Buying into the Illusion

Dress, heels, and blazer to dress up
Dress, heels, and blazer to "dress up"
Dress and heels
Dress and heels
Up close and personal
Up close and personal

Like the outfit? Check out the details here!

First, a disclaimer: I totally buy into the illusion, so this is more humorous than judgmental. But let’s face it, to some extent, we all know it’s an illusion. I’m talking about the illusion of formal business attire or “dressing up” for the business setting. When we had the Big Bosses touring the office, we were told that we needed to “dress up” while the Big Bosses were in town. While at the trade show, I saw women in sky-high heels trekking around the show, but watched them switch to tennis shoes for the walk from the shuttle to the convention center. The illusion is the perception that formal business attire creates, and we all buy into it. Why? Here’s my take, as deduced from articles, experience, and conversations:

Be dressed equal to or better than the person you’re speaking with. This piece of advice is offered to help you convey authority, success, and respect for your party. If you want to appear to hold a position of authority on a subject or in a company, one way to do it is to show up looking different than your guest. Hopefully, looking better than your guest, as it projects an image of a detail-oriented, thoughtful person. It shows that you understand the power play, the occasion, and preparation for such a meeting.

Expensive clothes and accessories equal success. It’s been said that you should dress up to convey success, as formal business attire generally costs more than shorts and a t-shirt. It gives the impression that you must have been successful at whatever endeavor allowed you to purchase that suit or that watch. And, if you were so successful with your previous deals, surely you’ll be successful at whatever partnership we’re about to embark on. There’s also the intimidation factor that goes with having more money than the person you’re meeting, so it gives you more of an air of authority, knowledge, and generally desirable qualities.

Projects a “professional” image. This is what’s really humorous to me, that we all think formal business attire equals being professional. You can be completely drunk and obnoxious in a suit just as easily as shorts and a t-shirt. You can finish your work in a timely, detailed manner just as easily in jeans and flip flops. For some professions, yoga pants actually improve your job performance by increasing freedom of motion. Imagine crawling around to hook up a computer network in a full suit or a skirt! Many office environments require this type of skill, but this particular profession in an office environment can be impeded by standard business attire. “Professional” also includes modesty, which is much less of a problem for men than women in today’s culture. That’s why it’s also humorous that the mechanics had to wear jeans when the Big Bosses came to tour. It’s not considered immodest to see a man’s calf, so wearing longer pants doesn’t increase their “professional” image by making them more modest. By contrast, a skirt is generally considered more dressy, even though it is often less modest because it shows more skin. We place so much importance on the appearance of professionalism that we sometimes overlook the reality of professionalism. The reality entails completing your task to the standards set before you, not necessarily looking good while you do it.

Here’s the flip side: When you’re so successful that you achieve the right to dress however you want. This is the Big Boss who shows up to the meeting in jeans with holes, sandals, and an old t-shirt just because he can. This guy STILL has the confidence that makes his guest understand the level of success his actions and skills have helped him attain. How do you tell the poorly dressed, clueless intern from the uber-successful, rich boss? The intern will realize his mistake and shrink, trying to making himself smaller so that you see less of his “unprofessional” attire, while the Big Boss struts in with no qualms about how he looks. That’s why I think it’s all an illusion, because you see the Big Bosses of the world giving off an image of confidence and success, no matter what they wear. Formal business attire and “dressing up” seem to be a way for the lower-level workers of the world to project the same air given off by the high-level players. Don’t get me wrong, I dressed in heels and a dress for the Big Bosses, but I had to secretly smile about the fact that I did my job just as well when I arrived in khakis and a company polo the day before. Like the outfit? Check out the details here!

5 thoughts on “Buying into the Illusion

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