Dressing Like the Professional You Are

by teresalaynebennett

photo of anorexic model

Professional? I don’t think so.

You know how behavioral psychologists claim that females mature sooner than males in almost any area you can name? This blog post is about the exception to that rule – the one area where males usually pay attention and figure it out before females. Well before females.

By the time most males reach their late twenties and certainly by their late thirties, they’ve decided they don’t have to allow fashion fads to trump professionalism and comfort. Twenty-something and thirty-something females, on the other hand, are usually still allowing what’s in style and the latest fashion fads to dictate their wardrobe choices, regardless of whether those styles are flattering, appropriate, or comfortable.

I was right there with them in my 20s and 30s – until I caught sight of myself fighting with my clothes whilst trying to run a meeting with a CEO client and his assistant. How did I look, you ask? Like one of those self-absorbed teen girls you’ve seen – pulling up a neckline, yanking down a hemline, fluffy up a staticky skirt, scrunching up too-long sleeves. I was very busy indeed – just not busy paying attention to my client and the project for which I’d been hired.

That’s when I made a new rule for myself: Remove “fight with clothing” from my daily to-do list. It’s long enough anyway without adding something so pointless.

Want to join me?

When you find yourself fighting with a garment, ban it to the back of the closet that night. When you buy new clothes, find a dressing room with plenty of mirrors and a seat, and put yourself through the paces of a normal workday.

You know all those fetching models who wear these fashion fads we’re discussing (like the dolman-sleeved, halter-topped vixen above)? Remember: they’re six feet tall and very possibly anorexic. You might look good in those clothes, too – if you’re anorexic. But, oh dearie me, I hope you’re not.

Furthermore, all they have to do is stand still and strike an alluring pose for the photographer. You have to do stuff whilst wearing your clothes. You know – sit, stoop, kneel, stretch, etc. The styles they’re modeling may, but more likely may not, have been designed with the working woman in mind. They may look cute, but nowhere close to professional.

Looking unprofessional in the corporate world can be a deal-breaker, come promotion time, as you already know. Shucks, you may not even get in if you look unprofessional, since most people – including the higher-ups where you work or would like to work – judge a book by the cover. If your “cover” looks unprofessional, they’ll stop right there.

During new-clothes-buying forays, bend over facing the mirror. Bend over with your rear to the mirror. Kneel. Pretend you’re reaching across a conference table. Stretch high for some pretend files. Stretch low to pick up pretend dropped files. Sit with your back to the mirror.

“Ick! Double ick!”

Your dressing room gymnastics will soon show certain fashion fads parade way more of your bare backside than you can reasonably assume coworkers care to see. It will become painfully evident when a neckline is just too distractingly low for professional attire. Too-tight garments will be so uncomfortable that when you bend, kneel, and stretch, you’ll fidget like a three-year-old in toilet training.

Fashion fads that are just TOO much will become obviously so – once you’re paying attention. Clothes-buying decisions will grow easier and quicker to make – once you’re paying attention.

And when you stop the thoughtless practice of adding fight-with-me clothes to your wardrobe and become accustomed to what all your guy peers already know, you may find you have even less patience with fight-with-me fashion fads. But what to do with all those clothes that have become closet dregs? Get a good-riddance thrill by dropping them off at your local thrift store. 

Wait. Isn’t that hypocritical? Aren’t you just passing on bad juju to some other, unsuspecting female? Maybe – depends on her weight, size, and profession. But if your closet rejects are as bad as you think, they won’t sell – as clothing.

When that’s the case, you know what thrift stores do, don’t you? They get some bucks by selling them to fabric recyclers who turn fight-with-me clothes into all sorts of things, including area carpets – which people buy and walk on. (Sweet revenge, eh?)

It’s up to you.

You can continue to fight with your clothes all in the name of style, or you can show up looking and acting like a well-dressed professional – the knows-what-she’s-doing kind of pro that you are. As you can tell, my money’s on the latter.

And so is your boss’s, by the way. How do I know? My “bosses” (clients) starting giving me a whole lot more respect and undivided attention once I stopped fidgeting and fighting with my clothes.

Pay attention to yourself in your next meeting, even if it’s just with your manager and no one else. Pay attention to every time you adjust an article of clothing (or your hair). Pay attention to your hands in your next departmental/committee meeting. Are you busy contributing and taking notes, or are you busy fighting with your clothes?

I’ll bet you’ve already started down this path. Would you share some of your hints for dressing like a professional with the rest of us? Please? (For another take on this 

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text: “The way we dress affects the way we think, the way we feel, the way we act, AND THE WAY OTHERS REACT TO US.” – Judith Rasband

From “America’s Image Expert” (caps mine)