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You hear it all the time -- "dress for success" or "dress for the job you want" -- but not many people really know what that entails. Ultimately, you want to dress in a way that not only meets but exceeds the expectations of your coworkers and supervisors. "Your clothing should enhance, not detract from your professional appearance. It should be your edge, your mantra, your signature," says Dick Lerner, author of "Dress Like The Big Fish."
Dress according to your company's dress code. If there's no written code, ask your colleagues, the human resource department or even your boss. "Different companies expect different things from employees when it comes to clothing," says Sherry Dixon, senior vice president at New York-based Adecco Staffing U.S. Dixon also notes that you should understand your company's definition of "casual" if it has a "casual Friday" or something similar.
Don't Feel Like You Have to Spend a Lot
You can dress for success, even on a budget. "Keep in mind that dressing for success is not about wearing the most expensive designer brands or being up to date with the latest fashion trends," says Jonathan Bell, Canadian author of "Suddenly Successful: How to Let the Power of Productive Habits Bring You Sudden Success." What matters more than brand names or being on trend are garments that are well constructed, clean and pressed.
Flattering Garments Empower You
There's a familiar feeling you get when you know you look amazing. Maybe it's the way your hair is styled or knowing that a dress fits perfectly. Bell says you should aim for that feeling before going to work. "Great-looking clothing that complements your body type can lift your spirits, give you energy and make you feel like a more confident, prosperous and vibrant person," he says. "This has the power to enhance the quality of your interactions with colleagues, clients and your management."
Look Good Head to Toe
Just as important as clothing are your accessories and grooming habits. For example, a disheveled briefcase or purse can read sloppy, as can shoes with missing pieces, holes or fraying. "If you give people something out-of-place to focus on, they are consciously or unconsciously going to zero in on it," says Bell. "What a shame it would be if you were overlooked for a raise, a promotion or landing a new client, when a few minor adjustments could have put you in a way better position to win."
Good Grooming Goes Far
Grooming and hygiene also are part of the overall professional dress and image, says Lerner. Glasses should complement your face shape and hairstyle, hair should be clean, and makeup and fingernails should be neutral and appropriate for your work environment. Also consider scent -- a modest spritz of cologne, versus a heavy application, is sufficient, and deodorant is a necessity.
Even if you don't work alongside your boss or a CEO, it's wise to plan for those "what if" moments. "You never know who you’ll run into on elevators, the bathroom or the office pantry," says Dixon. You also never know if you'll have an impromptu meeting that day or if a big client will walk through your doors. Make sure you look presentable and ready for action.