I get it – women have had enough of lectures pertaining to our wardrobe choices. In a perfect world, we’d all be able to express ourselves through our clothes without people treating us differently just because we chose a tighter blouse than our coworkers, or we decided to cover up more than what our progressive culture says is the norm. And as much as all people should be for free dress (so long as it’s not offensive, i.e. having a racial slur or a giant swear word printed in bold across your shirt) in the outside world, when it comes to work, there are stricter guidelines to follow for good reason.
Dressing Provocatively vs. Dressing Beautifully
The distinction between these two modes of dress is very, very important. The main difference is beautiful doesn’t try to attract attention to itself. Beautiful isn’t blatant or in your face. Beautiful doesn’t rely on skin exposure. Beautiful is creative and unique. Beautiful is classy, and classy knows when to highlight a certain feminine area of yourself and what to leave to the imagination. There’s nothing about beautiful dress that reads as trying to channel all the attention towards you or as “trying too hard.”
Dressing provocatively is just dressing to attract attention. It’s trying too hard. It’s using your sexuality as a tool. And many can read it as a desperate cry for attention and validation.
Beautiful is classy, and classy knows when to highlight a certain feminine area of yourself and what to leave to the imagination.
Deciding not to dress provocatively doesn’t mean you have to dress exclusively by a strict masculine code (blazer, tie, and all) or dress in a purely conservative way. Especially if those fashion modes aren’t for you or if they put a damper on your confidence. Showing off your creativity and your character through your clothes is bonus points for ingraining your image in a boss’s mind. Don’t chastise yourself if your neckline dips just a little lower, or your skirt makes your hips look really good…no one said you couldn’t look beautiful or feminine!
Science Backs Up the Best Work Wardrobe
There’s a time and a place for fun, sexy wardrobe choices, but work is just not one of them. A 2016 article in Scientific American summarizes several studies on the topic. One 2015 study proved that when people wore formal clothing they achieved higher-level abstract thinking. A 2014 study showed that people who dressed more formally succeeded in making better negotiations. Along the idea of “fake it 'til you make it,” one study demonstrated that test-takers wearing a white lab coat scored 50% better on an attention-demanding task. Professional attire seems to be a brain boost you can give yourself!
One 2015 study proved that when people wore formal clothing they achieved higher-level abstract thinking.
Your clothing can also influence others’ perception of your abilities. Jermaine Bee cites a study in his article “Dressing Sexy at Work,” stating: “There’s a hefty disadvantage to dressing salaciously at work, which was confirmed in a study published by the Psychology of Women Quarterly in America. Videos of businesswomen dressed differently were shown to senior executives. The woman that dressed in a more provocative fashion was evaluated as 'less intelligent and capable' then the modestly dressed woman.”
Dress for Success
Obviously, clothes are not an accurate indicator of your intelligence or aptitude. However, provocative clothes can signal that your priorities are somewhere else rather than at work – that you’re more focused on social gains and chatting rather than being a professional. So it’s best to avoid that. Just approach your wardrobe with an eye for class (Ask yourself: Would Kate Middleton wear this?).
Don’t give your higher-ups or employers the impression that you’ve got a clumsy sense of social awareness.
Don’t give your higher-ups or employers the impression that you’ve got a clumsy sense of social awareness. That’s a good way to postpone your promotion (if you haven’t diminished your chances by then). Dress in a way that gives your employers a sense of your priorities and mission – that you’re here to get the job done.
From time to time, we seem to underestimate the power of clothing and what kind of thoughts or assumptions it can instill in ourselves, as well as other people. It’s understandable to want to wear what you like, but understanding the office rules of what is and isn’t “appropriate” sets you apart from a lot of other women. Don’t take the workplace as a social event (and certainly, don’t let your bosses think that you do), and focus on your craft instead of getting attention from other people.
Suzanne Venker, in an article for the Washington Examiner, puts it best when she says, “If I want to be taken seriously as a professional, I don’t dress sexy. And if I want to be sexy, I don’t dress like a professional.”