Dressing for success is the modern equivalent of ‘clothes maketh the man’. A similar expression was common among the ancient Greeks – “The garment makes the man” – and reared its head in England as early as the 16th century, in the form of “apparel makes the man.” Humans have had a thing for dressing up for quite some time, apparently.

“Dress for the position you want, not the one you have” is another phrase oft bandied about. Looking the part. Fake it ’til you make it. Image is important, however much some of us shy away from the fact. The term “power dressing” didn’t come from nowhere – clothes have played a significant role in conveying power for as long as humans have been civilised. You see a bloke in armour, you think “ooh, tough.” You see a chick in shoulder pads, you know she means business.

As recruiters, a large part of our job is to assess and prepare candidates for the environments we introduce them to. We juggle dress code expectations from various hiring managers, swiftly judging candidates’ attire when (if) they show up to meet us and tactfully communicating where one might be able to dress up, or down.

“Definitely wear a suit jacket to these guys, they have a very corporate vibe.”
“Whatever you do, do not walk in wearing a suit and tie! They’re allergic to corporate.”
“You’re fine to wear jeans for this one. In fact, jeans would be preferable.”
NO JEANS. Under any circumstances.”

Confusing, right?

Now imagine you don’t own all that many clothes to begin with. Imagine you’ve not worked in an office before – perhaps not even worked at all. You want this job; any job. You’ve worked bloody hard to get this far. It’s been stressful. You’ve managed to master your nerves enough to get through a telephone screen, and secure an interview. But now you have to show up and impress in person, and you don’t own any business attire. Nor do your friends. You’re anxious enough about the interview as it is – “first impressions count”; you’ve heard that a million times. What kind of impression are you going to make without one single work-appropriate outfit?

That’s where organisations like Dress For Success and Fix Up Look Sharp come in. Both not-for-profit charities dedicated to empowering people to achieve economic independence by supporting with the provision of professional attire, Dress For Success also provide career coaching, CV and interview tips, and the development tools to help women thrive in work and life. We were lucky enough to have two Auckland Dress For Success volunteers, Sarah Welsh and Saima Kasim present at last night’s #AucklandRec Meetup on the valuable work this organisation does in the community, and I for one was taken aback by the sheer volume of effort that goes into coordinating something that for so many of us is simply a standard part of our daily routine: getting dressed. Both skilled recruiters in their own regard, Sarah and Saima are able to support and provide insight beyond dress-sense alone to candidates venturing into the Dress For Success world; who invariably arrive anxious but leave feeling on top of the world.

The impact of wearing an appropriate outfit to work should not be underestimated – studies have shown that wearing nice clothes in the office can affect the way people perceive you, how confident you feel, and even your ability to think abstractly. Yale completed a study in 2014 that used 128 men between the ages of 18 and 32 to participate in mock exercises of buying and selling – those dressed poorly, in sweatpants and plastic sandals, averaged a theoretical profit of $US680,000, while those dressed in suits hauled in an average profit of $US2.1 million. Not small change.

As a recruiter, I’m passionate about removing barriers to work and helping people from all walks of life into meaningful employment. As a girl from Tikipunga, Whangārei this is even dearer to my heart. I’m sure you’ve all got at least a couple of garments knocking about at home that you rarely wear anymore, but are perfectly suitable for work – please, consider donating these gently-used items to Dress For Success if you’re a lady; Fix Up Look Sharp for the blokes.

And handle those dress code conversations with care – there could be all sorts of influencing factors behind the scenes that you’re oblivious to. Speak warmly, be kind, and have an open mind.

Both organisations operate according to a referral system, so if you have candidates or know anybody who could benefit from these valuable services, please encourage them to book an appointment with WINZ or simply contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for a free referral.

Natasha Foster

Natasha Foster

Recruitment Consultant at New Zealand firm Rice Consulting, shaking things up in the HR world. Photographer on the side, Te Reo student, rock climber and learner surfer. Most happy off the grid.

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