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Dress your best

Barbara J. Seymour -- Style is the image of character. --Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)

Since Gibbon's day nearly three hundred years ago, styles at the workplace have changed drastically, but the underlying message has not. The clothes you choose to wear are a direct reflection of how you feel about your current position, a job interview, meeting, conference, and perhaps most importantly, yourself.

It's easy to fall into a dress rut and much more challenging to get out of it. Style isn't just about the way you dress, it's also about the dialogue you have with yourself and the world. If your everyday outlook doesn't change, neither will your style.

Following the Flock

Let's examine the excuses that keep you stuck and prevent you from putting your best shoe forward. Do any of the following statements sound familiar?

But all of my co-workers wear jeans, sandals, tank tops, sneakers…

By blindly following and dressing like the flock, you act like a little lost lamb. If you have a notion about moving up in the company, dress for the position you want, not for the position you hold. In today's competitive job market, dressing well just might be the edge you have over your competitor.

No one really sees me.

Unless you work at home, someone is eventually bound to see you. Even when working from home a client could call and call together an urgent, impromptu meeting. However, the odds are that you work in an office and sooner or later you're bound to run into upper management even if you work the nightshift. If you dress professionally on a daily basis, you'll always be prepared for that surprise visit from the boss.

It's the only outfit in my closet that's clean.

If it looks goofy, it is goofy. Stick to a schedule and always make certain you have at least one of your favorite outfits clean, pressed, and on standby for a last minute meeting or trip. Looking your professional best sends a message that you care and are prepared for the unexpected.

I'm comfortable in this.

Sweats, tennis shoes, hiking boots, sandals, clogs, tank dresses, spaghetti straps, shorts, skorts (a hybrid skirt and short), sweatshirts, long-flowing skirts and dresses, and jeans all fall into the comfort category. If you think you might wear it on the weekend, don't wear it to the office because if you do you'll send a message that you're all about what's best for you and not the company.

This works.

If your inner voice tells you an outfit doesn't look right, respect your gut instinct by taking the time to change. If the color is off or the pants don't fit or the shoes are outdated, you'll feel uncomfortable and out of sorts all day. Choose clothes that reflect your professionalism and project an image of confidence and intelligence.

I didn't have time to iron, change, etc.

Wrinkles, stains and pantyhose runs are the biggest signs that you were running late to work and either didn't have time to change, or worse yet, didn't care. Either way you send a message that you're lazy, and details are the least of your worries.

I should be liked for who I am, not what I wear.

Partially true; however, the way you dress is a direct reflection of how you feel about yourself and your job. If you aren't talented you won't be considered for the position. In an economic downturn a lot of talented people are looking for work too--so I must reiterate that the importance of workplace style increases as the job market tightens.

Time for Change

You've probably committed one or more of these offenses, but there's good news. One can always change. Remember to choose your words carefully--replace negative excuses with positive thoughts and words. Read other articles on how to dress for success. And build a wardrobe that reflects your character and best traits.

Trust Your Instincts

If a little voice inside your head says your shoes or belt or shirt or pants don't complement the outfit, listen to that voice. Trust your instincts. Dressing well is not rocket science and doesn't require an advanced degree--it just takes time and effort to research your likes and dislikes within the confines of business casual dress. Pay attention to your gut reactions, learn to trust your inner voice, and be accountable for the end result. The visual message you send today just might lead to a promotion tomorrow.

Barbara J. Seymour is an expert style strategist, beauty expert, and freelance writer, based in Los Angeles. Formerly an assignment editor for CNN and E! Entertainment Television, her fashion savvy has been featured everywhere from MSN.com to ABC-TV.

(c) 2002 CareerBuilder.com

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