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Dress for Success

White after Labor Day! Not a chance!


Okay, take a quick look at what you are wearing right this very second… I’ll give you a minute to focus on that request. Now, think about why you choose to put that particular outfit on today. Is it in your favorite color? Super comfortable? The least wrinkled thing on your floor?  The closest thing at hand when your toddler poked your eye looking for breakfast? They say clothes make the person. What is your outfit saying about you? What does it let those around you know about you? what message is your clothing marketing campaign saying about the business you are running? Is this what you want them to see?

There are a number of reasons we choose to wear what we do. Sometimes its due to a dress code at work, or a requirement from the “official” regulations. Often it is because it is the first thing we see in our rush to get going in the morning (I would say out the door, but I know many of you just cross a threshold to get to work.) Clothing can be seen as a self-care tool, helping you cope with the world around you and the stresses you face on a regular basis. I know that somedays the wardrobe comes together like clockwork and somedays everything in my closet is now on the bed collecting the cat hair that never ever goes away.

Regardless of why you choose to wear what you did today, and hopefully you are wearing something at the present moment, it tells the outside world something about you, your thoughts about yourself, the pride you take in your work and life, and how you should be treated. The way you dress is a form of personal branding. I know we shouldn’t  be so judgmental and one might say “shallow”, however, human nature has some deeply rooted behaviors that have helped us survive for this long – taking the stimulus from environments and using it is to determine a response is one that has worked out nicely for a long time – is this colorful plumed creature friend or foe? Is this beautiful flower good to eat or not? Many things in nature are “dressed” in ways to deter enemies from messing with them.

It’s not just others that are influenced by our clothing choices. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology coined the phrase “embodies cognition” to describe the items that we think not just with our brains but also with our bodies. They discovered that our clothing choices also influence how we view and interact with the world. For example, given a white coat caused participants to pay better attention if they had been told it had been worn by a doctor. Whereas, if they had been told it was a painter’s coat, they were more apt to feel less focused and less alert.

Our wardrobe choices also have a tendency to dictate our role in society – upstanding human being wearing a crisp white shirt versus a no-good slacker wearing holey sweats from college. There is a reason that a good number of teenage girls, and boys, spend an exorbitant amount of time in the bathroom getting ready in the mornings.  A 1994 study out of North Illinois University found that people’s perceptions of their own responsibility, competency, honesty, reliability, and trustworthiness, among other qualities, was heightened when they took a little more care in the clothing they put on.

Why the focus on what you are wearing? Well, as mentioned in last month’s blog – it’s time to step up our game and behave as the professionals we are. A simple way to accomplish this is to dress for the job you want to get paid for (I know many of you have heard this from me before and will more than likely hear it again).  First impressions go a long way in building relationships – a key concept in our work, not just with the children in our care, but their families paying for our expert care and education, along with the communities we work in. Taking care and pride in presenting yourself as an early care and education professional corresponds to the care and pride you take in your relationship and your work. If you care enough to take a moment to make sure all your pieces and parts are tucked in, that you don’t have major stains or holes in your clothing (and I know it isn’t always possible in our line of work to be COMPLETELY stain free, but there is a fine line between minor everyday “opps” and major “ummmm, what”), and you make the effort to not look like you just rolled out of bed when you greet families in the morning you set the tone for the day. You let families know that you mean business, that their children will be cared for with the same attention you pay to yourself.

Now, I am not asking you all to go out and purchase new and improved “professional” wardrobes! Most of that stuff tends to be “dry clean only” and that just isn’t’ going to work in our world when child-directed exploratory play is the daily special! As a professional development specialist I don’t’ even wear my “fancy, grown-up” clothes on visiting days! But, I am asking you to be intentional in what you choose to wear on a work day. Please, continue to wear your favorite colors – especially if it gives you confidence – your comfy clothes – I want you down on the ground interacting and having conversations with children – your casual early learning clothes – I want to see you getting into your work! Just think about the message you are sending about our field and about the important work you do. Let’s have our message hold true to what we are advertising – we are professionals, serving our communities, adding to the economic health, and a key component of our nation’s infrastructure!