Style with personality and professionalism

On Tuesday, May 1, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Kimberly Barrett and Interim Director of Career Services Anne Jones hosted a presentation on apparel in the workplace.

Often noted for her fashion sense, Barrett seemed uniquely qualified for this event. She educated attendees on changing attitudes towards clothing in different industries and how considering one’s presentation holistically is important in developing a career.

The event was part of the Seniors Only Series, a project educating graduating seniors about everything from finance to choosing insurance. This particular entry was aimed at students soon to be on the job hunt and asking questions like: what are employers going to think of my style? Am I going to have to change it? What do I need to buy, and will it break the bank?

Luckily, even in more conservative industries, expectations for dress are becoming less and less strict and there is plenty of room to have a personal look and keep a budget.

Barrett pointed out that “people develop perceptions very quickly; we process an enormous amount of information in a second.” Despite making and being subject to subconscious judgements constantly, it can be easy to overlook their impact.

This is especially true when accounting for “implicit biases, which make up workplace lookism,” Barrett says. A key point brought up was the importance of context; she remarked, “Interviewing is really about two things. It’s a time for people to find out about us, but also for us to find out if the place is a good fit.” Context, then, is being observant while looking for jobs so you can see what’s appropriate to wear and better negotiate your stylistic liberties.

Students entering the workforce today have the advantage of less rigid expectations for appearance. Barrett recounted seeing a representative at a career fair for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) who had blue hair.

“I think people really appreciate personality and authenticity,” she said. “Everybody is trying to expand what’s acceptable and allow people to express individuality.” She also pointed out how this shows through at Lawrence, in contrast to college work environments generally being very formal. President Burstein, for example, often wears loafers, jeans and a sweater; a refreshing change from the full suit generally expected of someone in his position.

Being able to dress more freely doesn’t always equate to being able to dress less formally. In addition to providing a list of basic articles of clothing jobseekers must have, Barrett provided the useful tip of “dressing for the next job”; in a hierarchical work environment, it is wise to dress a bit better than your current position. Barrett recommended, for example, that you should observe how your boss dresses.

None of this has to be expensive. Even those with little money need not worry, as second hand clothing is acceptable. “Especially when you’re first graduating, sales are where to start,” Barrett said.

She mentioned one particular thing she likes about sales besides the cost – they can be a great way to develop a unique style. Getting carried away is an obstacle, however. Barrett said, “You don’t want to go overboard and have your clothes be the only thing people are paying attention to.”

Barrett also pointed out elements of your appearance besides clothing that one must look out for. “It isn’t just what’s on you, but what’s around you,” she stated.

“If you go into my office, you’ll find Native American art and art from the Southern Poverty Law Center, for example.”

While not everyone will work at a job with their own office, being mindful of the things you surround yourself with is still important. Social media presence was also mentioned; taken as a whole, it can be seen as your “digital outfit.”

While this isn’t necessarily a call to fuss over every embarrassing photo, it shows that transitioning from school to the workforce involves a shift in self-awareness that doesn’t end at clothing.

Peter Lagershausen