Do Clothes Make the Sale? (Get the Job?)

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

The big question, when it comes to dressing in the business environment, is,  "How does our clothing affect our success?"  The cliche is that you can't tell a book by its cover.  So does it really matter how you dress when you are looking for a job or landing a client?

At a recent job fair in Tucson, the room was filled with hopeful job seekers desiring one of the 350 jobs open at a new call center representing several major companies.  I was transportation for a  hopeful job seeker.   Since it is summer, the attire of most of the applicants was somewhat less formal than one would expect to see in the winter.  With temperatures topping 100 degrees outside, the women were in casual cotton shirts and skirts, the men had on short sleeved button down shirts and khaki pants.  All were pretty appropriate in my opinion.  I would have considered them for employment based on their attire.

Then, in walked half a dozen young people in torn jeans, faded, ill fitting t shirts and how can I say this, the clothing showed less than top notch hygiene.

They milled around, took applications , then determined that this was  not what  they were looking for, and left.

I spoke to an interviewer and asked him about this.  He indicated that the tattered jeans and t shirt group might have had a rough go in getting through the interview process.  He was careful not to admit prejudice because of how they were dressed, but he didn't argue when I suggested that they were probably in the wrong place.  They  might have had to work harder in the interview.

Later, I saw a tall, blonde,  statuesque young woman in 4 inch heels and a close fitting cocktail dress.  After her, was another woman in a low cut, skin tight, silver knit top and 3 inch hoop earrings.  They were both night club ready, perhaps;  interview ready?  Maybe not.

Why are clothes so important?  Are they important at all?  Some would argue that we shouldn't judge people by how they dress.  Here's what a teenager answered to another teen who was complaining in a blog about being stereotyped at school by how he was dressing.  He asked, "Why do people judge me before they know me?"

"Because that's what people do, make judgement calls just off your looks, what you wear and if you open your mouth, what you say. You expect them all the time to wait to get know you better. not all people have that time to do that. so they make judgement calls based off stereotypes. what you wear, how you look, how you act, who you hang around."

That's what people do.


It isn't fair, it's not right.  We all ought to be more sensitive, take more time, but there it is. Human nature at work again.  How we dress sends that non-verbal message.  Clean, neat might say to others,  "I have good habits, I respect myself enough to take time with my clothing and make appropriate decisions about what is expected.  I also respect you, but putting some time and thought into my appearance."

Whether you are looking for a job, trying to attract a new client or attempting to find the best employee for your business; pay attention to clothes.  They are not the whole story, but they are like the little blurb on the back of a book that gives an indication of what might be inside.

I don't know how the others fared in their attempt to get a job the job fair, but the person I was with, who had taken my advice about how to dress, was offered a position right away.  Was it because of how she dressed (neat, clean and appropriate for the position)?  Only the interviewer knows for sure, but I'm glad that she heeded some conventional wisdom and understanding of how people think.

Bottom line: she has a job.


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