Why workplace wardrobes still matter

Appropriate dress can heighten confidence while assisting in connections with clients

Consultant Diana Kilgour helps clients select appropriate workplace wardrobes | Rob Kruyt

Workplace dress code standards might be more casual than they were decades ago, but they’re still important.

The trend to casual likely gained traction when Apple Inc. (Nasdaq:AAPL) co-founder Steve Jobs started wearing iconic black turtleneck sweaters during iPhone launches. Facebook (Nasdaq:FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked casual dress up a notch by wearing short-sleeved shirts during presentations that were streamed to millions of viewers.

Many companies have loosened mandatory dress codes, and sometimes change has been created by governments.

The B.C. government last April, for example, prohibited businesses from requiring that female employees wear high heels because that mandate posed a potential health and safety issue.

This does not mean that workers are wise to ignore how their appearance could be perceived, said Nick Morgan, who works with public speakers to improve the content of their speeches, advance their brands and help them connect with audiences.

“We will always notice other people’s clothing because it signifies status and job position and all kinds of things like that – especially for people who we put up on pedestals and on TV,” he told Business in Vancouver.

Morgan’s biggest piece of advice to those who give public presentations is to dress in a way that makes the speaker feel comfortable.

That, he said, engenders confidence and can help the person deliver a better speech.

It is also important to consider who the people are in the audience.  This is likely why Zuckerberg last week chose to dress in a suit when addressing U.S. senators about how his platform protects users’ privacy.

“If you put on a three-piece suit and you’re speaking to a bunch of surfers, then you are, presumably, going to be so much overdressed compared with the surfers that they could see you as a stuffed shirt,” Morgan said.

A minute spent reflecting on the content of the speech and what appearance is most in sync with that content can also be valuable, he said.

An expert on creativity or innovation, such as a technology-sector CEO, for example, might want to show that creativity in their wardrobe, he explained.

“You have to dress for your tribe and your subject-matter expertise,” he said. “What you wear signals, to a certain extent, your status in the tribe and your profession and how seriously we’re to take you.”

Some professional wardrobe consultants, such as Vancouver’s Diana Kilgour, do not like to prescribe how their clients should look, but rather to help their clients effectively project the image that the clients have decided that they want.

Much of Kilgour’s work is to go to stores with her clients and help them select clothing.

“One of the most valuable things I do for my clients is to go through their wardrobes with them and eliminate things that shouldn’t be there,” she said.

“I tell them that those are not their clothes, they are clothes for the person they used to be. Given where they are today, in what role, in what surroundings, dealing with what product or service, with which people, and with which goals in mind, what kind of wardrobe should they now have?”