Dress up: How your office clothes can get you promoted up the ladder

According to a study by Harvard Business School, dressing down in the workplace could earn you more respect from your colleagues

David Rigby
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My father always said it is a privilege to wear a tie. Having been brought up in a mining family, plagued by unemployment and the great depression, he had an office job for life which was important and possible in those days just after world war 2. He continued to wear a tie until his mid-eighties even at home.

Times have indeed changed. According to a study by Harvard Business School, dressing down in the workplace could earn you more respect from your colleagues. Apparently non-conformity, rather than corporate dressing, is now the way to get ahead.


There was a time when for men, the blue or black suit was the rule. Never brown. And only white shirts, black shoes. No facial hair. But the non-conformity could be discerned by the style of the tie and outrageous socks. Though Mickey Mouse ties never really indicated leadership potential.

Which style is going to shake up the sartorial status quo in the office? What does the slick city dresser, who likes their pin stripe suits and freshly pressed shirts, wear now? Is the guy who scuttles round in red trainers and ironic T-shirts really the one to watch? To help you become noticed as one of the secret stars in your workplace, here’s the several types of office dressers to look out for.

The Mark Zuckerberg wannabe:
Hug a hoodie in your office – it might get you a promotion. They may look unassuming in their hoodies, skinny jeans and Converse sports shoes but these are the silent assassins and the ones the big boss has their eye on for promotion.

The trend follower:
The latest Prada handbag? Your office trend follower already has it. The trend follower always has the latest Mulberry handbag or must-have Gucci shoes before everyone else in the office. The trend follower’s biggest fear in life is someone else turning up to work in the same outfit. Though I remember being told in the UK that it was OK if you both bought the outfit from Harrods but not Marks & Spencer.

The capsule wardrobe rotator:
A signature wardrobe in the office can be a good thing. This person owns five work shirts and five ties and simply rotates them on a never-ending cycle. If a shirt falls apart through wear, it is merely replaced with an exact replica. Do not expect them to deviate from this routine.

The Arabic not so traditionalist:
This person models sometimes turns up for work wearing traditional Arabic dress, and other days in the latest fashions. As a man could be the latest designer jeans or a fashionable suit. If it’s a woman then the clue is always the outrageous shoes. But in either case, don’t do this unless you are Arab and preferably local. Other national groups have similar options.

The corporate dresser:
George doesn’t really do dress down. This person is always suited and booted. Team away days, when they might be asked to dress in smart casual clothes, generally leave them in a state of extreme confusion. They will inevitably wear a shirt, chinos and loafers.

The old fogey:
I’m afraid I fit into this category. I am old enough to do so. Brought up in austerity with a firm belief that you stop wearing clothes when they are worn out and not even good enough for a charity shop. So the clothes could be iconic of an era twenty years ago. The wearer can be aware of fashion but is wise enough to spend his (and it usually is a he) money on things more interesting than being a sheep. (i.e. blind follower of fashion). Doesn’t have the latest anything but be sure the outfits are both not boring and expensive when the moths fly out of his wallet.

The previous Lord Mayor of Bristol was iconic. He always wore red trousers, and had several pairs (I presume). He did break the rule for a week – for sustainability week he wore bright green trousers for that week – and then back to the red ones.

In forward looking organizations people get promoted to senior positions because they are innovative and individual. And a silent way to show this is by what you wear.

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