Now close the browser window and consider your first impression of the people you just saw. Did they even make an impression at all?
Dress codes and social norms may influence what we wear to work, but having a distinct personal style can help you to stand out and be more memorable.
It doesn’t take a flashy wardrobe to get you noticed. It could be one iconic piece of clothing.
For Mark Zuckerberg, it was a hoodie. For Steve Jobs, it was a black mock turtleneck. For me, it was a pair of bright blue ankle boots.
I may not be a groundbreaking business person like Jobs or Zuckerberg, but my blue boots have become a force of their own. In a way, those boots have helped my career.
Break the Ice
From the first time I wore the blue boots to work, I realized how often people would stop me to mention them. Working for a big company, it can be hard to get a chance to meet everyone, especially busy executives. But apparently, not while wearing blue boots.
Multiple C-suite executives from my company have complimented my boots. Since then, they say hello to me in the hallways and stop by my cubicle when they are passing through my work area.
Getting a conversation started is the first step to building a relationship… even if that first conversation is about footwear.
Nonconformity Can Inspire Confidence
It may seem risky to wear something that stands out from the crowd. Attention isn’t always positive, which is something that you should consider when dressing for work. Wearing giant clown shoes might help you stand out in a crowd, but probably isn’t the best ensemble choice for a corporate job interview.
Consider Clark Kent and Superman. Keeping a secret identity may not be the only reason behind this character’s fashion choices. Wearing a cape and Spandex into the newsroom would probably make Clark Kent seem a little too kooky to be a trusted journalist. And if Superman flew through the air wearing a business suit, he’d probably lose a bit of his superhero street cred.
But when done properly, nonconformity can sometimes help people see you as more competent and important. Research from Harvard Business School shows that nonconformity can lead to positive results when it is intentional.
In “The Surprising Benefits of Nonconformity,” published in the Spring 2014 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, the authors discuss how teaching a class while wearing red Converse sneakers actually led the group of business students to think that the professor was important and influential.
So when Mark Zuckerberg went to a meeting with potential investors wearing a hoodie before Facebook went public, it may have instilled a sense of confidence in his ability. He didn’t dress to fit in or to impress, but allowed his work to speak for itself, a risky move that paid off.
Standing out in the crowd is important to stay competitive, whether it’s as a business owner, a leader or a potential job candidate. Your skills and know-how should set you apart, but getting people to remember you can also be helpful.
My first time giving a presentation to over 100 of my colleagues during a big company meeting was pretty unnerving. Not only did I want to do a good job, but since so many other accomplished presenters were also giving presentations that day, I didn’t want my message to get lost in the crowd.
To help, I wore my favorite blue boots. They boosted my respectable work ensemble up a notch and made me feel confident. More importantly, they helped people remember me.
After the meeting, I overheard someone enthusiastically talking about my presentation to a peer. My unconventional fashion choice felt validated when the other person asked “Was she the one in the blue boots?”
Think back to the stock images you looked at earlier. Can you remember anything about them or are they all just a mishmash of drab suits in your mind?
Don’t be afraid to be different.
Erin Palmer is a writer and editor who loves brightly colored footwear and standing out in a crowd. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including The Chicago Tribune and The Huffington Post.