First Impressions Still Count: Is It Time For Your New Work Uniform?
September is ‘back to school’ month, the month of obligatory trips to the uniform shop. But why should school kids have all the fun? Your appearance matters too.
Phew, that’s the first week over and done with.
It’s no simple task getting four boys back to school this month. Luca, age 5 and Maxwell, age 4 are both newbies at their older brothers’ school this year, so I have spent every day of this week back and forth from school at odd times in the day and easing them into school life. It’s been hard going fitting it all in around work, but words cannot express my joy at having all four boys in the same school. That means just one smooth drop off in the mornings, compared with the frantic rush to drop off in three different locations the previous year! My mornings are so much calmer I hardly know myself.
But do you want to hear the best of it?
The best of it was buying all their school uniform and making sure they have everything they need. My bank account has been effervescing with the number of transactions for blazers and school jumpers (second hand), shirts, trousers and school socks (new) and the various combinations of obligatory sports kit that I am going to be scrubbing grass stains out of within a week of writing this blog I’m sure.
Most parents I meet positively hate the uniform bit, and I’ll admit there was a time when I did too. But as I stood for 40 minutes in the queue at the uniform shop, waiting to exchange undersized tracksuit tops and oversized trousers, it dawned on me what an absolute nightmare the start of term would be if there were no uniform at all.
What a hassle. First of all, I’d have to bring the boys shopping with me. Gone are the days you could go into a high street chain and choose an outfit for a boy aged 5 or age 10, come home and find it actually fitted the 5 or 10 year old boy in question. No. When it comes to rapidly growing boys there is no such thing as standard sizing.
The second pain would be deciding what to buy. Oh how I miss the days when I could buy a Lightning McQueen t-shirt in three different colours and be guaranteed squeals of delight. Now the boys are older the criteria for successful clothes shopping is so much harder: (1) they’d need to like it (2) they’d need to feel they look good in it (3) it would have to be respectable and smart enough (4) the price would need to be within the realms of reasonability and (5) they’d have to have the right size in stock! What an absolute nightmare this whole back to school business could have been if it weren’t for the blessed humble school uniform.
But what I really love about school uniform is that it sends the right messages. When I packed my four boys off to school each morning this week my heart surged with motherly pride. They look so fantastic in their matching jackets and crisply seamed trousers, their shiny new shoes and smart bags. To look at them, you’d never know the untamed wildness, the lingering shyness or the quiet anxieties that lurk beneath the surface of their (oh thank the heavens for) non-iron fabric. Instead the uniform does the talking : This child looks smart and well put together therefore most likely he is clever and well behaved.
Well it’s true, isn’t it? Appearances matter and first impressions count. But this rule doesn’t only apply to kids showing up to school, it also applies to you, every single time you show up for work. It’s a subject I touch upon in my book, Babyproof Your Career, which stresses the importance of dressing the part in a bid to be more outstanding in your workplace. The lesson is clear: How you dress in the office matters.
“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances”
– Oscar Wilde
Take a look at what you are wearing right now. How do you appear, and what first impressions did you create when you walked into the office at the beginning of the day? Exactly how much thought did you put into your appearance this morning?
There is a reason why a doctor wears a white coat, why a barrister wears a gown and wig, a policeman his uniform, and why a waiter in a smart restaurant wears black tie. My dad, who has been driving buses in Birmingham for nearly thirty years, has his uniform too. Come to think of it, I think I’ve only seen him dressed in normal clothes about four times my whole life. In each case, the purpose of these uniforms is to send the message that you can trust that person to do the job they are supposed to do and to do it well. When we see the uniform, we believe.
This is an important message to take away with you whatever work you do. However, if you are someone who gets to choose how they dress for work each day, you must heed the warning all the more. Whether you like it or not, other people are making judgements about you based on your appearance. Make sure the messages you are sending through the clothes you are wearing are the right ones.
If they are not, it’s time to go shopping.
These pointers will get you started:
• What look are you going for?: Do you want to convey a discrete authority, or are you aiming to project dynamism and power? Think about the message you want to send and then find the clothes that fit.
• Fit over fashion: Buy the right clothes for your shape. If it’s fashionable but ill fitting, you may come across as disorganised and lacking attention to detail.
• Don’t spend, invest: In other words, spend a bit more than you usually do. I have found over and over again that I get better results and better value from the good quality items I pay more for. The fit is better and years later they still look great.
• Find your style: We are all unique and have different tastes. Choose clothing that reflects your personality, while taking care to stay within the parameters of your organisational culture.
• If you haven’t worn it in six months or it’s in poor condition, donate it or throw it out.
• No obvious cleavage, no tight short skirts: say no more.
• Get help: hiring a personal stylist to give your wardrobe a revamp is a great investment not only in your career but in your own self confidence. I am a huge fan of Personal Stylist Lizzie Edwards (www.lizzieedwards.com). Her website contains videos and free tips on finding your own style and finding those key items for your wardrobe.
Do you wish you had a set uniform to wear to work? I do! If you could create your own uniform that sent the right message about who you are and what people get when they work with you, what would it look like? I look forward to reading your ideas in the comments below.