Style

The Power of Dressing Up at Work and in Life

Going Jeans-Free Goes Beyond the Dress Code

We started No Jeans January as a way to encourage Style Girlfriend followers to hit “reset” on their personal style for a new year. Nothing against denim, but a lot of us (women and men alike) use jeans as a total fallback in our regular wardrobe repertoire, a sartorial security blanket. I don’t have to try something new and put myself out there, you think. You can just wear jeans. For so many people, the power of dressing up has been lost to another era.

This is especially true in the age of The Casual-ing Workplace. You can get away with dressing in jeans to many offices five days a week, but should you? Or maybe the better question is, should you want to?

For me two things are always true:

1) It is never as hard as I think it’s going to be to dress up more than I first intended, and…

2) I always feel better about myself when I make the effort.

Below, three thoughts on the power of dressing up, at work and beyond:

jumpsuit: Suistudio; sneakers: Greats

1) You are what you wear

Before the holiday break, I had a chance to check out Suitsupply’s new women’s line, Suistudio, and it’s great to have the Netherlands-based brand power dressing us ladies now, too. (They even switched up the gaze on their advertising to give us some naked dudes to look at, which is fun for us).

If you’ve been in a store, you know the vibe the space and its associates put out: confident, powerful, at ease. Once I slipped into a suit for myself, my first thought was, “Oh, I get it.” These guys really understand the power of dressing up.

According to The Wall Street Journal, a 2016 study showed that “in competitive, winner-take-all situations, wearing more formal attire can send others a signal ‘about you being successful and real confident in whatever you’re doing.’”

In a test where subjects were told to negotiate wearing either formal or casual clothes, those more casually dressed would “tend to back down more easily,” while the ones in formal attire would “become aware of the respect they are receiving and become more forceful as well.” 

I find this is especially true when I’m feeling sick. Why?

  • You’ll throw folks off the scent.

Go a sartorial step above your normal attire to distract from your Vaporub-tinged trail. Co-workers will wonder if you’re gunning for the corner office, not if you might be contagious. Distract from your sneezing with a fancy handkerchief. Keep warm in the office’s chilly AC with a fine-gauge cashmere sweater. Wear (flannel-lined) chinos instead of your usual jeans. You want them looking at your clothes, not your nose.

  • You’ll feel better.

Consider it the sartorial placebo effect. When you pass by your spiffy image in a reflective surface, you’ll stand a little taller thinking, “Who is that handsome devil?” not “I wish I was on the couch watching Duck Tales eating chicken noodle soup my mom made me.” (At least, that was my sick day cure growing up.)

  • Nobody wants to be around the sick guy.

If you value your work relationships, then take one for the team and put on a good face. When I was a kid, my dad came down with pneumonia right before we got on a plane to go see the Badgers play in the Rose Bowl. When we stepped off the plane in California, he looked like the picture of health (apart from being pale as a ghost in the west coast sun – but that was true for all us Wisconsin folk). For him, the power of Badger red helped him rally. Consider: What color, or suit cut, or favorite jeans will make you feel like a real person today? Throw ‘em on.

Of course, if you’re really, really sick, stay home, throw on those sweats and make yourself some soup. Duck Tales has to be showing on repeats somewhere in cable, right?

***

The takeaway?

Appearance matters, and dressing well shows you respect yourself, and that others around you ought to do the same. It’s sort of like positive versus negative self-talk. If you keep telling yourself you’re a loser (or undateable, or unworthy, etc), you will see that manifested in your life by people..treating you badly, not dating you, etc. 

Or, as The Atlantic puts it, “Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world.” 

turtleneck, skirt, and coat: Suistudio; boots: Vince Camuto

2) Your style sweet spot is at the intersection of comfortable and appropriate

A million years ago (okay, ten), Gawker’s women-centric site Jezebel ran a piece on what to wear on a date. It was weirdly straightforward and earnest for Jezebel, with a weirdly straightforward and earnest piece of advice that is as good today as it was then:

Wear your magical clothing.

What makes a piece of clothing magical? According to the writer, something that “makes you feel good…and look awesome.” That’s an idea we can get behind at SG HQ.

Would that all of our closets contained nothing but magical clothing, but here’s the rub:

What you feel comfortable wearing isn’t always what makes you look best.

And vice versa, of course, but I’ll bet you a million bucks (moment) that you’ll feel better in something slightly uncomfortable so long as you look great and feel appropriate wearing it to wherever you’re headed.

An example: Do I feel good (and does my butt look awesome) in my Outdoor Voices leggings? You bet your OV-covered ass. But would I feel good wearing those leggings to a client dinner? Or on a date?

No. Replace the leggings with your favorite grey sweatpants, or yes, your favorite jeans, and you can see how this applies to your own wardrobe. Looking good and feeling comfortable—not just in the clothes but where you’re wearing them—usually means clothing that’s on the at least slightly dressier side.

The takeaway:

Stock your closet with as much magical clothing as possible that you can wear to a new business pitch, and you’ll be golden.

coat, sweater, and pants: Suistudio

3) A little effort goes a long way

“What about Mark Zuckerberg, Megan?” you may ask. “He wears hoodies every day and he’s doing fine.”

Sure, he’s also wildly confident, so much so he thinks he has a shot at running for president. Confidence isn’t Zuck’s issue.

For us less-self-assured folk, anything we can do to push the odds in our favor is worth doing—including dressing up more often.

Why do you think women keep heels in a drawer at their desk? It’s for if the client happens to drop in for an unannounced meeting, or if they snag a hot happy hour date, and want to give themselves a quick boost. If they had more time, maybe they’d otherwise get that extra nudge of confidence from a good workout (endorphins make you happy!), or a good blowout.

In a pinch? Fashion will do.

The power of dressing up is that it gives you your own personal oomph, and it only takes as long as pulling on a pair of shoes—or dress pants (and leaving the denim on the floor). 

Ready to add some confidence to your closet?

If we’ve convinced you of the power of dressing up, but you dread the thought of shopping for new clothes…why not let Team SG shop for you?

Let us rescue you from shopping fatigue and sartorial apathy. With our online personal shopping service, we can promise the kind of dedicated attention that will make you feel like the best, most stylish version of the awesome guy you already are! We’ll also help you figure out how to wear your new clothes with the things you already own. If you’re ready for a shopping plan that’ll save you time, energy, and your sanity, give us a shout.

photos: Obi Anyanwu