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Better Business Idea #45

Dress for Credibility

© 2001 by Michael C. Gray

January 26, 2001


There is an unfortunate trend of the relaxed, California lifestyle to extend to relaxed dress in the workplace, including salespeople and professionals. Although it has been many years since John Molloy first published Dress For Success, the principles on which it was based are still true.

Molloy actually went into the marketplace and tested how people respond to other people dressed differently in the same situation. He found that people responded much more positively to people who were dressed conservatively in a business person's suit. For men, this meant a dark blue or gray suit, long sleeved white shirt, red tie, and black, laced shoes. Although there wasn't a "uniform" standard for women at that time, Molloy suggested that women should adopt a similar look of a blue or gray skirted suit, long sleeved white blouse, red scarf, and low-heeled black pumps or a solid blue or red dress.

If you question whether these standards still apply, simply make a test for your situation. Have everyone adopt the "uniform" dress for one month, then dress down for another month and compare your results. In most cases you will find that when you and your employees are conservatively dressed, (1) customers will treat you and them with more respect and be more likely to buy more products and services, and (2) you and your employees will be more productive in general.

Just yesterday I went to Office Max during the day to buy some bookcases for a storage space. I was dressed in a charcoal suit, red tie and black shoes. The store manager immediately came to help me. Later, I dressed in a T shirt and jeans to pick up the bookcases. The store manager didn't recognize me(!) and I went to him to find out where to pick up the bookcases.

Have you ever gone to a store dressed in a suit and had another customer approach you to ask if you worked there? Seeing you properly dressed, that person automatically assumed you were a person of authority.

It's common sense that we make an initial judgment of people we meet in the first 30 seconds or less. That judgment is based mostly on what we see. And most of what we see is what that person is wearing. (Yes, hair cuts and facial hair count too!)

I'm a tax accountant. People who do business with me are looking for financial advice and possibly representation in dealing with the IRS. Who would you trust with your finances? Who would you want to represent you before the IRS? Someone dressed in a suit, black shoes and "power tie," or someone dressed in a sport shirt, sneakers and slacks?

In a sales or negotiation situation, the first step is to get a person to like us and trust us. They are more likely to trust and treat as an authority figure a person who is conservatively dressed. Admittedly, there are some people who don't trust people in suits. Avoiding very "flashy" outfits helps to reduce this backlash. But these people are a small minority.

So when you or your employees are going to be interacting with the public or negotiating a transaction, give yourselves an important "edge" of credibility by dressing properly.

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Your business casual wear could be holding your business back.


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Michael Gray, CPA
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San Jose, California 95128
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