Fact Or Fiction: Dressing For Success Leads To Success

How many of the following quotes have you heard?

“Dress for success.”

“You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”

These quotes are heard often, but are they really true?

In 1978 John T. Molloy, am image consultant, created the book, The Women’s Dress for Success Book, based on the notion that what women wore affected their earning power. 1978 may seem like a long time ago, but you should be asking yourself: 

  • Do the ideas in this book still apply today?

  • What changes have been made to dressing for the workplace?

  • Do employers really care how I present myself or how I look?

  • Are there any studies to back up these claims?

Molloy wrote, “Research shows that when a woman dresses for success, it does not guarantee success, but if she dresses poorly or inappropriately, it almost ensures failure.”  This is a very strong statement, and while you may not want to think it’s true - it is. Many of the ideas in Molloy’s book still hold true today. What we wear and how we present ourselves matters.

When it comes to dressing for success today, the one word that immediately comes to me is: mindfulness. You need to be mindful of what is appropriate to wear and mindful of what makes you feel great. And then we need to bring the two together. 

Dressing today in the world of business is about knowing what I call the “New Rules.” That means knowing what you are dressing for and what is the expected dress style. As businesses change their dress cultures, where so many are going to business casual or dress casual, there is so much room for interpretation. Companies may not define what is appropriate and what is not, so what are you to do? This is where I always advise clients to dress up their style by 10-30%. This allows you to:

  • Send the right signals.

  • Stand out from the rest of your co-workers.

  • Say that “I care about how I look and present myself.”

  • Showcase that style is a way of expressing yourself and can still garner respect.

In 2016 I wrote a chapter in Breakthrough Results entitled: The Power of Dress, Image and Perception in the Workplace. In this chapter, I told the story of my mom and dad. My parents never went anywhere without looking perfectly dressed. They had their “go-to “ outfits, and they were always perfectly groomed. Wherever they went, my parents commanded the room. As a child, I never understood why people were always looking at them. But looking back with the knowledge I have acquired throughout my career, I realized that there was, and still is, a strong correlation between style and confidence. Even from a young age, while I may not have known it, clothing has been a powerful force in my life.

A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2012) coined the phrase “embodied cognition.” So what does “embodied cognition” mean? It means that our thoughts and actions are influenced by more than just our brains, but our bodies as well. Can you see how this would be relevant to how you dress? 

Think about the last time you wore an outfit to work that you know you looked great in. Did you feel confident? Did you exude energy? Did you feel empowered and knowledgeable? Did you stand a little taller? Did you smile a little bigger? All of these things can happen because of the clothes you wear.

I could go on and on, sharing study after study with you regarding what you should wear on an interview, what to wear if you are a manager, what to wear if you are looking to move up the corporate ladder, and even what to wear after a divorce, weight loss or gain, or just dealing with everyday life. But I’m not going to. 

What I want you to do is conduct an experiment. I often tell people that we are judged within seconds based on how we look. And, perhaps you don’t believe this or think it’s silly, but do the following experiment:

The reactions are going to be vastly different - trust me. 

This is what I know:

  • I know that I can help you create confidence and energy by wearing the right clothing.

  • I know that fit and color are essential in aspects of finding your confidence.

  • I know that I can help you take a moment to put yourself first.

  • I know what you need for clothing essentials and how to spend your money wisely.

  • I know that I can help you look good and feel good.

There are so many appealing ways to add to a wardrobe, but knowing what you need and building from there is the way to start. Dressing for success is all about knowing what you are dressing for, what is the culture, what is appropriate, and applying common sense. It all comes back to mindfulness. And, when in doubt, inquire and know that dressing up is not usually seen as a negative while being underdressed is.

Michelle More said: “Dressing for success may sound intimidating, expensive, and a bit vain; however, keep in mind that your presentation creates credibility.” 


Are you ready to feel empowered, confident, and self-assured? Let's talk about how your clothes can make you feel this way.