Being a Part of “the Part”

I’ve noticed an odd parallel between my work dress and my work status.  By status, I mean how I am viewed within the company.  While that may seem somewhat obvious, I don’t think it is.  I’m also saying, I don’t think this path can be shortcut.

When I first started working in a professional capacity, I didn’t know much of anything as far as fashion sense and business sense.  I wore polo shirts, khakis, white socks, and sneakers.  The next job, I changed to dress socks and dress shoes (I think I was counseled on this early in my tenure).  This job was a significant advancement in pay and my responsibilities grew steadily while I was there.

The next couple jobs I wore the same level of attire and my work position was pretty stagnant.  In that time, I learned the fashion importance of a belt, even if I didn’t need one.  I learned about undershirts and how they improve the look of your shirts.

Then with my current job, I eventually ditched khakis and went with jeans every day.  Then I started phasing out polos and wearing dress shirts most every day.  This is when things really started taking off.

Where I work, it’s a relaxed business casual environment.  Jeans are fine every day and no t-shirts, except on Friday, as long as the t-shirt doesn’t have a message (the “no-words rule”).  So, where other places have a casual Friday to offset every day of formality, we have an un-promoted “Tie Tuesday”, to offset the everyday casual.

I participated in Tie Tuesday because I figured, “I have ties and I never wear them except for funerals.”  There’s only a couple other participants in my department.  But, and this is pretty important, people notice.  You’ll hear comments like “oh yeah, it’s tie Tuesday.”  Lately, I’ve been getting direct compliments on my ties or my shirt and tie.

There is a saying: you have to dress the part if you want the part.  I gave this saying some consideration today.  My attire does project a higher-than-average level of confidence and… what’s the term… authority?  When one person in a group of people is noticeably better dressed than the rest, it’s natural to assume that’s the person in charge.  And in my experience, it’s seeming to be true.

The part I’m trying to figure out is if I am dressing to the position I have, or if my dress is taking me to the level I am at.  I am very sure that if I started wearing dress shirts with ties in my earlier jobs, it wouldn’t have made me any better off.  I would look (or maybe feel) geeky and awkward – out of place, even.  This is why I say I don’t think it can be short-circuited.  I think it has to be a gradual refinement over time.

But!  Back to the dressing the part.  I am pretty certain that I would not be where I am now if I was still wearing simple polo shirts and sneakers.  I look at some of my co-workers and think, they’re not dressed for management.  It’s an interesting balance.  If you don’t look the part, no one will take you seriously.  But you can’t just dress the part and instantly be that guy, because you have to be casually noticed, then accepted into that position.

Even if you’re the leader of a group, wearing business casual, and you come in the next day in a suit, it doesn’t jump you up in stature.  If anything, it makes you look suspect.  You need to evolve.  You need to be almost unnoticeable in your changes.  Then one day, when the executives take you out to lunch because you look like one of them now, you’ll know that you got the part.

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