Dressing Authentically at work
Courtesy of Annie Armitage
Do you feel you can be you at work? Or, do you feel that you continually have to put on a front?

Being a different version of you at work is fine but trying to be someone you are not, isn’t. You will perform to the best of your abilities when you can be yourself. Being yourself in how you dress is an important start to being authentic.

This comes with its challenges though, particularly if you work in a sector or role where there are very specific dress expectations.

Office environments are almost unrecognisable compared to 30 years ago – in many regards, including technology, the décor but also in terms of personal dress. The difference isn’t just about the changes in fashion either!

The time was when a suit was the default for the office – the ‘uniform’. In some ways, it made life simpler but in another way very boring and it certainly gave very little room for someone to be ‘authentic’, as the word ‘uniform’ would imply!

However, even in today’s more relaxed working environment, people, especially women feel the need to conform and fit in. This is particularly the case in certain sectors. Wanting to fit in is human instinct (although there are some who actively want to avoid it!), most of us have the social fear of being disliked and rejected.

Appropriateness is key; turning up in a formal, traditional suit if we work in a creative industry is not generally a good thing to do. Equally, turning up in really relaxed clothes if you are a solicitor is not typically positive. People have an expectation of how certain professions should be dressed, this is sometimes (although not always) related to the fees that a profession charges.

When we realise we haven’t dressed appropriately, it creates discomfort and disengagement which won’t help us in our professional relationships. Choosing the right outfit requires careful thought, especially as for women there are so many variations.

However, as well as being appropriate, it is important that we can feel like ourselves too. As I said, all of us perform at our best when we feel our authentic selves. Additionally, it is not good to just blend in, so we look just like our colleagues as there will be a lack of personality and differentiation – standing out positively is to be encouraged, particularly with increased seniority. Getting it right is the challenge!

So how can you be appropriate and be yourself to some degree?
  • The starting point is to think about what’s right for your day – that of course takes into account your role, what you are doing on a given day, who you are meeting etc.
  • Unless you need to be really formal, wearing interesting colours is great – all of us tend to look better in them than just neutral colours such as black, navy, whites and grey. Choices on a given day can reflect who you are and how you are feeling that day.
  • Accessories are a great way to reflect your personality and feel authentic without being too over the top. So think about what jewellery, scarf, shoes or bag could help you feel more like you – what reflects your ‘wardrobe personality’ and helps you to feel more authentic. Someone that would select a necklace in the shop East is likely to have a very different authentic style from someone buying one in Phase 8.
  • Remember, not everyone has to see it for you to feel good and like you, for example just knowing you are wearing your favourite underwear can help, another idea might be a more interesting suit jacket lining, if you work in a more formal environment.

Remember the benefit of being authentic is two-fold, you’ll feel more like you so will perform better at work and it will help you to differentiate yourself at work, as long as this isn’t for a negative reason then this is a double positive. So, open your wardrobe, get rid of anything you absolutely hate wearing and start thinking about how you could incorporate more of you into your work wardrobe.

If you want to start thinking about what to consider, sign up for Joanna’s free ‘Boost Your Personal Impact’ guide, just visit: http://insideoutimage.co.uk/personal-impact/

Joanna Gaudoin runs Inside Out and helps professional women improve their image and impact to achieve increased career success. http://insideoutimage.co.uk/

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