match your shoes. Suspenders are fine if the pants can support them.
- Shoes: One of the first things a person sees when sizing up another person is his shoes. Tasteful and well-cared-for footwear underscores your image. Suede and rubber-soled shoes are out. Lace-ups are the most formal yet leather penny loafers are also fine. The word with shoes is clean and polished–this should be a requirement. A good pair of shoe trees help your shoes maintain that new look and pulls them back into shape after a long day. The example above are “Chanimal’s” board room shoes.
- Jewelry: Keep jewelry to a minimum. Classic gold watches, a wedding ring, and collar bars are acceptable business wear. Tie tacks are not recommended as most silk neckwear drapes well. Gold wrist chains, neck chains, and earrings are often associated with immaturity and femininity–they should never be worn for any business function.
- Grooming: Freshly trimmed, short, conservative hair, with NO beard, mustache or sideburns is a MUST–scores the highest in the moral, credibility scores.
- “Business” Casual Dress: when “business” events (not sporting events) call for casual dress it does not mean “home” dress (ie., faded blue jeans, wrinkled T-shirts, grubby shoes, etc.). Business casual has its own set of proper dress guidelines–if it is a business event you must still carry the “company flag.” The easiest way to describe it is “college dress” (although it depends on your college–I went to conservative BYU).
Your clothes should still be impeccably clean, pressed and demonstrate taste (again, look at the “casual dress” of most your accounts–their dress is still slacks, a nice shirt without the tie)–of course this is not the case with most VAR’s. However, you should dress to the highest common denominator. Business casual dress, especially with a corporate polo shirt, is much more comfortable attire for trade shows and sometimes for training events. It is its own type of uniform that has gained wide acceptance. Defer to your own manager as to what is and is not appropriate for each type of event
You Want “The Look”
The look you are after is conservative, tailored and refined. We all acknowledge that these guidelines for proper dress have little to do with fair, or just or moral but more with what works and will help create the image you need to succeed in this business. The above information is a strongly recommended guide to achieve that end.
All things being similar–the better dressed (defined by research) has the advantage.
Review Questions for Proper Dress
- What is “The Company Flag?”
- We should let _____________ choose our “business” clothing.
- We need to maintain the dress of the most ____________ company we work for.
- What image do we want to project? Why?
- Describe “Business Casual:”
- What is the best thing you can do to your shirts to create a crisp, professional look?
- What is a field rep requirement when it comes to shoes?
- What is the name of the Nordstrom publication that can help you with your business wardrobe?
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