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July 25-31, 2007

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Step Up, Dress Up

By Joseph Rosenfeld

WHO KNEW the day would come when you'd fess up? You're fed up with business casual. And you're not the only one. Business casual has been like a flu that's lasted more than a decade. The age of flip-flops, tats, midriffs, piercings and all other things that result in "TMI" are coming to an end. It's time to join the protest against business casual and Step Up to Dress Up, or, what I like to call, SUDU. Stepping up the quality and style of what you wear to work is more than a trend. It's a reality and it's time you caught up. A current survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management points out that the rate of every day business casual dressing has dropped from 48 percent in 2004 to 37 percent in 2007.

Business casual has come to represent corporate culture, not just a mode of dress. Employers have become well aware that "laid-back" attire can bring with it a laid-back attitude that sometimes results in low-level achievement. It seems this casual ethic inadvertently has thrown many businesses out of balance. There are multiple reasons why the business casual style does not work. For starters, ask others around you what business casual is and you are likely to receive many answers. It's a nebulous notion. Also, each generation has a different sense of what it is based upon their exposure to and the availability of fashionable clothes. Younger people, who have grown up with MTV and the Internet, have had great access to cross-cultural and designer styles. Baby Boomers struggle to look as modern and relevant as younger employees.

At some point, people started to express their mood swings through their clothing choices. It has become really easy to notice when someone is having a bad day or got uncharacteristically gussied up for a hot date after work. People have even discovered how to use clothing and accessories to nonverbally inform co-workers to leave them alone. These struggles have led to the presumptuousness of dressing to express one's individuality without particular regard to what's best for business.

How to Do the SUDU

So if there's no one answer for everyone, the way to approach the concept of dressing for business is to understand your company's mission and your career vision. There needs to be a center point where you discover the balance between the wardrobe needs of your company and your own. You don't even need to rely on a dress code to convey the best messages about you and your company. Why give someone a reason to turn down your proposal, not accept your terms or refuse to work with you altogether? Step Up to Dress Up gives you more leverage in business. You'll be taken seriously; others will listen to you; you will be heard.

Altering your mind-set is as easy as changing your clothes. It is a starting point to repositioning your professional principles. SUDU puts credibility before casualness. Synchronize your mind and body by coordinating your clothing choice to the activity you are doing while in those clothes. When your business clothes are coordinated with your business activities, your mind-set is to focus on your business, not your midday workout, or on happy hour and beyond. Wear your workout gear only for exercise, and as soon as you put on your spandex and sweats your mind-set is ready for a good sweaty workout. Save your sexy clothes for a sizzling social occasion and you'll be re-energized for fun, even after a full day at the office. If you feel as though you don't need to change clothes when you arrive home from work, you're not SUDUing.

Inoculate yourself from casual malaise by upgrading the quality of your clothing. Start with the most important garments you wear every day. If you're in the denim doldrums or having a khaki conundrum, Step Up to a more structured slack and stop dressing like a slacker. If you're either teed off over your T-shirt collection or wear polo shirts when not playing the sport of polo, Step Up to shirts or blouses that complement several pairs of slacks. Make selections that mix and match so you maximize your investment. If you're regularly wearing pants and shirts, review what you own and separate your best items from the rest. Step Up by building upon your best items with new items, like complementary jackets and fine-gauge knitwear and sweaters. If you primarily wear tailored suits or separate jackets and pants, Step Up your wardrobe by selecting more refined fabrics and styles. If you show up for work looking as overexposed as a reality TV star, turn off your own boob tube. Wear and be fitted for the proper size foundations. Cover up your cleavage, midriff, shoulders and upper arms and watch your ratings go up. Save upgrading accessories for the end of the process. SUDU works because it simultaneously promotes your business and your professional attributes. Ultimately, it all comes down to how you want to be perceived. As you Step Up Dress Up you own the edge to be effective, and others will know just who you think you are.

Joseph Rosenfeld, AICI, CIP, the nation's only male certified image professional, polishes the appearances of professional men and businesses and is based in downtown San Jose. Contact him at: [email protected]

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