Why I Think "Dressing for the Job You Want" Is BS


We've all heard the mantra: "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." And honestly, I think it's kind of bullshit. Allow me to explain. 

First, I promise I'm not an asshole or a stranger to hard work. I've had a job since I was 15 and I've worked steadily since—as a cashier, bank teller, restaurant hostess, busboy (girl?), transcriber, and any other odd job that put some cash in my pocket and helped me pay for college. I've also held internships at websites and magazines that helped me realize my dream of becoming an editor at Marie Claire. 

In the beginning, like any good intern/panicked career-seeker, I wore what I felt I needed to wear. I got the pants, I got the shirts, I kept it neutral, using accessories to "pop" the look like my beloved magazines had always advised. I invested in shoes that cost too much and bags with "structure." As Tim Gunn says, I made it work. But it wasn't truly me. 

love jeans. I love a slightly disheveled, imperfect look. I love biker boots and messy hair and vintage T-shirts. Do I think all of these things at one time are great for meetings with my boss? No. Do I think looking like a complete mess in a professional setting is okay? Not at all. But I don't think dressing like a corporate drone is ideal either. 

Listen, I get it—I work at a magazine where creativity and style are encouraged, not at stuffier institution where suits are de rigueur. I do understand that some careers are more Corporate Uniform than others. 

But the age-old mantra "dress for the job you want" is just that—old. How about this instead: "Dress like the best version of you. Because that's who they hired."

Lindsey Pollak, career expert and author of Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders, says that dressing up for the job is still important, but that what that means has shifted. "What is most important is learning what respected people in your industry or company wear and then interpreting that in a way that is authentic for you," she says. "Of course if you're the CEO you can dress however you want—see: Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg—but if you're rising up the ranks you do want to dress to impress."

But as the workplace changes, so does our attitude. Startup culture, work-from-home acceptance, and an emphasis on who can do the job rather than ingrained hierarchy is slowly updating our perception of how success takes shape—and what a well-respected employee, manager, or boss is "supposed" to look like. 

As Millennials take charge, start companies, and become CEOs, the idea of What Bosses Wear—I think—will shift. And my jeans are ready.

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Samantha Leal
Senior Editor

Samantha Leal is the Deputy Editor at Well+Good, where she spends most of her day thinking of new ideas across platforms, bringing on new writers, overseeing the day-to-day of the website, and working with the awesome team to produce the best stories and packages. Before W+G, she was the Senior Web Editor for Marie Claire and the Deputy Editor for Latina.com, with bylines all over the internet. Graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with a minor in African history, she’s written everything from travel guides to political op-eds to wine explainers (currently enrolled in the WSET program) to celebrity profiles. Find her online pretty much everywhere @samanthajoleal.