Dowdiness is out. Sensible chic is in. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sartorial sense reflects changing times at the workplace—trendy waistcoats worn with immaculate kurtas and impeccably cut Nehru jackets with dashing pocket squares at formal functions have ejected the worn out notion that dressing responsibly is to dress boringly.
And flights will no longer be fanciful for those wearing rubber slippers. Last week Modi said, “I want to see people who wear Hawai chappal (flip flops) in a hawai jahaaz (airplane).”
Not to be outdone, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath—seen only in orange robes—gave a dressing down to his deputy Keshav Prasad Maurya and other ministers for suggesting school uniforms in government schools be changed to the colour saffron. Yogi also ordered staff to dress formally when coming to work.
When John F Kennedy broke with tradition to wear a two-button suit for the first time on TV, the message that went out was that youth is power. Disgraced tycoon Vijay Mallya’s flamboyant white suits and Boeing-sized ear studs were ridiculed in the corporate world, but Mark Zuckerberg’s pullover and slacks do not belie the billionaire’s business acumen either.
What is worn to work in these days of startups and work-from-home culture has an impact on career advancement and self-confidence. Dressing at work was simpler before. Top management preferred business suits in dark colours paired with a sober tie to the office or power lunches.
The middle management wore suits too, which didn’t attract too much attention. Factotums wore ties and shirts in pastel colours. What the rest had on didn’t matter. Women wore saris. With power dressing as the rule today, Brooks Brothers suits signal globalisation.
Women are slipping into pinstripe jackets, dark skirts and pants with the same confidence in the boardroom as at cocktail parties in a classic Cartier dress or an Abu Jaani-Sandeep Khosla sari. Ties make the big difference now, with bolder colours and patterns signalling work fashion. Earlier the memo was authority, now it is confidence with style.
In IT companies, casual is the new formal, as different skill sets are brought together to create a new office environment.
Creating the right impression
“Early on in my career I didn’t pay too much attention to what I wore and how,” says Nirupa Shankar, Director, Brigade Hospitality Services Ltd.
“At 22, I was eager to shine at work. Nothing else mattered. I was confident my quality of work would speak for itself. However, as I rose in the ranks, I had to create a positive perception, especially with clients and potential business partners. Creating a good first impression was about dressing smart and being well groomed.”
When he started out, Paritosh Ladhani, Executive Director, Brindavan Agro Industries Ltd & Radisson Blu Agra, thought a jacket was not necessary to give a capable, smart look. At 21, he would dress in a casual attire while making presentations to his leadership team.
“I realised that despite my weighty arguments, I was not able to convince people. They judged me on my clothes. I realised if I’m not serious about what I wear, how will I be serious about my responsibilities,” he says.
However, he does not think being dressed immaculately guarantees success. But he is sure it will have better impact. “It is like having a fit body,” he says. “I would pay more attention to a well-dressed CEO with similar knowledge and expertise to one not so well turned out.”
While no direct linkage to attire and productivity has been established, confidence the right clothes bring to attitude, approach and outlook plays a part in success. “It translates into a better career graph,” reiterates Kiran Yadav, Director, Human Resources, Canara HSBC Oriental Bank of Commerce Life Insurance Co. Ltd.
Clothes are Brand Statements
The right clothes add seriousness to the executive’s profile. Sonica Malhotra, Joint Managing Director, MBD Group, agrees. “I’m very aggressive about my professional deliveries, and the way I dress speaks that language,” she says.
HR experts believe confidence affects productivity. “We send out non-verbal cues to existing and potential clients as well as colleagues, on the basis of which they form an image of us. It underscores how appearance influences opinion and decisions,” says Kiran.
Appropriate attire is branding by another name. “As a leader, how you dress reflects your brand,” says Amruda Nair, Joint Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Aiana Hotels and Resorts. She likes to wear jackets with Indian motifs and embroidery since she believes Aiana is an Indian-inspired hotel brand that promotes local textiles and crafts. “If I can be my hotel’s brand ambassador, it works the best for me,” she adds.
A study by Dr Karen Pine, professor of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and fashion psychologist points out, “When we put on an item of clothing, it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment.”
Clothes Define Your Attitude
The key is to wear right kind of clothes, neither shabby nor overdone.
Fashion designer Archana Kochhar couldn’t agree more. “When I dress casual and laidback, it reflects my mood then—sluggish and unproductive. I like to dress up and create my own style statement everyday when I come to work. Being from the fashion industry, it’s expected of you to look your best at work, especially while dealing with clients or attending an event.”
Right Attire Doesn’t Mean Expensive Attire
Ladhani clarifies that ‘dressing well’ does not mean ‘expensive’.
It is a misconception that a thousand dollar suit makes an executive appear productive, efficient and reliable, or spending thousands on a suit that makes you look rich and successful. The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J Stanley and William D Danko states that most American millionaires have never spent more than $300 on a suit.
Proper Dressing Means Higher Confidence Levels
Nirupa takes a more holistic view of dressing for workplace. She refers to studies, which show that being well groomed and well dressed has an impact on confidence levels. “I’m not sure it necessarily equates with an improvement in productivity, but it does help in creating a good impression and sending out the message that one is on top of things,” she says.
One study is ‘Enclothed Cognition’ by Adam Galinsky and Hajo Adam, professors at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, the US. They found subjects wearing a scientist’s or a doctor’s white coat performed better during the Stroop Test, which asks participants to say the colour of a word on a flash card, instead of the word itself.
The professors concluded the group in lab coats performed better on conflicting flash cards, such as when “blue” is spelt in red letters—the reason being lab coats are typically associated with care and attention, hence the wearers made only half as many errors as their peers.
