By: Revanche

Wardrobe = career killer?

December 5, 2008

The idea that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have, or that you should dress one level up isn’t anything new. What struck me was mid-article, Don’t Let Your Wardrobe Kill Your Career, was the comment below in bold.

Several years ago, a woman I know who frequently publishes in her field wrote an article that was particularly well received by her peers. As a result, she received several speaking invitations. Since each of the offers included an honorarium, she was thrilled to have stumbled across what she believed would become a lucrative second income. After making those first few speeches, however, the offers abruptly ceased.

She never knew what happened. While she shrugged it off like it was no big deal, it was obvious to everyone around her that the whole episode was not settling well. Unfortunately, in spite of numerous hints, she refused to believe it was for the simplest of reasons, and one that could be so easily fixed: her professional attire.


She looked great on paper: competent, well-educated, and obviously knowledgeable about her field. But in person, she looked ridiculous.


Regardless of her background, experience, and writing ability, she lost credibility because of the way she looked.

Unfair? Perhaps. But given her education, profession, and social position, she knew better. All of her peers dressed more conservatively than she, and several of them had told her straight out that she needed to wear more professional attire. But she wanted to do what she wanted to do: march to her own drum, and have everyone else to follow suit. When they didn’t, she blamed them.

Now obviously this is an extreme example, but in many ways, not all that uncommon. What’s remarkable is that she made it as far as she had without professional attire — a true testament to her abilities. Most women would never have passed the $30,000 a year income mark, unless they had spent years with the same employer (as this woman had).

Perhaps I’m latching onto a less significant detail of the article, but I’m a little surprised at that particular statement and number. Is this surprising to anyone else or have you witnessed a similar effect to the same degree the author states here? Is the (salary) line between professional with a career and a simple wage-earner drawn at $30,000?

I’m trying to think of real life situations where this has occurred but I can only either think of ridiculously dressed wives of professionals, or caricatures of such people on television. Hah, or Erin Brockovich, right?

Makes me glad I’m growing my professional wardrobe.

2 Responses to “Wardrobe = career killer?”

  1. It boggles my mind that people don’t understand that dressing nicely is necessary to move ahead professionally. I’m lucky enough to work in a technical field in California, so everyone is laid back, but I know if I move back to the East Coast, I’m going to have to get much more conservative with my wardrobe.

    As far as the arbitrary $30,000 figure, that’s… I don’t know. That’s a very specific number that doesn’t take location, job field, economic conditions, etc. It’s simply a nice round number that sounds low.

  2. Revanche says:

    paranoidasteroid: I often wonder if people harp on that point because so many other folks don’t realize the importance of dressing well? Or if it’s like the idea of an emergency fund — it’s always a good idea, so we’re always going to talk about it?

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