Ever heard the old adage “dress for success” or “you are what you wear”? For women, it’s especially true when donning a dress at the office.


Jennifer Baumgartner is a psychologist who has her own blog “The Psychology of Dress,” on Psychologytoday.com.  She says, “You must consider the impact your clothes have on your success. If you want to  be recognized for your accomplishments, is your outfit a distractor? If you want  to receive a promotion, are you dressing like the boss? Your wardrobe is one  more tool you can use to launch your career, so use it wisely”.  Even if your position doesn’t require you to see outside clients, you are still “making an impression on your boss and your potential future boss


Northwestern’s research introduced the term “enclothed cognition” to describe the connection between clothing and psychology.  “Clothes cognition is really about becoming the clothes themselves and having them direct who you are and how you act in the world,” Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management Professor, Adam Galinsky said.  ”When we are putting on [an item], we are not only giving impressions to other people, but we are also giving an impression to ourselves”.

With the above in mind, here are some tips on how to wear a dress to the office:

  • Look for a dress that is just above the knee, knee-length or slightly below the knee. A shorter dress will look provocative and inappropriate for work, while a longer one will likely appear matronly and unprofessional.
  • If the top half of the dress is sleeveless, halter style or exposes too much of the chest area, add a cardigan, blazer or wrap.  This dress may be great for a summer party but at the office, it’s best to avoid revealing too much.
  • Keep your jewelry simple, small, and minimal. Too much jewelry worn with a dress will make you look like you’re dressed up for a wedding reception, rather than work. It may also be distracting, especially if your work involves contact with clients. For example, don’t wear chandelier earrings or a large set of bangles.
  • Keep your shoes simple and professional looking, not flashy. You can certainly take advantage of the season’s trendy styles but dial them down a notch and stick to classic mary-janes, flats, peep-toes, pointy-toes, and closed-toes, avoiding platforms and sandals.
  • When in doubt, look around the office and note what the female managers and VPs are wearing and use that as your guide.  The fashion and social service industries, for instance, ordinarily have much more relaxed dress codes than, say, law firms.

Pay attention to the care label on your dress and if it says dry clean only, be sure to take it to a professional.  Classic Cleaners has free pick up and delivery and we’ll come to your home or office!

– S.O.