Uniforms are just for school kids right? Nope. I just passed a crowd of 15 people -- every single one wore a blue or light colored button down, dark suit pants and a black soft briefcase slung over their shoulder. The two women in the crowd had the same outfit -- just substitute pants for skirts.
There it was, the corporate uniform.
My corporate days a dim career memory and firmly ensconced in the technology and startup worlds, I'm grateful I spend little time trying to be "appropriate" these days. Though I have more freedom I wouldn't say my current career world is immune to the notion of an industry uniform. The startup industry has its own: jeans, a pair of converse and of course, a free logoed t-shirt or hoodie. Um, uniform kettle, you're black.
It's more casual, there's less pressure to wear "appropriate" attire but still, we can't claim superiority as much as we might like. We need to wipe that smug smile off our faces and accept that going along with the crowd is sometimes easier than doing the hard work to figure exactly who we are and how we wish to represent ourselves.
I have my own uniform battle. The irony of my uniform noticing moment is that I was on my way to the Denver City Council meeting when Denver Startup Week, where I'm the marketing co-chair, was going to be honored with a proclamation. We were all instructed to wear our startup t-shirts to make a strong showing. In my case it was a Denver Startup Week t-shirt. Of course I wanted to pimp out the event I'd been working on for 6 months so naturally I was going to wear our t-shirt. But still, I wanted to feel like me. So I wore funky Tom's wedge shoes, boyfriend jeans and blazer with a punk vibe over my t-shirt. Yes I was still pimping out my event -- I am the person in charge of marketing after all -- but I made it mine.
Maybe you're thinking Suzan, I get dressed by doing the sniff test every morning. Or perhaps, I'm so busy coding or building out my idea that my clothes are my 10th priority. Or, why does this even matter?
It matters because every moment you're in public you're transmitting an image. Perhaps you don't want to think about that. It's too much pressure. People shouldn't judge a book by its startup t-shirt or ratty jeans. I get it.
Do you want to wear a uniform? Or do you want to carve out an uncommon physical presence that gets you recognized?
I'm not completely heartless. I know it's easy to fall into the uniform trap. Sometimes the subtext is "I need to fit in so it calms my imposter syndrome." Other times it's a lack of realization that others actually notice.
I'm not telling you to become metrosexual (is that a thing anymore?) or, spend an hour getting ready. I'm also not saying you need to retire all your startup t-shirts. I'm simply saying be in charge of your image -- and your career. Don't wear something just because you think you should. Figure out what your signature is -- understand the DNA of your personal brand. Oh yes, I did just use personal brand -- and on purpose -- because it really is just an extension of you as a person.
Understanding what drives you, your values and how it looks visually might affect your success more than you think. This isn't just all hyperbole. Here's a quick anecdote with hard facts and lots of dollar signs. I once worked with a pair of developers turned entrepreneurs who went from making 1 sale on very high-end products (read: expensive) to more than 100 in less than a year after understanding their personal brand and then bringing out the best of it.
So whaddaya say?
p.s. This also goes for your website, business cards and anything else that transmits your "brand" or serves as your public face.