Blogs & Thoughts

Dress to Express, has it ever been more relevant?

“The apparel oft proclaims the man” This catchy phrase sprang to mind during a group conversation about how we dress for work, or as it stands, how we dress to work from home.

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  • Author Eleanor Howe
  • Date 07 December 2020
  • Read Time 2.5 minutes
Young man working from home in pyjama bottoms and suit jacket.

The above noted was Shakespeare’s version, from Hamlet. Polonius advising his son to dress well, as the French would judge him on it. This idea popped up in the written word well before 1600 however. Erasmus (Catholic priest, theologian, and social critic) circa 1500 and Peter Idley (a government administrator and poet) 1445 had referenced the idea before that. There are plenty more too.

So why the enduring theme? Should we care about what our ‘apparel proclaims’ while we work isolated in our various home settings, or in due course return to more formal work spaces?

Thinking about my own experience when first making the transition from working in the office to working from home, I did take a more relaxed approach to how I dressed. Initially there might have been a sigh of relief at not having to worry about being smart enough for meetings or actually being seen, because quite frankly, no one would notice or care on a Teams call. Would they? The focus was about maintaining business continuity, being able to access technology and praying the home broadband was good enough. The show must go on; but not necessarily the costume.

After a period of furlough, I remember feeling excited about setting up my home desk and the prospect of engaging in a day with more purpose. Part of the preparation was a return to clothes that I associate as work wear. I’m not in corporate finance, so it’s not tailored business suits, but neither is it tracksuit trousers and a hoodie. Kudos if you can carry off leisurewear for work, but I find it makes me feel sub-normal, a bit slow and Sunday morning-ish.

Selecting the appropriate outfit can undoubtedly boost confidence and mood, even if no one else sees you in it. The power is direct to wearer. Like Wonder Woman’s belt or Batman’s cape!

It’s not overstating it to say clothes are recognised as having a significant impact on both the wearer and the people we meet. Making the right impression, showing respect, to self and others, are all tied up in a complex set of signals we send out. ‘Our clothing is part of our identity: who we are. We make a decision about whether we like someone or not in under a second based on appearance alone and then seek “evidence” to support our initial judgement.’ Professor Carolyn Mair Phd Behavioural Psychologist. Well, that is some serious time pressure.

Representing our industry, and particular employer is a responsibility, but perhaps also an opportunity to show our individual creativity, style and confidence. Making that first split second impression could be a benefit, an unspoken coded statement about who we are and who we represent. Polonius urged his son to dress to impress, but maybe he forgot to add in a certain je ne sais quoi.  Dress to express. Express our personal and professional qualities, and the potential we have to face the challenges ahead.