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Why Not Conforming to the Office Dress Code Pays
Have you ever considered swapping your everyday office attire for something different, something that feels more like you? Do you worry about appearing unprofessional if you try a new look? What if I told you that this could actually benefit your career?
Not conforming to the traditional office dress code could pay dividends, according to a study conducted by The Harvard Business School. The ‘Red Sneakers Effect’ examined how non-conforming behaviors can infer elevated status and competence among coworkers within the work environment.
As women, we are programmed to believe that ‘following the crowd’ is required in order to be socially accepted. In the workplace, that may mean conforming to the usual workwear attire of dull colors, button-down shirts, and staid suits. It is believed that embracing this dress code conveys professionalism and competence that allows us to be taken seriously, that deviating from the norm could be deemed as risky, potentially resulting in social disapproval or rejection from peers. It requires confidence and power to step outside the parameters and experiment with something different.
However, standing out, being visible, and having a presence in the workplace are crucial, particularly for women who continue to be under-represented and under-valued in the corporate world. A report from Zippia, the Career Expert has found that women take up only 35% of the senior US management positions and earn 47.4% less than their male counterparts, despite having the same qualifications.
What’s interesting about the ‘Red Sneakers Effect’ is that engaging in non-conforming behavior actually elevates the perceived status and competence of the individual. Ordinarily, judgments are based on appearance, verbal and non-verbal behaviors, attitudes, and communication choices. However, in this study, it became clear that adopting a non-conventional approach is a major factor when it comes to crafting and creating a personal brand. It demonstrates autonomy, confidence, and fearless determination to try something different, which consequently infers increased status and competence in the eyes of coworkers, particularly among those who yearn to be unique and individual.
And isn’t status, presence, and recognition what we all strive for in the workplace? Interestingly, the study revealed that non-conforming behavior was only considered as ‘powerful’ if it was intentional, meaning that a ‘fashion faux pas’ would not be viewed in the same light. So how can you maximize this concept to achieve your professional goals?
Guide for Modern Dress Code
Wear More Color
Color is powerful. It gives presence, increases visibility among a sea of gray, and can create a gut response in both the wearer and the observer. By this, I mean that it can psychologically impact perceptions.
Imagine this. You arrive at a networking event where everyone in the room is dressed in typical office attire. Think neutral blazers, simple dresses, or smart pants with a plain button-down shirt. You enter the room, dressed professionally and appropriately for the occasion. But your blazer is red. You’ve paired it with a beautiful, cobalt-blue, silk blouse and a fabulous pair of navy culottes. You’ve styled this with a fantastic pair of heels and a striking, colorful bag. What does this outfit say about you? It tells everyone there that you aren’t afraid to be visible. It infers confidence, guts, and a fearless ability to be unique.
But there’s more to it than that. In color psychology, red symbolizes energy and drive. It shows ambition and power. While too much can appear aggressive, when teamed with calming, reliable, and trustworthy blue, it sets just the right tone. Colorful accessories reveal more about your personality and demonstrate that you aren’t prepared to sit back unnoticed.
It should also be noted that wearing colors can benefit the health and emotional wellbeing of the wearer. Colors can trigger psychological and neurological responses in the brain which cause the hypothalamus gland to release feelgood hormones. Orange is fabulous on days when you feel drained and tired, while blue releases oxytocin, which can alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety, making it a great color to wear to an interview.
Update Your Look
The workplace has changed significantly since 2020. Working from home has become the norm for many. As a PowerStyle coach, many of my clients have described the confusion around dressing for work. After dressing in traditional office attire for so long, they feel lost when it comes to power dressing for this new world. The ‘Red Sneakers Effect’ in a post-pandemic era, allows an opportunity for workwear reform. It gives scope for non-conventional dressing, therefore maximizing the potential of its associated power, status, and perceived competence.
Instead of opting for the typical office dress code, try injecting some personality into your look. Try dressing down tailored pieces with more relaxed pants and sneakers. Replace heels with loafers and dressy trainers and swap shirts for a striped Breton T-shirt, layered under a fabulous blazer or boucle-style jacket.
Embrace styling options that are effortless and add texture to your workwear wardrobe. Texture will instantly update and add interest to your outfit, helping to create a signature look that is current and intentional. Velvet, suede, leather, linen, and cashmere can elevate any outfit and, when appropriately styled, can inject sophisticated glamor into every workwear closet.
As a PowerStyle Coach, I work with executives who are committed to investing in their wardrobes as a means to personal and professional success. You can discover more of my Powerstyling secrets by visiting my website www.powerstyle.co.uk.
About the Author
Name: Catherine Jackson
Professional Title: PowerStyle Coach & Consultant
Bio: Catherine Jackson is a PowerStylist for the busy corporate woman. She works with corporate executives who are committed to investing in their wardrobes as a means to their personal and corporate success.
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