By Priti Dadlani
Have you ever noticed what U.S. President Barack Obama wears on the job?
It’s always the same thing and that’s no accident.
His “uniform” is a black or gray suit (typically by Italian suit maker Canali), with a crisp white shirt and a tie in a solid colour or with a subtle pattern.
His way of dressing is the secret to his productivity, Mr. Obama told Vanity Fair, in this quote reprinted in a Fast Company article.
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
“You need to focus your decision-making. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
Psychologists call it decision fatigue, said Drake Baer, in his article Always Wear the Same Suit: Obama’s Presidential Productivity Secrets.
It’s based on the premise that the act of making decisions early in the day erodes your ability to make decisions later.
“It’s why shopping for groceries can be so exhausting and judges give harsher rulings later in the day,” writes Baer. “Managing decision fatigue calls for the high-value, low-effort systemization that entrepreneurs swear by.”
Although the rest of us don’t have the job title of being leader of the free world, we can glean useful tips from Obama’s approach.
Having a professional wardrobe made up of pieces in complementary colours that you can easily coordinate will take the guesswork out of getting dressed in the mornings and preserve your mental energy for more important matters.
We know that how we dress influences how others perceive us, but it is also affects how we feel about ourselves.
In her article The Surprising Productivity Secrets Hidden in Your Clothes, Lydia Dishman says a study by Northwestern University researchers found that what you wear influences your psychological processes.
The 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggest that what you wear can actually make you better at your job. When subjects put on a lab coat, described as a doctor’s coat, they were more focused and scored higher on attention-related tasks.
But you don’t have to don a lab coat to be more productive at work , said Ms. Dishman.
She points to another study that found that people “felt most authoritative, trustworthy, and competent when wearing formal business attire but friendliest when wearing casual or business casual attire.”
Some workplaces make it easy to get dressed for work by providing a guide – a dress code, which is written down and communicated to employees on their first day on the job.
I think dress codes are generally a good idea. The way a company’s employees dress, particularly if they deal with the public, communicates volumes about its culture, values and professionalism.
Some work cultures, particularly creative ones such as fashion, technology and journalism allow more leeway with casual dressing and individual expression. In more traditional workplaces, such as law offices, suits are still de rigueur for both men and women.
Here then are my 10 Rules to Dress for Success:
- Adopt Mr. Obama’s wardrobe secret to keep it simple for yourself.
- Consider the context. Take your wardrobe cues from what your managers are wearing.
- Maintain your professional look in all seasons, especially in summer when the temptation is to go ultra-casual. The Globe & Mail’s video on Summer Fashion Rules, includes No-No’s like wearing workout or sports clothes to work and showing too much skin.
- Casual Fridays doesn’t mean Sloppy Fridays. You can adopt a more relaxed look but keep it neat, clean and covered up.
- For women who want to accessorize, stick to one key piece, like beautiful earrings. Remember, less is more as this article, 4 Tips for Wearing Jewelry To Work, advises.
- Be comfortable. If you’re constantly tugging at your clothing or self-conscious about what you’re wearing, you will be distracted and less productive.
- Ensure your clothes are in good repair. They should fit well without being too tight. They should be clean and free of rips and tears.
- Refrain from wearing perfume. Many workplaces don’t allow it and some of your co-workers may be allergic.
- Go easy on the makeup. You shouldn’t wear so much that it is distracting and unnatural looking.
- Ensure your grooming is in order – nails and facial hair should be clean and trimmed.
Real Simple magazine consulted human-resources professionals, executive coaches, and style experts for the new office-wear Do’s and Don’ts in its article How to Dress for Success.
It includes a fun cheat sheet on What You Can and What You Can’t Wear to Work. It takes six clothing items, such as shorts, jeans and leggings, and rates whether they are acceptable in a corporate office, a business casual office and a creative office.
Here’s video with good advice from a human resources consultant and fashion expert on how to dress for success:
What’s your dress for success tip? If you have a question about what’s appropriate, I’ll try to answer it!