Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dressing for Success: Are we selling ourselves short?

As Student Affairs Professionals are we Selling Ourselves Short?

Isaac Bashevis Singer “What a strange power there is in clothing.”

Today’s #sachat sparked so many thoughts in me that I had to take some time to put them in writing. For those of you who did not have the pleasure of participating in today’s #sachat, the topic was “Dressing For Success, is it a privilege?”

There were a number of topics that came up throughout the chat that I felt compelled to address in this blog post. So here are my thoughts in greater detail than 140 characters:

Are we selling ourselves and our students short?
Throughout the conversation I was shocked to find that so many of my peers do not feel that professional attire amongst Student Affairs Pros is necessary. As I reflected on this, I begin to feel disheartened. If we were in the corporate world, or working in any other sector I do not believe we would be questioning whether or not a suit, dress slacks, or ties are necessary. Due to the fact that we work with college students and on a campus of higher learning we are okay with wearing our Saturday casual clothing to the office. I challenge you to think about that and ask yourself as a professional are you selling yourself short?

As student affairs professionals we took the oath to serve as role models in every aspect of life. We understand that we live in a fishbowl. We direct our students to our Career Development Centers to learn about “proper professional attire” but we do not role model it. Are we setting our students up for failure if we project the image that jeans and t-shirts in the office are ok?

First Impressions COUNT!
I am not acknowledging that you should be judged by your outward appearance at all, but I do believe that your appearance has a great impact on the impression that you leave. I learned throughout graduate school that there are three areas of professional presence. These areas are “visual, verbal, and vocal”. The visual is obviously your outward appearance. The verbal is your diction. The vocal is your voice. Do you think these three things are equally judged? No, they are not. You can only imagine that the visual carries the strongest impact because it is the initial impact. We have all heard the quote “don’t judge a book by its cover” but how many of you would buy a book that has mustard stains all over the cover no matter how good it was. Not one!

I know that as Student Affairs professionals with countless clocked hours of diversity training we pride ourselves on not being judgmental, but that first visual message you provide carries a lot of weight whether you want to admit it or not. I, for one, would like for my first impression to matter. Remember “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”.

It’s Bigger Than You!
As I continued to read comments throughout the #sachat, I found that a lot of individuals were very focused on how they did not want to be judged on their appearance and how their appearance should not impact their work. I would like for you to understand that your appearance is bigger than you. You reflect an organization, an institution, and a campus community. When you think about your image as something that impacts more than just you, it should encourage you to want to step up your attire a little bit.

Your Appearance Affects Your Growth!
This is a topic area that has become near and dear to my heart as I am confident that my professional image has had a great impact on my professional success. I know that I would not have been afforded some of the opportunities that I have been had I not carried myself in the way that I do. As you continue to grow and mature in this field you have to be conscious of your appearance because sooner or later it may impact the opportunities you are given. Do you want to be hindered because of your attire?

Does this mean that you are not your authentic self? No.

But then again who is their “authentic self” at work? We all have to “shift” in some capacity when we come into the office or interact with certain individuals. I challenge you to think about your attire not as a way of conforming but as a way of being intentional. We are intentional in how we interact with students, the programs we plan, and the conversations we have. Why not be intentional with your image and the message you want to project?

I am not encouraging you to deny who you are, but in order to spark change; you have to be prepared to sit at the table. In order to sit at the table, you have to be invited. Would I invite you to my dinner party knowing you are going to arrive in flip flops? Probably not.

Finances, Classism, and the like!

Do I believe the term “Dressing for Success” is classist, exclusive, and/or discriminatory? No.

I do believe that the definition of the term is debatable and can be left up to interpretation. I am a firm believer in dressing for the culture/environment that you work in; however using the explanation that requiring individuals to dress professional is classist, exclusive, and causes stress is unjustified. As someone from a low-income environment, I have been building my professional wardrobe since my undergraduate days. There are many outlets to build a professional wardrobe on a strict budget. It does not require tons of money. Do a little research, purchase essential pieces, and get to mixing and matching.

 Final Thoughts!
As someone that is hopefully on a journey to become a University president someday, I am very conscious of my professional image/professional brand. Maybe this is just something that is engrained in my personality, but I have also been instilled the wisdom to know that my appearance has a great impact on my career.

“Think about which path to success is hardest. The first way is to make the necessary changes in you to project a professional image. The second way is to make no personal changes and devote your energies to convince everyone that you are a professional in spite of your unprofessional appearance.” ~Clancy

1 comment:

  1. I love your comments. I come from a very blue collar background and from Maine which has a reputation for being very casual due to the need to dress for the harsh climate,rugged environment and "outdoor lifestyle" that many of us grew up in and around. If not for my mentors in Student Affairs that I met while in graduate school in Boston (my undergraduate institution in the western Maine mountains was also very casual) I wouldn't have had a clue as to how to dress professionally. I feel that it's disrespectful to my students and my colleagues to "dress down" for work. Yes on those occasions where I'm setting up for events or spending the day outside for our Welcome Back BBQ or Spring Fest I will rock the polo shirt and khaki shorts but you better believe that I'm also rocking the neatly ironed shirt and tie, dress slacks, and shined shoes on the days I'm interacting with students, faculty, staff, parents and community members in my office and around campus. I always feel more professional and confident when I'm dressed professionally and I think it shows in my work and my attitude while I'm at work. Football star Deion Sanders once said “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good.” While I don't aspire to be "Neon Deion" I do agree that caring about your professional appearance can affect our professional behavior.