“These days, you can’t tell the attorneys from the couriers.” According to an employee, this was the remark made by a partner in a top law firm in my region as several attorneys from another law firm left the elevator he was riding one morning to his office.
The other firm had a business casual policy; his did not. His office, incidentally, occupied the top floor of the prestigious building. The other attorneys’ law offices were situated on floors that were much lower. Coincidence? Probably not. Penthouse offices carry with it prestige and suggest success and importance. When you feel good about who you are and what you do, it is reflected in your attire and your surroundings. When you look successful, you increase your chances for success.
This past summer, I was taking the elevator to the penthouse office of another law firm in the same region, where I was hired to do image workshops. Not because the partners thought their attorneys looked “bad” but because they wanted to have the competitive edge. Image definitely separates the movers and shakers from the rest of the crowd. Half way to the penthouse, a man clad in Bermudas and flip flops got on and tried to chat up the attractive young woman who was escorting me to her offices. She wouldn’t give him the time of day, and after he got off the elevator said to me, “I can’t believe he comes to his office every day dressed like that. He looks like he’s delivering pizzas.”
Whether you’re headed for court or trying to chat up a pretty woman, casual attire will decrease your chances for success. Far too many people dress for their own comfort rather than for increasing their credibility with clients. There are also those who dress for “rapport” with the people they encounter. Professors and high school teachers mistakenly do this, and they usually have less control over their classes than the teachers who dress more professionally. Professional attire conveys more authority. Professors are, in a sense, “substitute parents” and most teens and young adults feel less secure when their parents look immature.
At a recent workshop for the general public, I presented a slide show with before and after photos of a number of my clients. The after photos of both men and women showed them dressed in classy looking professional attire. An attorney in the audience spoke up and said he disagreed with me; that he always dressed casually with his clients, because they were “ordinary folk” who had suffered personal injury in accidents. He was wearing cheap, ill-fitting khakis and a baggy green shirt and tie that “matched.” He explained that he liked to dress to have rapport with his clients. “Tell me,” I asked him, “do you think your clients would like an attorney who would have high credibility with the judge and jury, or an attorney who looked like them?” I rested my case and the audience took my side.
According to a 2001 Harvard study, we make an in-depth and long-lasting first impression in three seconds. In today’s shaky economy where job losses continue to escalate, most of us choose service or product providers who look as if they will go the extra mile for us. We don’t have time or money to waste, so we won’t give the slightest consideration to anyone who looks like he or she might waste either. Casual attire suggests a casual attitude, and this era demands serious professionals with serious attitudes.
At the other end of the spectrum, according to a recent report from CBS news, the best way to protect your job is to stay on good terms with the boss and dress better than you’ve ever dressed before.
Sandy Dumont is an image consultant with 30 years experience. She is also a professional speaker, author and expert on the subject of image. Get a free book, “Tattletale Looks,” on her website www.theimagearchitect.com.