First Impressions Matter: Fashion as a Form of Public Relations

How does fashion speak to us?

Fashion is a very personal thing. Fashion is our personal statement. Fashion tells the world about our socioeconomic status, our occupation, and even our political beliefs.

We have bleached our hair, dyed it a myriad of colors, straightened it, and then curled it back. Then, waited as our virgin hair grew back all in the effort of getting back to our natural hair texture.

We shaved our heads and worn molded spiked Mohawks in attempt to adopt punk attitudes.

We have pierced our ears, nose, and more as a form of adornment.

We have exhausted the use of body art (ink) in telling the world our politics, our past loves, and passions.

We have fashioned and refashioned clothing to the point that you almost want to hold onto the stuff you wore twenties earlier all the in effort of getting the jump on the next trend that was already trendy years ago.

We have pretty much used fashion to express every sentiment regarding our world.

And at work?

Because of the confines of business attire, fashion as a form of expression can be limiting, even with the modern dress code which allows both sexes a little fashion flexibility.

Whether wearing a mid-rise flared pair of slacks with a light tunic and a blazer and a pair of strappy sandals to the office or standard office attire, women in today’s business environment can go either dressy or business casual at the office.

…And men can also push the button while walking the fine line of business casual and just plain letting it all hang out.

Men no longer have to follow the style of trendsetter and fictional character Gordon Gekko circa 1980s flick Wall Street. In fact, as more millennials influence Wall Street while wearing hoodies, Dickies, any t-shirt (pick a favorite) and a pair of their favorite Converse sneakers, the dress code increasingly has become more relaxed.

Because of the various professions that exist in our current economy, the advice career advisors passed on to their students regarding appropriate business attire is not really relevant, as today’s professionals walk the murky line of business casual and too casual and too comfortable office attire.

As a collective, the attitude seems to be as long as the work gets done, who cares what we wear?

….Aaah, but first impressions do matter. At least that’s what many franchise operations still think. Best Buy, Foot Locker, and most chain restaurants have a dress code that either requires employees wear a uniform OR adhere strictly to dress code policy that can cover how their hair is styled, whether they can wear piercings, the length of skirts and shorts, whether they can wear clothing with insignias and other branding symbols, in addition to a myriad of regulations.

In fact, whether dress code is relaxed or not, many companies have a policy that asks employees to present a well-groomed, non-offensive image to the public when working on behalf of the company. Even in this relaxed environment, big business still recognizes there has to be designation between someone who is actively working during company time and someone who is not.

They recognize the need for their employees to present the right image to the public and how this image impacts the company.

So, what’s the big deal? Why does it matter what we wear?

Because, right or wrong, good or bad, our fashion choices are often closely aligned with our personal beliefs and values. For the individual worker, this conflict can often come to a head at work.

People have always used fashion as a platform for their political sentiments even when it has not been most appropriate to express one’s ideas publically when working professionally.

As far back as the French Revolution, men supporting the cause discarded their knee britches and wigs in protest of the old regime. Just as recently as 2015, the NBA players erupted in protest as David Stern instituted a league-wide dress code policy that asked players to conform to more dressy casual attire before, during and after the game.

Fashion matters because fashion makes up a part of our public image!

From a public relations standpoint….

We don’t necessarily have to discard our political leanings to adhere to dress code policy. We, as individuals, quietly support and protest causes every day.

For example, the various ribbon campaigns have given people the opportunity to subtly support given causes while successfully conveying to a large group of people a particular message, and wearing the color pink, most widely associated with the female sex, has become a statement for empowering girls and women.

But, ultimately, what we wear presents to the public who we are, and when we are at work, fashion forms a client or consumer’s first impressionsFashion that is too political in nature or fashion that offends might turn off, worse yet, turn away clients all before we begin to relate to them at all.

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