Why Your Professional Image Should Matter to You

3  min read

And as long as I’ve got my suit and tie
I’ma leave it all on the floor tonight
And you got fixed up to the nines
Let me show you a few things (show you a few things)

In his hit song, “Suit & Tie,” Justin Timberlake epitomizes the magic of being well-dressed.  Didn’t you envision a  clean-cut, maybe wealthy, sartorial figure commanding the room as you read the lyrics? I did. Plenty of research has gone into this—how appearance influences the way others perceive us. When we dress up people are more likely to perceive that we come from a certain background, hold a certain status or act a certain way. Our appearance is a way we show the world who we are.

Dress up for the opportunity, not down because of the task

We can impact the way others perceive us because we control our image. By branding ourselves for what we want, we can use our image to our advantage.

An individual came to me for advice on how to approach her boss about working part time and keeping the same salary. When we were talking, I noticed she was wearing jeans and a crop top sweater with about two inches of her stomach exposed. Immediately, I asked if that is what she wore to work that day.  She told me yes, because her job is very, very laid back and her role isn’t client facing.

That was a mistake. Dress up for the opportunity, not down because of the task. Regardless how great her work performance might have been, if her boss only remembers her poor dressing habits, then how likely is her boss to reward her? Baring your midriff is not appropriate for a professional setting even if it’s not against company policy.

If you look good, you feel good.
If you feel good, you play good.
If you play good, they pay good.​

Here is a contrasting example, I was told about a dancer who is lead at her company. Early on in her career she had been given a lot of opportunity to succeed within the company. Since we were discussing another dancer at the same company in comparison, who is not a lead dancer, I asked why they don’t give the other dancer more opportunity.  The reply was simply. The other dancer is not as professional as the lead dancer. The lead dancer always wears makeup to rehearsals, always has her hair pulled back, dresses nicely and continues to act the part when not on stage. Even before becoming a principal dancer, this is the image she portrayed. 

What your clothes say to you

Just like in the song, when Justin Timberlake put on his suit and tie, he felt confident. How we perceive ourselves is also influenced by our choice of clothing. Personally, a tailored dress or pantsuit with high heels makes me feel experienced and dogged. A briefcase makes me think I’m a powerful woman and wearing funky, colorful jewelry makes me perceive myself as having a great sense of humor. 

There is a saying by Dione Sanders (a retired professional football player) that sounds nice and rings true. “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good.” The bottom line is dress nice for your success. Yes, other people are influenced by how you look, but so are you, and that is most important.