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Dressing for work: Will the real you please stand up?

Clothes make the professional - even on 'casual Fridays'
Actress Gal Gadot at the Castro 2014 Spring Collection fashion show (Courtesy Castro Model Ltd.)
Actress Gal Gadot at the Castro 2014 Spring Collection fashion show (Courtesy Castro Model Ltd.)

For many of us, getting dressed for work is far more than simply choosing what to wear. Along with our outfit, we put on attitudes, nonverbal messages, sometimes even a complete persona.  And to the extent that the work persona is different from our true personality, that outfit can feel heavy, uncomfortable and awkward, making us eager to change the minute we get home.

There are lots of good reasons to dress right for your professional role: it communicates effectively to your surroundings who you are professionally, it makes others comfortable because they understand your role and you appearance is in sync with what they expect.

Dressing appropriately can also help you focus on your professional role and feel comfortable with your responsibilities and tasks.  In fact, I know some professionals who work remotely from home, and still dress for work every day, just to get into the right mindset for work. And for people whose work requires a set uniform, such as police or medical professionals, the uniform has the added value of identifying them quickly and effectively in emergency situations, and can also give the wearer a strong sense of identity.

So in general, dressing for work can be a very good thing. But it can become less of a good thing if you feel a strong discrepancy between your work persona and your real self. When you begin feeling that your professional outfit is a costume and not a real reflection of yourself, that outfit can be oppressive and painful to wear.

Of course, it feels great to get out of a work outfit and into comfy home clothes. Even if you love your job, a natural part of getting in touch with the other parts of your personality and your life when you get home is changing your clothes. And since we are all complex beings with many facets to our lives and our interests, no one outfit is going to be right all the time. And yet, if that work outfit is starting to feel wrong, it could be a sign of a deeper mismatch.

The solution in this case is not to go out and buy a new wardrobe. If your work clothes don’t feel right, it may raise the possibility that the job itself is no longer the right fit for you.  Maybe you feel that the work outfit says things about you that are not accurate, or creates expectations that you don’t feel competent to meet. How you feel when you get dressed for work can be a good indicator of how you feel about your job.

If your work wardrobe feels off, don’t jump to any drastic conclusions. It’s just one indicator of how you feel about your job and your professional path. It is, however, an opportunity to think seriously about what you do like and don’t like about your job and your profession. It could be that a minor adjustment in your role is all that you need to feel comfortable in your professional “skin” again. And if, after a careful examination, you come to the conclusion that a more dramatic change is warranted, it’s a blessing to realize it sooner rather than later.

About the Author
Gila Weinberg, CEO of Mikum Consulting, is a recruiter and a career coach. She helps organizations and companies find great employees, and helps great people figure out their next career move. Gila is also the author of Not So Grimm: Jewish Fairy Tales, a comparison between tales from the Talmud and classic fairy tales.
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