Dressing For Success in the 21st Century

Does the saying, “Dress for Success” still ring true?  Today, more women are in the workforce than ever before and in positions of power such as CEOs, CFO, Directors and more.  We are also seeing a shift in corporate America from a traditional to a more relaxed environment.  Along with these changes in the corporate atmosphere brings change in corporate attire.

As recent as the 1990’s, many businesses still required women to wear dresses, skirt suits or skirts and blazers, along with heels.  Women were not allowed to wear pants, sneakers or flats to the office.  In some industries, they went as far as prescribing that women wore the same “uniform” or color pattern (black or navy suits with white shirts) as the men, and they had to wear stockings even in the heat of the summer.  This was especially true in the financial and legal fields.

Changes in Dress Codes

In the 21st century, professional dress codes have been changing.  Attire that was never accepted has now become the new norm.  Many firms, especially younger startups run by those in the millennial generation, have become more flexible with regard to dress codes.  In fact, in many companies, the flexibility runs so far as cargo shorts and Birkenstocks!  Even companies that require specific uniforms, such as the airlines, have relaxed their uniform designs.  However, many companies, while they might have a more lax code than in previous years, still adhere to business casual style.

What constitutes business casual?  For men it is khakis or Dockers with a polo or button down shirt.  For women, it is slacks or skirts, with sweaters or blouses, and more comfortable shoes.  Since women no longer have to wear stockings, they can now wear sandals or open-toe shoes.  The companies that have these requirements might have a more liberal policy for “Dress Down Friday”.  This means that on Fridays, employees can dress more casually, in jeans and sneakers, while the rest of the week they are more formally dressed.

There are still companies that require a more professional appearance depending upon your position, title, or where you will be on a certain day.  If you are in court or visiting clients, in most cases, the traditional suit will still apply.

Less Casual, More Productive?

While being dressed in a suit and heels all day may be less comfortable, some feel they are more productive in that attire.  Others will challenge that and say they are more productive in relaxed attire.  At the end of the day, your mind set is really what is going to create your success.  Dressing for the position or job title you aspire to attain, will probably enable you to move up the company ladder faster.  A positive attitude and the proper attire combined can surely be a win-win.

  • Maria E. Cooper

    This is an excellent article, and very helpful indeed. I have just entered the world of finance as a Financial Advisor for a very prestigious firm, Edward Jones. I primarily wear suits when I have client meetings, and nice dresses, blazers, or skirts and tops when I’m at the office. My folks were always very strict professionals, and jeans were completely taboo in the workplace, regardless of the company dress code. As a result, I cannot bring myself to even consider wearing jeans in the workplace, not even on a Saturday. I don’t have any issues with my colleagues doing this; I just can’t. I’m glad that footwear has come down a notch, as I have had surgery on both my ankles, so normal high heels are no longer an option for me. It’s low heels, or dress flats from now on. This article proves very helpful to me, and I thank you for posting it!


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