College Central®

Ask around. The Network works.®

Career Corner
Does It Matter What You Wear?

Susan Dunn, MA -- Of course it does! We want to be appropriately and comfortable dressed so it isn't distracting.

How can you court your honey when your shirt collar is choking you? How can you represent your client if the judge doesn't allow women lawyers to appear in court in pants? How can you enjoy touring the Turtle Farm on Barbados when it's 95 degrees and you've got on polyester slacks? How can you work the Trade Show when your feet are killing you?

Clothing as nonverbal communication

Clothing can show:

-- How much money you have
-- How you spend your money
-- Your values
-- How you take care of things
-- How organized you are
-- How creative you are
-- What profession or industry you're in
-- Whether you're a copy-cat or an original

Analyze this

Clothing is all around us, so spend some time analyzing. This is something you need to master.

It's been said "dress for the position you next want," so take a look around your office. Where are the lines drawn? How do you fit in?

Be mindful. Are you representing what you want to, and what you intend to? I'm thinking of the mother at our children's 8th grade outdoor morning graduation ceremony in spangles, cleavage, boa, and dangly earrings. What look was she after, I wondered. She had achieved the "appearing nightly" look.

Find out what's appropriate

The emotionally intelligent person plans ahead. When planning to travel on business, call a coach in the area you're going to.

Male lawyers in San Antonio, TX USA wear suspenders, while when my sister first started practicing law in D. C., judges did not permit women lawyers to wear pantsuits in court.

In San Antonio, TX there isn't much use for a coat rack. I had no idea when I got to the Chicago Art Museum that I could check my coat and boots. There were lockers. How nice! But neither was I prepared for how hot they keep their buildings. People who come to San Antonio are never prepared for how icy we keep our buildings in the summer.

Does it really matter?

Of course it does, because you want to be able to concentrate on what's really important.

You'll probably have a sense of what areas of the country are different, and in which areas dress matters more than in others (because it's more idiosyncratic).

I had no idea for instance what to wear for a professional trip to Seattle, Washington (USA). Don't laugh, but all I'd seen in photos was lumber jackets and jeans. Of course YOU are not your CLOTHES, but the more comfortable I am, the better I can do my job, and the more I'll enjoy myself.

As my friend who didn't listen to me and took her bright floral patterned dresses to D. C. found out, there are good ways to stand out, and there are bad ways to stand out. In the room of 300 people all wearing solid colors, she might as well have had a bone in her nose. She found it hard to get it out of her mind. That can take the edge off what you're about!

Forgetting

Where I live it is 98 for a good part of the year, and then plummets all the way to, oh maybe freezing once in a while. It is said to snow once every ten years, but it's been longer than that since last it did. Therefore, I forget what "cold" means.

I know cold, I went to college in Minnesota but I forget the feel of it. When I arrived in Duluth, MN in February and it was 40 below -- honest degrees, not windchill -- I was appalled.

When you check with that coach, don't settle for "it's cold up here" or "it could be 40 below," ask them "what should I bring?" and, as I did before going to Russia, "please tell me what it feels like when it's 70 degrees with 100 percent humidity and wind blowing at X mph."

If you're female, ask that coach about jewelry. I was so grateful to the mentor who told me when I attended my first XX conference that the women in that profession in that town would be "draped in jewelry, rings, bracelets, necklaces earrings, toe rings, naval rings ." Of course I would like to know the opposite, too. Why?

Well, it's not cool to sit down to a business dinner in Seattle and ask for iced tea. If you know what I mean. Oh, you haven't done that? Let me tell you what happens. Everyone's head jerks toward you. Then they look away.

The waiter stammers and shifts from foot to foot. You realize immediately there is no iced tea in this town. Tres gauche. But the waiter won't let it go. "I'll brew some tea," he says, "and bring you a glass of ice." "Or just shoot me," I'm thinking. Then he adds, "Is that what iced tea is like?" Everyone is still looking at the ceiling.

Ask the coach

Your answers are only as good as your questions. Here's a good question to ask that coach: "What will I wish I'd brought with me that I won't think of." That will trigger the "tourist" mindset in your resource person. Oh the things I've wished I'd brought.

-- A well broken in pair of sandals for my Caribbean cruise, not the brand new blister-makers
-- Blister bandages, like they really help
-- A bathing suit for my December trip to Chicago. Of course the hotel had a hot tub. They all do.
-- A pair of comfortable heels each time I've given a presentation. Why do I fool myself?
-- Slacks with elastic waistline for cruises
-- Something Tencel for long trips
-- The black Pashmina shawl that works with everything
-- Something for the rain. It rains when you go somewhere else. You can go to the dollar store and buy what amounts to disposable ponchos and head covers. (Great for touring Russia in the summer or Seattle nearly any time).
-- Something really cute for vacations. You think you want to go funky, but then you see someone in a smashing linen matching outfit, and there you are, buying something cute in the hotel store with a price tag that isn't cute at all.
-- An evening bag. With an evening bag you can get by with that same black Tencel skirt ... you know what I mean.
-- Jeans. Dry cleaned and starched.
-- Sensible shoes. Oh was I mad when they wouldn't let me rent a motorbike on Grand Cayman with my thong sandals, and the heels back in my room wouldn't have made the cut either.
-- That thing that's hanging on the back of your chair if you're in an office right now. You know what I mean. Bring it along for when you get cold which could be anywhere, any time.

Find out what you need to know and master the fundamentals so you don't have to think about what you've got on!

Susan Dunn, MA, Clinical Psychology, The EQ CoachT, Susan Dunn, MA, cEQc, The EQ Coachâ„¢, Susan Dunn, bringing the power of Emotional Intelligence to YOUR life through coaching, eBooks, and distance learning. Midlife, retirement and transition coaching, career and relationships. Email for free EQ ezine. Want to be a certified EQ Coach? Email for information on this fast, affordable, comprehensive, no-residency program. Products available for licensing to build your practice. Visit the best ebook library on the Internet -- EBook Library. Susan Dunnis the author of How to Live Your Life with Emotional Intelligence. I offer coaching around emotional intelligence for career, relationships, resilience (the skill for this decade), transitions, retirement, and personal and professional development. I train managers and coaches to teach EQ. Mailto: sdunn@susandunn.cc for FREE eZines. For free daily tips on how to develop your EQ, send blank email to: EQ4U.

© 2009 Susan Dunn, M.A.

Return to top

The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of College Central Network, Inc. or its affiliates. Reference to any company, organization, product, or service does not constitute endorsement by College Central Network, Inc., its affiliates or associated companies. The information provided is not intended to replace the advice or guidance of your legal or medical professional.