Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist


Do clothes matter for your success at work?

Do you still have to rock the black power suit and tailored white shirt to be dressed for high-powered job success?


With so many things about work and the workplace have changed significantly over the past three years, do clothes still matter for your success at work? Do you still have to rock the black power suit and tailored white shirt to be dressed for high-powered job success?

The answer is not that simple, Penelope Meniere, marketing director of Workshop17, says.

“Nowadays, partly due to our more flexible and hybrid work environments, we pride ourselves on our casual and comfortable outfits in the office but when entering any professional context, your appearance, attitude and behaviour can play a key role in the way people perceive you, often giving you a competitive advantage.”

She says it is easy to dismiss this as superficial and only applicable to the hospitality industry where a luxury image often applies. “However, we should look less at how our clothes let others perceive us and more at how our clothes make us feel about ourselves and behave at work.”

ALSO READ: Less formal, more comfortable: pandemic transforms work attire

Do you feel good when you look good?

Meniere says Workshop17 recently conducted a series of informal discussions with some of its 5 000 members, including 745 companies in its eight locations and identified three main aspects of our clothes at work that affect our self-image:

  • Aesthetics: Does the clothing appeal to the senses?
  • Conformity: Is the style of clothing similar to what coworkers wear?
  • Uniqueness: Does the wearer view the piece as special?

“Out of the three aspects, conformity has the most social influence and therefore the more contact you have with other employees, the more this forms a sense of belonging and can give you a boost to interact with more people. The more you work alone or from home, the less this applies.”

ALSO READ: Dress for success: ditch those hoodies and leggings

She says the characteristic that affected productivity the most was uniqueness. “When members felt that they looked good and that their clothing was different in some way, it improved their self-esteem and made them more confident and goal oriented.”

Surprisingly aesthetics – including how comfortable and breathable your clothing is and how it allows for free movement – came last for work as well as social performance, which means that any old jeans and a t-shirt do not pass muster.

Managers would do well to remember the significant connection between feeling good in your threads and a more positive, proactive mindset, Meniere adds.

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits