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Dressing for the job you want in school

An illustration of two different outfits that can be worn on the job.
Image Credit: Abigail Mathema

Fashion, in general, isn’t something that comes easily to everyone. With so many different styles, everyone has had an idea of what they’d like to look like, but many haven’t got a clue about how to get there.

A study got conducted in 2019, published in the Nature Human Behaviour journal shows that people, within milliseconds, perceive competency, status and confidence based on clothing alone.

“First impressions last. If you start behind the eight-ball, you’ll never get in front,” said leading character Harvey Specter in the hit television series, Suits.

With that, when entering the workplace or even while in school, how you dress can drastically impact your potential success and how you’re viewed, sometimes having immediate impacts.

The first step to begin changing your image or developing what you want to look like is to directly look at what you’re dressing for in the first place.

Someone dressing more formally, in a suit and tie for example, won’t necessarily see the same impact for a more artistic profession versus a business or media-focused one. Find examples of people in the position you’re striving for and work to mirror their look.

While you probably don’t need to go to the extreme while in a school setting, you can often find ways of taking minute steps towards that particular professional look.

If your profession usually sees experts wearing full suits or dresses, normalizing wearing a simple dress shirt or cardigan on a regular basis can be a good first step towards that look.

Once you have that baseline and can establish the direction you want to head in with your fashion, the next step is to make it your own.

A series of studies published in a 2014 article in the Journal of Consumer Research, discussed what’s called the “Red Sneaker Effect.” Researchers found that wearing what would be considered professional attire for any given industry could be further elevated when wearing one part that is slightly outside the norm.

Wearing a bright tie or flashier sneakers, for example, can make you stand out and become more identifiable, with the study going so far as to say that uniqueness is valued more than simple looks alone.

“People always ask me what the trends are, but I’m not a believer in trends,” said male fashion model David Gandy.

“Individuality is more important to me, to stand out and have the confidence to wear something you’re comfortable in.”

Wearing one part or one piece that is not just outside the norm, but also holds significance to your personality can also be an incredibly beneficial step in building your confidence.

At the end of the day, if you don’t believe in what you’re wearing or how you look in your clothes, it’s more likely that you’ll fall back to your comfort level and regress in the direction you want to head in stylistically.

Of course, there are also indirect ways to appear the way you want to without simply talking about fashion.

“First impressions last. If you start behind the eight-ball, you’ll never get in front.”

Looking into wearing fragrances, developing a skincare routine and walking with good posture are all ways that people can perceive you without just looking at your clothes.

The hardest thing to do is to take that first step in changing your look and an important thing to keep in mind is that people in your general circle may immediately notice and make comments when you decide to change your direction in fashion.

So let’s summarize:

  1. Start by finding examples of professionals in the profession you’re reaching for.
  2. Take minor steps in adopting parts of that look into your regular fashion routine.
  3. Make it your own and add personal touches. Give people a part of your look to talk about.
  4. Think outside of clothing. The way you smell and walk can indirectly change your image.
  5. Be confident. If you don’t believe in your look, how can you expect others to do the same?

Dressing for success starts with going more and more outside your comfort zone until it becomes your new norm.

While starting that new fashion journey can sometimes be daunting, eventually people will know you for your new look and, in some cases, work to start dressing more like you in the future.