Are jeans appropriate for work?

Not if you want people to take you seriously, this PR pro says. If you want to be successful, you have to dress the part.

Editor’s note: The author’s stance hasn’t changed, but she has admitted that if your jeans are dark, fit well, and are accompanied with something suitable on top, it’s not as big a deal as it was to her in the past.

I get that jeans have become the social media uniform. But I don’t get why so many popular public speakers think it’s OK to wear jeans when they are on stage, particularly if they look like they just rolled out of bed.

In our industry, everyone complains about how we still don’t have a seat at the boardroom table. Yet, we think it’s OK to wear jeans as our professional dress. If you want to sit at the table in the greater business conversation, you have to look like you belong there.

Jeans are not suitable for professional speakers, social media nerds, or in any professional meeting.

Many years ago, Gary Kisner—he ran Fleishman-Hillard‘s Kansas City office—told me you have to look the part if you want people to take you seriously. He used this lesson when he told me to stop biting my fingernails.

He asked why I thought real estate agents drove nice cars or bankers wore expensive suits. It’s because people want to do business with professionals who look successful. The banker may only have one expensive suit, but he looks the part. The real estate agent may have to forgo buying a house for the nice car, but when clients get in her car, they think she’s successful. Perception is very much reality.

If you want a seat at the proverbial table, look and act like you belong there. You’ll go from offering social media consulting as a tool in the toolbox to having high-level conversations about strategy and business growth as it relates to your expertise.

People want to work with professionals who look successful. Even though your jeans cost $200, if they’re wrinkled and don’t fit well, they’re still jeans.

As my mom always says, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article ran on Spin Sucks.

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