Dress code. It is a dirty phrase to some people. To others it is a neat system of uniformity and consistency. It is the definition of professionalism. But what if your job or industry does not have a set dress code? What if you are your own boss so you set the dress code? Regardless of if you have a regulated dress code or not guess what? You HAVE a dress code. Your desired clientele has an opinion of what their hired professional should look like and dress like. Many people try to avoid this fact. They think “no, all that matters is how well I do the work”. This would be true if it was not for your competition.
Whether you like it or not an industry standard has been set within all business fields. The scale within some of them may slide more than others but they exist. This means that an important part of analyzing yourself is to analyze your industry and your competition.
Discovering your industry standard
For some industries it is easy. In law for example they layout dress guidelines in school. Court comes with a dress code. For others it is vague. Real estate agents have a sliding scale. Million dollar ones that work for large brand name brokerages tend to dress flashy and upscale to attract high end clients. Smaller independent agents tend to dress more like their niche clientele. If they work with middle class families they may dress more for the little league field then the boardroom. If they work with rural farmers they may wear jeans and cowboy boots so they can be taken seriously walking a multi-acre farm.
If you are new to an industry and need to start from scratch do a little research. Check out the social media and websites of the top five players in your field. Make sure they are targeting the same clientele as you and take note of their personal brands.
How do they dress? Are they consistent? Do they appear to be producing and working with their dream clients? If you want to broaden the search for context look at the brands of top producers in neighboring states. Since regional audiences can change it may not be helpful to look beyond neighboring states unless you can work with a national client base.
What if the industry standard is way off from your personal preferences?
Sometimes the standard set by others is just not our cup of tea. This is not necessarily a deal breaker for your career. Remember that cultivating a genuine and effective personal brand is about satisfying two areas, you and your audience. When we get clear on what we want it becomes easier to find compromise and variation. If your industry calls for a suit or dress but you refuse to be a suit or dress person there are ways to tweak your personal style to still appeal to the suit and dress crowd. The same is true for the opposite. If you cannot imagine not dressing up for work yet your industry has become casual, remember that casual can be styled. There is a way to be in jeans and still feel “dressed up”.
Getting clear on your industry standard should be looked at as a helpful tool. You do not have to reinvent the wheel of personal brand. Look at it as a starting point on your journey to attracting your dream clients.
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