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Monday, November 17, 2014

Dress Code

As much as we may try to avoid judging by appearances, we do. Many days on my drive to work, there are men dressed shabbily at intersections asking for money. Maybe that's part of the gig. I mean, if you were dressed in a sharp looking suit or any kind of business apparel, who would give you money?

Because of appearance (and perhaps the appeal for funds) most people simply look away. I often do. It makes me wonder if the mayor of Chicago got scruffy, dressed down and looked like life had taken the best of him, would I even recognize him as he asked for money on a street corner? I doubt it.

This week, a friend reminded me of a classic story about the gifted violinist, Joshua Bell. The Washington Post set him up in a Metro station in DC with his violin, playing Bach. His violin case was open to collect people’s spare change. No one recognized the virtuoso. He earned $32 for his playing. People paid $100 per seat to hear him play just days before! But he wasn’t in his tuxedo.

My most influential radio mentor, Chuck Gratner, helped me understand this perception of dress code. Early in my radio career, Chuck bought several copies of John T. Malloy’s bestseller, Dress for Success. Malloy had spent years collecting research on the perceptions of people based on how they dressed. Those who knew and understand enough about what clothing ro wear received more attention and respect. I heard Malloy speak at a seminar and it was powerful. It impacted me a lot.

Styles change. Attitudes change. We’re certainly a more casual society today. But even among the business casual crowd, a “dress code” shows up. Only, instead of wanting business respect, it becomes the need to dress “cool.”

Here’s an illustration of how a clothing choice gets attention. Very recently, an article surfaced answering the all-important question, why does Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder) wear the same  gray tee shirt every day? His answer is quite surprising.

Steve Jobs had his dress code as well. A black mock turtleneck shirt was his preference, along with jeans and New Balance sneakers. Not that we noticed. Or were influenced by it. (There’s even a book that develops the significance of this choice of uniform as part of personal branding! Ditch. Dare. Do.)

All in the workforce should learn this important lesson. To establish, build, or maintain credibility in your role, your clothing needs to fit the part you are playing. A blog I read earlier this year makes the case well, titled “One Simple Dress Code Rule to Boost Your Career.”

I recommend the entire article but, for the time crunched, here’s the vital tip: slightly overdress for your position. This requires you to be alert to your workplace culture. See how the boss dresses. Pay attention.

That’s how we dress for business. But it’s NOT how we should determine a person’s value. And in the big picture, worrying about our clothing gets this instruction from Jesus of Nazareth, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33, ESV)

And now, time to go put on my green mock turtleneck. And some Walmart stretchy pants. I’m creating my own personal brand.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

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