Dress According to The Occasion
It is no secret that the tech sector and startups work in a very different environment—wearing a suit doesn’t fit. But they too get into formals if the occasion demands it. James Caan CBE, CEO of Hamilton Bradshaw private equity firm and founder of the James Caan Foundation, narrates his experience, “Last week I was in San Francisco at the Facebook campus, which employs 10,000 people. Not one person wore a suit. But occasion matters.
Yesterday I was watching the news on Snapchat going public. The founders were at the stock exchange in suits and ties. Their working environment is casual, but it’s interesting to see that they dressed for the occasion to create the right impression.”
Startup founders concur that smart casuals at the workplace is an expected norm. With startups offering quirky HR policies, casuals ease the manner of functioning.
Ashwani Rathore, CEO and founder of startup SpiderG says, “When there are no compulsions to adopt a formal dress code at work, employees feel stress free. But it’s not that startups don’t follow dress codes at all. Whenever we meet investors and partners, the senior management is always well turned out.”
At Qtrove.com, comfortable clothing is encouraged. “As long as employees are happy and comfortable at work, there is less attrition and a better work culture,” says Prashanth Agarajan, co-founder of Qtrove.com.
There is a flip side to the ‘cool’ young lot floating around in casuals in office. Girls are forever scanning new hairdos, trendy piercings and fashionable footwear. Purists ask if being in a formal dress code is pressure, isn’t searching for the latest trends pressure too?
Looking boring is as stressful as the need to constantly update style, they say. “To some extent yes,” says Madhavi from an advertising company. “Sometimes girls look as if they are going to walk the ramp. From large feather laced earrings, tattoos to sleek chappals, it’s a race to stay contemporary.”
In such situations, the sari comes to the rescue of government officials. “I love to wear cotton mix saris to work since they need no thought or maintenance,” says Divya, who has been working at North Block for the past six years in a senior capacity.
She believes a sari brings instant respect. “The younger lot who find it cumbersome have resorted to palazzos with long kurtas. It’s a relief to junk three-piece salwar suits. In our setup, western outfits are not the done thing and casuals, of course not,” quips Divya.
Dress Code Is Also A Bonding Tool
Do not underestimate the dress code’s importance as a bonding tool, says Anupam Chakrabarty, Managing Director, Lindstrom India. He refers to the book The Psychology of the Physical Environment in Offices and Factories while pointing out that the absence of a dress code excludes people from the team, breaking the cohesive nature of an inclusive workplace.
“The days I didn’t wear my red T- shirt, I felt incomplete and out of place,” Vishal recalls his days of working at Nirula’s.
It is obvious success at work depends much on how you dress to send out the right message. The X-factor is individuality. That little statement to differentiate the well-clad executive with style from the well-clad executives. But be careful—too much of individuality could make your superiors and competitors insecure. Dressing well is an art, dressing right at the work place is another word for success.
Men Your dressing style tells a story
Rigid, not in sync with the present
Trendsetter, friendly, dynamic
Trendsetter, friendly, dynamic
Classic black, grey and blue:
Sophisticated, elegant and well-groomed
Bold, extrovert, individualistic
Not ambitious, casual about career growth
Crew neck vs V-neck:
Crew neck lovers are logical, practical with no-nonsense approach. V-neck lovers are passionate, chilled out and follow their natural instincts.
Crisp cotton sarees:
Perfectionist, timeless grace, consistent
Georgette & silk sarees:
Adaptable to change, in sync with changing times
Well-tailored power suit:
Competent, means business
Red dress/red lipstick:
Pastels & subtle make-up:
Inclined to experiment
Dressing Guidelines for the Workplace Some essential points to help in dressing for office
- Spectacles should neither be too tight nor too loose, otherwise you’ll be fiddling with them
- Wet hair is a strict no-no
- Let your bag reflect your personality. Classic bags are the best. Keep zipped for neatness.
- Strong perfume or cologne is a big no
- Shoes should be polished and worn with coordinated socks
- Your watch reflects your personality
- Rich colours portray authority, dark colours convey a stronger impression than light ones
- Neon and flashy clothes are distracting
- Don’t let accessories take away the focus away from you; keep jewellery simple
A smile gives a happy impression and disarms tricky situations
Decoding Your Dressing Style
Saris for senior management and ethnic wear for younger lot
Ethnic to formal western wear
Media: Smart casuals and semi-formals—jeans, cargos, collared T-shirts or half-sleeved shirts with Chinese collars and slim fits
Sari or Western formals
Male CEOs Sharp suits with well-coordinated ties
Workplace make-up Concealers, eye liners, bronzers and long-stay
9 to 5 lipsticks
Big hit with
younger working women
The three-piece salwar-kameez replaced by lycra churidars and palazzos worn with kurtas of varying lengths
Sporty sandals, sleek chappals, suede brogues in bright colours and trendy sneakers have replaced the staid black or brown leather shoes
the time Smartwatch
Milestones In Power Dressing
Suffragette suit replaced hobble skirt
Chanel shaped the modern woman
Pairing pants with women’s suits by French designer Marcel Rochas
Rein of the Pachucas signifying female emancipation
Bow tie takes over evening gowns. Enter Yves Saint Laurent with Le Smoking, the first tuxedo for women.
Dawn of the ubiquitous pant suit from The Male Stables
Power dressing at its feminine best with Giorgio Armani
Suits passé. Donna Karan hits style scene with softer, prettier look.
Death of the power suit. Write your own script, be your own designer in the age of ‘anything goes’.
2016 onwards: Fashionable, trendy. It’s all about personal styling and identity. Power dressing means comfortable and timeless. Be yourself.