Dress to Impress?

Business Beast by Betsy Streeter

My working life began at a very early age helping out in my parent’s restaurant. I can still remember the pinny the staff used to wear!

Since then I’ve had various jobs that involved a mixture of uniforms (retail, catering) and smart wear (teaching, library staff).

My first decent graduate job saw me working in a large multi-discipline Architectural firm. We were all expected to turn in up in smart business suits, a bit of a shock after my years in scruffy student attire. I didn’t really mind. At the time it was a good excuse to spend lots of money and it divided the line between work and play just nicely. (At the time play involved dressing up in spangly, shiny outfits in which I danced the night away in some random derelict warehouse or club.)

I started working at UKOLN in 2000. I can still remember the interview and the blue trouser suit I bought specially for the occasion. For 7 years I worked on-site at the university. Although academia doesn’t necessitate the wearing of business outfits (ulike much of the corporate sector) most people do still avoid very informal clothes. I think the look is officially called ‘smart casual’. I’m talking shirts and trousers for the men and skirts/trousers and tops for the ladies. No t-shirts with slogans, no jeans. Some people do dress down and go for jeans but they are definitely in a minority – or in the systems team ;-).

You are probably wondering why I’m reminiscing about the clothing I’ve worn over the years and what exactly this has to do with remote working.

Working at home means I no longer need to ‘dress up’. In fact I’m sat here now in my scruffy clothes, a scarf and my special fleece work jacket – it keeps me warm when all else fails! I actually don’t think I’ve brushed my hair, I definitely haven’t got any make-up on, hopefully people waiting outside school and nursery didn’t notice what I looked like. I’m a real scruff and yet I’m at work.

Me looking scruffy at my desk (on a warmer day)

I’ve never been very bothered about what people look like, in fact for me it was always the stranger the better. Conforming was never my thing and cosmetic surgery and over the top make-up make my blood boil! That said I do like dressing up. I’m always the first one in the queue for face painting or looking for a reason to put on some butterfly wings. I also realised last week that I actually like dressing up and making an effort for work too.

I had my appraisal on Wednesday and so had to head over to our base at the University of Bath. Attending conferences or meetings means digging out my ‘grown up clothes’ and catching my reflection in the bathroom mirror I was pleased to see myself looking quite smart.

I suddenly realised that this made me feel quite good, and quite it possibly it gave me a spring in my step that made me work just that little bit harder.

Some food for thought:

  • So does what you wear make a difference to your self-esteem? Many people believe so. The University of Illinois have an entire Web site dedicated to Dress Skills for Career Success.
  • Should organisations have dress codes (as is discussed here in this about.com article)? And if the answer is yes where does this leave remote workers?
  • Does looking ‘smart’ make any difference to your work outputs when working from home?
  • Do you dress up for conference calls?
  • Is it just about context (right clothes for a certain place)? Or is there more to it than that?

OK, so I’m not going to be putting on a suit to sit at this desk (I’d only have to spoil the look with a woolly hat!) but I will be looking forward to those occasions when I can make an effort. And tomorrow I might even brush my hair!:-)


4 thoughts on “Dress to Impress?

  1. To me ‘office wear’ is a bit like armour – well my version of ‘office wear’. And if I’ve got my ‘office wear’ on, I can assume that colleagues are not being distracted (or amused or bemused 🙂 by what I’m wearing.

  2. I’ve worked from home for years; previously, as a road warrior, I always had the dark suit, white shirt, bright tie. It was when I started having to do client meetings for a year or two, I went back to suit and tie for travelling. Now, fewer clients wear ties (suits still common!).

    I now travel so rarely that I haven’t bought a suit in 8 years [and yes, some of them still fit :-)]; air travel, and my carryon only approach means I no longer wear a suit for company meetings – ever.

    I don’t think my choice of clothing makes a difference to how I work at home, so it’s casual all the time.

    The only dressing for conference calls I do is being dressed, rather than in a dressing gown (I occasionally videoconference so then, it is important.)

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