ExecSearch International - Australia

ExecSearch International - Australia

Dress for Effect Articles

Over exposed  =  Under paid

Dr. Duff Watkins and Jean Woo

"Clothes make the person.  Naked people have little or no influence."  -  Mark Twain

Would you rather be seen as serious or sexy?  Promoted or picked up? 
Are you headed for the boardroom or the backroom?

At work, your success is significantly influenced by how much skin you display.  Just as photographic images can be ruined by overexposure, so too your image can suffer from overexposure.  Studies show that a 20% variance in remuneration can be attributed to appearance, so it pays to get the right exposure.

Whether pole dancing or climbing the corporate ladder, you wear specific clothes for a specific purpose.  Appropriate clothing always helps create the desired effect.

Put simply:  overexposure kills your credibility.  If you expose too much skin in the world of business, you won’t be perceived as a credible person worthy of promotion.  Overexposure diminishes your authority, stalls your career, and prevents pay rises.

It’s nobody’s fault, really.
Blame the brain.

Ever since we humans started walking upright we’ve had trouble interpreting displays of skin.  The problem is that the brain sees skin display as a sexual signal.  Sexual signals are so powerful that even the biggest, smartest brains get distracted by them.

That’s one purpose of clothes:  to dampen sexual signals.  Wearing clothes allows you to send intended signals without sexual overtones.

In the business world, exposing too much skin confuses your audience.  Male colleagues are especially confused due to their brain’s hardwiring.  For men, the more skin you expose, the more sexual the signal.  In the corporate world, overexposure will cost you credibility because the more sexual signals you send, the less likely you are to be taken seriously.

Distract =  Detract

Nowadays casual business dress is common and so too is overexposure.  It’s not just the obvious visual distractions of bare midriffs and deep cleavages.  It’s also bare arms, bare legs and visible toes.  The point to note is that anything that distracts a viewer detracts from your image.

True story:  A female executive and two male colleagues enter a meeting.  The two males wear neckties and long shirtsleeves.  The woman wears a collarless, short-sleeved blouse which exposes her arms and neck.  The other people in the meeting immediately assume that the woman is subordinate to the men.

She’s not; she’s a partner in a law firm and the two males are her assistants.Big mistake by the other people?  Sure, but understandable given how the brain works. 
The biggest mistake, however, was made by the female lawyer who forgot this fact:  you influence what others think by what you wear.  She diminished her own authority and confused her audience by the way she dressed.  Having failed to make an accurate first impression, she now has to reclaim her credibility.  That’s bad for business and bad for self-esteem.

It doesn’t matter who you are.  The more flesh you display, the less status you will have.  So cover up or be prepared to take lots of orders for tea and coffee.

Exposure = Vulnerability

Clothing is also protection.  We say ‘exposed’ when we mean vulnerable, defenceless or needing protection.  In business, men don’t expose much.  In the corporate work, the only male flesh you see is face and hands.  It’s now the rule:  in order to convey competence, cover up.  Even in the most relaxed office, no man shows up to work in sleeveless t-shirts or sandals.  That’s why in a world where men wear suits, women decrease their authority if they expose more flesh than the men.

Five ways to boost your credibility:

  1. Match the male:  Expose no more skin than male colleagues.  If they expose hands and face, do likewise.  Simply adding a neck covering (eg, necklace, scarf) creates a different image, and increases your authority.
  2. Cover up:   The more skin you display, the more vulnerable you look.  Appearing defenceless and needing protection may get you more dates but it won’t propel you up the corporate ladder.  You won’t be seen as serious or perceived as credible if everyone in the room is wondering where the rest of your outfit is.
  3. Leave the lingerie:  Save the peignoir for the boudoir and limit your lingerie to private showings only.  When bra straps, camisoles or undergarments sneak into view, you appear to be unaware and ‘switched off’.  Instead of exuding competence, you appear to lack attention to detail and ignorant of the difference between public and private display.  Put bluntly, it’s called underwear for a reason.
  4. Don’t mix messages:  In the eyes of others, you are as professional as the least professional component of your appearance.  If one part of your image states ‘career woman’ but another part screams ‘party girl’ guess which part is heard by others?  Mixing business with non-business images confuses your viewers and undermines you professionally.
  5. Show only the unadorned:  Enjoy your tattoos and body piercings?  Fine, but don’t assume others will.  Body decoration has negative associations.  Conceal them.  In business, the only safe piercings are pinholes through the earlobes.  Even then earrings must draw attention to your face discreetly, not upstage it.

Remember, expose your skills not your skin.

Dr. Duff Watkins

Dr Duff Watkins

is Director, ExecSearch International - Australia. His articles appear in Men’s Style Australia, Sydney Morning Herald, Company Director Magazine, Melbourne Herald Sun and many others.

Jean Woo 

Jean Woo

is author of Executive Style. dress essentials for men and women.  Once a corporate lawyer, she is now Director of Personal Brand Management. They are co-authors of Dress For Effect.: secrets of sartorial splendour