Episode #12

Tales of the C-Suite

Why dressing like a man is crucial to your career success

If you have been spending more than 52 seconds selecting your work outfit each morning, you are at a competitive disadvantage in your career.

Let me tell you why.

It’s about understanding the laws of dressing like a man. A man can wear the same thing every day. The clothes, “the uniform”, are a given.

In the corporate world, this translates as a suit, shirt, tie, belt, socks, shoes. In tech or creative industries, a t-shirt, pants and black shoes are de rigueur.

Here’s the thing, not dressing like a man or more precisely not approaching your wardrobe like a man, consumes energy needlessly. It diverts your creative thinking brain and takes your focus away from the preparing for that important conversation, presentation, or event.

An irresistible juxtaposition snapped on my iPhone: Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Kim Jong-Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea.

For many women, they do want to be more conscious and organised with their wardrobe, it is just that there is so much going on every day, things fall out of place, and wardrobe pieces accumulate.

It’s not that any one piece in their wardrobe is inappropriate or off-brand, the point is that eliminating the need to come up with a new outfit every day can reduce stress and allow the brain to prioritise other work-related decisions.

We have seen this minimalist approach to a “uniform” successfully applied by Barack Obama (remember the tan suit controversy of 2014) and Hilary Clinton. Yet will it really make a difference to your career success?

Testing the hypothesis

Let’s say the average male middle manager’s work wardrobe consists of 15 shirts, three suits and 12 ties. Add maybe two belts and three pairs of business shoes. That’s 35 articles of clothing (not counting the drawer full of black socks). It must be pretty quick to choose what to wear, right?

With the statement “Darling, it will only take 90 seconds”, I interrupted my husband’s Sunday morning to ask for his assistance to test my hypothesis.

The time it took him to open the wardrobe, pick a shirt, pick a tie, select a suit, and grab a pair of socks and shoes was 51.75 seconds. I was so surprised that I had him repeat the routine: time taken less than a minute. Stress level less than zero.

Decision made. Mind clear. Focus and energy applied to prepare for the conversation, negotiation, interview or presentation.

My experience in the C-Suite

The approach that worked for me over many years in senior management was having seven or eight curated go-to outfits. I didn’t subscribe to the strict interpretation of a uniform, such as the ubiquitous “white shirt with black tailored pants and black shoes every day”.

What I did have was a selection of outfits including shoes, accessories and jewellery. And I had them on rotation. Ready, ironed, aired on a Sunday evening. And to be honest, no one noticed or cared.

If you are concerned about a curated wardrobe being boring or ultra-conservative, look to women like Christine Lagarde, former President of the European Central Bank, a master at adding scarves and chunky jewellery to inject colour and her brand personality to her look.

If you have been spending more than 52 seconds selecting your work outfit each morning, you are at a disadvantage compared to the average male in the same position.

It’s a sign that you need some order so you can be as productive, influential and astute as you need to be.

Whether ‘decision fatigue’ is a real phenomenon or an urban myth, removing wardrobe induced stress is an integral part of preserving your energy and gravitas throughout the day. So you can get on with the things that matter. You will feel authentic and put together, and you will look comfortable, confident and in control.

Now is a great time to curate your “uniform”, select and organise your own looks, ready for the return to the office. 

Retailers such as Birdsnest and apps like Pic Jointer and Stylebook can help to create outfits.

Be seen and heard for all the right reasons.

Be the obvious choice to the C-Suite.

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