The online magazine Jezebel ran a story this week claiming that the characters on NBC’s popular “Parks and Recreation” could not afford the clothes they wore to work. (Warning: the Jezebel headline is mildly NSFW.)
For example: lead character Leslie Knope wears $125 blouses from J. Crew, and rarely in the show’s five seasons has Leslie worn an outfit twice. Yes, you might say, it’s just TV, but what are these and other shows telling us about what is expected in the American workplace?
The cliche “dress for the job you want, not for the job you have” regularly makes its way around career websites, but what does that sentence actually mean? How much should you pay to look good at your job, and how can you dress for the job you want when that job may actually be at a different company?
Business And Apparel
Let’s start with some facts. Despite companies’ urging to the contrary, appearance does count at work: numerous studies show that attractive people are hired more often, get more promotions, and are given more opportunities than less-attractive people. This is as consistent in forward-facing customer positions as it is in jobs where all the work is done behind the scenes.
Fortunately, it’s easy to improve the perception of attractiveness simply by updating a few key details: a fashionable, professional haircut; a clean, scuff-free pair of shoes; a tailored suit. It’s no coincidence that the phrase “down at heel” means both a person with worn-out shoes and a person without many prospects. Like so many aspects of business, you have to spend money to make money.
Budgeting For The Business Wardrobe
So, how much money should you spend? Suze Orman famously bought $3,000 worth of clothes on credit for her first job with Merrill Lynch, and for a woman like Suze Orman to buy on credit, there has to be a significant financial payback. (In Suze’s case, I think the risk paid off.)
In our current economic slowdown, it may not be financially feasible to buy a new $3,000 wardrobe. However, Leslie Knope’s $125 blouses are an appropriate choice for the contemporary workplace. Unless you already have a high-quality work wardrobe, plan to spend up to 20 percent of your salary on clothing for the first six months of your job, especially as you figure out what is appropriate for your office.
Include glasses, shoes, haircuts and beauty-enhancers like skin treatments in this “clothing” budget. Gentlemen, get a high-quality shave with The Art of Shaving products; ladies, step away from drug-store makeup and learn how to apply salon makeup to enhance your face. Your appearance includes the whole package, so keep your hair out of your eyes, stand up straight, and learn how to greet people with a friendly smile.
Looking The Part While Doing The Part
Yes, it can be hard to invest so much in your appearance when you’re also paying down student loans and making do on a small salary. However, every visible flaw counts against you, whether you like it or not. If your hair is shaggy, if your clothes are too tight or too loose, if your shoes are worn down at the heels: these details let your bosses know that you don’t yet have your act together.
There are plenty of young professionals who make it into the office every day with a fresh shave and a clean pair of shoes; these are the people you’re competing against for promotions and jobs down the road, and that’s really what it means to “dress for the job you want.”
In short: how much should you pay to look good at your job? As much as it takes, and as much as you can. In this case, Leslie Knope was right: even on a small government salary, she’s got to walk in every day to the Pawnee City Department of Parks and Recreation looking like she’s ready to lead.
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