If you have a relaxed dressing style how do you still be yourself if you work in a corporate business environment? This is the topic of Jill Chivers of 16 Style Types and my podcast episode.
Why are you expected to dress more formally anyway?
Rather than consider corporate dress codes as an imposed restriction upon you, instead it’s important to understand the reasons that more corporate and conservative dress codes are part of the corporate business landscape (particularly in areas such as law, corporate consulting and financial institutions).
Think about it this way. Every business has a brand (and some spend millions advertising their brand to their customers and potential customers). And you, as an employee are representing the brand of the business you work for. Yes, there may be an element of subordinating your individual needs to the needs of the corporation as a whole, but if you’re struggling with this, are you also struggling with your job as a whole? Are you truly happy in what you’re doing?
It’s a Business Style Recipe
Think of the business brand as the Style Recipe of that business.
For example – if the brand is: reliable, ethical, established, professional, conservative
If this brand were a person, how would they dress? If you were making a costume for a character who represented this brand in a movie, how would they dress?
Does this corporate style recipe say “bohemian hippy chic” who wears whimsical prints and wafting fabrics? Does it say “outdoors adventurer” in jeans, sneakers and polar fleece? Does it say “eclectic creative” in a mix of patterns and fabrics all artfully put together?
No it doesn’t (and I didn’t need to tell you that)!
It says “conservatively dressed professional” wearing traditional business attire.
It’s as simple as that! It’s not about trying to put you into a straightjacket. It’s about the employees representing the business brand.
If you want to be taken seriously in a business environment, you need to represent the business and its brand. Your ideas, your expertise are all being judged before you open your mouth, based on your appearance. Think about it as donning a costume for the role that you are playing in the workplace.
So how do you feel comfortable and look appropriate, whilst still be true to yourself?
What to Wear When You Prefer Relaxed and Comfortable Clothes But Work In a Corporate Business?
It’s important that you dress in a way that gives you confidence, but when a business has a corporate business dress code, so how so you appear more formal whilst still being more relaxed and comfortable?
Colour and Contrast
Jill and I have discussed this before in this video on colour contrast and value contrast. When you reduce your colour contrast and wear more neutrals, you create a more businesslike appearance.
When you up your value contrast to a high value contrast – you also display the contrast of someone who is more powerful.
When you wear darker colours and neutrals, you also are seen as more powerful as they are more yang and have visual weight.
Style of Clothing
When you think about corporate dress codes, they are all about classic tailoring and it all comes down to how we read and interpret elements of design (yin and yang)
- Straight vertical lines (yang)
- Solid smooth fabrics (yang)
- Pinstripes (yang)
- Structured construction (yang)
- High value contrast (yang)
I can go on and on here. But all these yang elements make for a more authoritative appearance. It’s just how we read these elements of design.
A collar on a shirt or a jacket always makes the outfit more professional. Adding a jacket is also another way of dressing up your outfit.
How to make them more comfortable?
Look for fabrics that have some stretch – you can even find wovens with stretch in them to give you that ease of movement and physical comfort you desire.
Style of Accessories
Think about adding more polish with your accessories – the flatter the shoe the more high quality the materials and construction – patent ballet flats instead of heels.
Beautifully polished oxfords or brogues with a dress pant.
Make sure the overall “look” of your outfit blends with the dress code so that you don’t stand out for the wrong reasons.
Remember there is a reason for the dress code and wearing it is of benefit to you
If the business doesn’t succeed – you don’t have a job! You should be thinking “I need to support that business because that is supporting me”.
If you find it hard to reconcile it may be time to ask yourself – are you in sync with the business brand?
Understanding how your personality influences your style choices always makes a difference. Seeing the relationship between what you value and how you express yourself through your image and style (and how it can benefit you in the workplace) are part of our 16 Style Types Reports which help you get a handle on your style strengths and challenges and provide a blueprint for improving your style in a way that is authentic and relevant to your personality.
Why We All Judge Books By Their Covers and That Won’t Change
How to Express the Right Message Whilst Flattering Your Body Shape
How to Dress to Be Taken Seriously in a Corporate Environment When Your Colouring Doesn’t Suit Traditional Corporate Colours
Thanks for this podcast. I’ve been working on this issue for a while, and realised I missed wearing trouser/pant suits for work as they made it easy (they seemed harder to find in a sensible price point and reasonable fit) . So I’ve made a bit more effort to buy or sew a few trouser suits, or trouser/jacket combinations and its starting to come together now. I either have a suit effect or an inner column with contrast jacket, then add interest with necklace/scarf, bag and shoes. I avoid black going instead for navy, charcoal and taupe/brown often with soft reds or teals for colour interest. Where I can I have stretch suiting fabrics (smarter than knit but still have some stretch) and a bit of elastic in the waists for comfort. I look put together but still feel comfortable. It is working well for me now. Thanks again Ruth C from 7STS.
My goodness… I’ve never seen this explained like this. I swear i’m Printing it out to go in our employee handbook and it’s rocked my world about how I was flouting the dress code myself!
Glad to have helped you understand the why behind the dress code!
A very thought provoking article. As a person with soft colouring who suits low to medium contrast, what should I do?
You may find there are times that you need to up your value contrast to give you more authority – remember that if you step between the values this makes it less stark and easier to wear when you have a lower contrast.