Ready To Go Viral? Here's How You Should Dress At Work

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Woman getting photographed

© / Adobe Stock

Michele Weldon
Michele Weldon10
June 12, 2024 at 5:43PM UTC
Even if your workplace has a casual Friday where just about anything goes, you want to dress for work as if your photograph will be snapped and spread everywhere.
Consider this: even if you look marvelous, you do not want people to talk, write, share or quip about your clothes. You want people to focus on you, your leadership style and what ideas you bring to the table.
Clothes may not make the woman, but thanks to social media, clothes might certainly make the meme.
“Just because something appears trivial does not mean it is any less powerful as a means of persuasion and outreach,” writes Vanessa Friedman on the impact of Michelle Obama’s style choices for the New York Times. “In some ways its very triviality — the fact that everyone could talk about it, dissect it, imitate it — makes fashion the most potentially viral item in the subliminal political toolbox.”
You may not be in national politics, but as an employee working her way up to the c-suite, ask yourself: would you make a different choice if you knew you would be photographed?
Gone are the days of a uniform of blue, gray or black suits with white blouses. You do not want to wear anything that does not fit well — nothing too baggy, too tight, too short, too long or any wild pattern that will detract from you or your message.
According to Shelie Karabell of Forbes, choosing an outfit is “not just a matter of choosing the right business suit. Indeed, it’s not necessary in these disruptive days, to wear an actual business suit, according to Jeff Byron, another 25-plus-year retail veteran, now vice president and general manager of the flagship Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Texas."
Leah Bourne writes in Glamour, “Marlies Verhoeven, the CEO and co-founder of The Cultivist, a private member’s club for art enthusiasts, says, 'What tends to work in my industry is to mix formality with a sense of creativity and personality.' Verhoeven cautions that there's a distinct difference between dressing to match the work culture and dressing too casually. ‘I do think it’s better to be more formal than to come underdressed.’”
Why does this even matter? Because we are women in the workplace. So always dress as if you will be photographed for public consumption.
I attended my 20-year college reunion and posed for photos with friends when the university photographer asked to shoot our picture. One of those photos ended up as a cover for the all-university reunion brochure in print and on the university website five years later. I was glad I was smiling and dressed professionally.
It's true that clothes do not make the woman, but your professional image contributes to the essence of your leadership, and it may live forever.
Michele Weldon is an author, journalist and editorial director of Take The Lead, where this post originally appeared. She is a senior leader with The OpEd Project, emerita faculty at Northwestern University, mom of three sons and her most recent book is Escape Points: A Memoir.

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