Have you ever been in a meeting or social situation where something about a person or what they are wearing is totally distracting? I think this tends to happen a little more often at this time of year because with warmer weather, everyone is happy to be shedding layers of clothing both in and outside of the workplace. This is great for light and comfy weekend beachwear and after-work slinky little dresses, but it can also make dressing appropriately for the office a little tricky for some of us. Some may ask, “If they’re showing it in the stores, why shouldn’t I be wearing it to the office?” Spring and summer styles are naturally designed for warmer weather and sometimes this means skirts are shorter, tops can be smaller, and fabrics are more sheer. We all have to realize that there are times when trends just aren’t appropriate for the workplace.
As many of you may know, IBM used to have a reputation for blue suits, white shirts and plain ties for all of its sales force. I’m by no means saying we need to go to this extreme, however I’m making a point. There are a couple of theories on the strategy behind this “uniform”, one being that the sales force wanted to intimidate their customers into buying from them, but I’m a believer in the second theory, which is the sales force didn’t want to distract the customer from the purpose of the meeting, which was conducting business. I call this strategy “mitigating the distractor factor”.
Although I can laugh about this now, I will share a painful story about unwittingly being the distractor factor and wanting to crawl under a rock. I was presenting at a meeting years ago… I had planned my outfit carefully – or so I thought. I had on a fabulous suit in which I felt great, I had paired it with a black knit top and heavy jewelry, and I looked pretty darned good. During the presentation I took a moment and leaned over to make a point, placing my hands flat on the conference table. After finishing, I looked down at my hands and then my eyes caught my chest, and I realized that all seven people at the table had had a straight-on view right down my top the entire time I was speaking. Talk about distractor factor!!! Because the knit top didn’t hug my body closely enough, it gaped open showing my black bra and my skin right down to my waist. I was mortified. This must have been a total distraction to everyone. Even though I stood back up and glossed over the unintended peep show, it was very difficult for me to regain my concentration, and I couldn’t think of anything else for the rest of the meeting. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.
So, as you are shopping for a few refresher pieces for the season, here are a couple of tips to help you avoid “over sharing” and have you appropriately dressed in both formal and business casual situations: keep your skirts four inches or less above the middle of the knee, make sure your pants and tops to meet or overlap when you are sitting, bending, etc., ensure any knit tops to stay close to the body when you lean over (or share the same fate I described above), and if you have any question about a blouse being too revealing… close it up one more button or put a scarf down into the neckline. A colorful scarf in the neckline of your blouse can really brighten your look, which is also a plus.
Avoid being the distractor factor – test drive your clothes! Try each item on when you purchase it – move around in it – bend, sit, lean over, etc. to make sure there is no potential for wardrobe malfunction and that each piece is appropriate no matter how you are positioned.
As you are putting together your “go to” outfits, give them a trial run as well. Make sure the fits are good and that even if you are wrapped up like a pretzel you are covered, comfortable, and confident in your clothing combinations. By ensuring that you aren’t “over sharing” with others, and having your “go to” outfits ready in your closet, dressing in the morning will be effortless, efficient, and effective. You’ll know you’re being taken seriously as a professional, and you’ll be confident that there is no chance that you’ll ever wind up being the dreaded distractor factor.