October 23, 2023

Sweater Weather? Not in This Office.

As the weather cools this autumn and a steadily growing number of people are beckoned back to the office, the topic of what to wear to work is back on the front burner. Of the many social disruptions caused by remote work during the COVID pandemic, few have sparked enduring – and often heated – debate quite like the topic of office dress codes.

Over the course of my long career as an entrepreneur and business leader, I have always been a firm believer in dressing for success. Whatever anyone says, I do not believe that business is ever casual. Business is business.

Furthermore, our company, Peerage Realty Partners, is in the luxury real estate business as the largest franchisee of Sotheby’s International Realty. And it’s my view that curb appeal extends to a polished personal brand – not just gorgeous homes.

The personal effort to present your very best self demonstrates respect for the work and for the colleagues and clients with whom you interact. Whatever sector you work in, your outfit is externalized proof that you take the job seriously and take pride in a high standard of professionalism.

Let’s break it down: At the root of the long-held adages that you must “dress for the job you want, not the one you have,” is something that social scientists call signalling theory. That means the way we dress sends clear messages to those around us about how we see ourselves in relation to others. Those messages are both consciously and unconsciously received and contribute to the initial impression people form of our individual credibility and, by extension, that of our employer.

Those impressions are both important and persistent. Academic studies prove that visual assessments are essential to the snap judgements we make about others – a primordial practice that has contributed to the survival of our species. Those perceptions also endure long after the initial meeting and become foundational to future expectations.

In the immortal words of Will Rogers, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

For example, if someone registers as careful and competent at the very outset, chances are that the ensuing business relationship and the communication that supports it, will proceed more quickly and smoothly. And how we are perceived in that first moment is more important than ever at a time when things are move fast, change is a constant, and trust in people and organizations is a scarce commodity.

While the power of what we wear and what it signals has become more important, many employees are balking at the imposition of guidance on what they should wear upon return to the office and in person meetings, after so many years of remote work.

This is exacerbated by the fact that technology and remote work have further blurred the lines between work and home life, boundaries that are important to both sides of the equation. The mind and body need to disconnect from work, something that’s more difficult if you wear the same jeans to walk the dog as you do to pitch a client.

Regarding clients, those with external facing jobs have to consider how and what they signal to a greater degree than those who have a more internal function. But it is a mistake to assume that what you signal to your colleagues and your boss, matters less.

Dress codes, like table manners, are not a random assertion of authority. Rather, these rules exist to make it easier for everyone to function with ease and confidence, focusing on the business at hand.

Sports teams wear the same colours and uniform because they are expressing common purpose and solidarity. It also immediately allows fans to know who is winning, and, of course, who is losing.