It would be wonderful to live in a world where the quality of your work was the only contributing factor in your career success, but unfortunately you don't. For better or worse, judgments are influenced by appearance. Often heavily.
Now, you can get angry and start huffing and puffing about how unfair (or untrue) this is, or you can suck it up and take control. The fact is that fashion is a powerful tool for influencing the way other perceive you, and when it comes to being recognized and promoted by your superiors, perception is everything. So, how are you being perceived?
1. You don't look like you belong.
Succeeding in an office environment is all about being part of a team, and teams have uniforms. Look at the people around you and how they dress. Are they flashy? Stylish? Do they wear all black? Dressing in step with the rest of your office lets people know, at least subconsciously, that you are on their level and that you are part of the team, and they will be more inclined to include you as a result.
2. You're blending in so well that no one even notices you.
Yeah, you want to fit in and be part of a team, but not to the point that you become just another face in a sea of anonymous drones. Adding a little extra polish to your look is a great way to distinguish yourself without going over the top. Make sure your clothes are tailored and that you always look tidy and pulled together—the best possible version of yourself and the rest of your team. You'll be amazed at what a difference it makes. Looking like a leader and like you've got your shit together helps others see you that way, which makes the idea of promoting you into a leadership role feel more natural.
Think leadership has nothing to do with how you look? Pretend for a moment that you are given an important message to deliver to the group leader at another office. You walk into the office to find six people sitting around a table with no obvious indication of who is in charge. Who is most likely to jump out at you as the leader of this group? Is it the woman in the stained dress? The man in the jeans? Or the woman in the sharp blazer and crisp shirt with the perfectly coiffed hair?
The last one, of course—her look exudes authority and competence, and you will be drawn to that, even if just to ask her for confirmation of who the actual leader of the group is.
3. Your boss can't send you anywhere.
The higher up you move on the corporate ladder, the more visible you become and the more likely it is that you will be asked to represent your company outside the office. In these situations, you will be acting as a representative of your company and, more importantly, of your boss. In other words, when you walk into that meeting, you are acting as a surrogate of sorts for your boss. Your boss, on their part, wants to know that you will represent them the same way that they would represent themselves in that situation. This is where fashion comes into play. The fact is, a little mirroring (dressing like the person you work for) helps put that person at ease. The more of themselves that they see in you, the more they will feel like they know you and the more they will trust you to represent them.
4. You look uncomfortable.
Looking awkward and uncomfortable in your clothes, either because they are ill-fitting or they are styled badly, can have a huge impact on how you are perceived in the office. Think about it. When you feel good, you exude confidence and ease. You probably stand up a little taller, smile a little broader, and have a little extra bounce in your step. Those are attractive qualities and other people respond to them. When you feel bad about your outfit though, you collapse in on yourself—you hunch your shoulders and shuffle your feet and try to avoid being seen. And it's really hard to be recognized and singled out for opportunities or advancement if you are trying not be noticed.
In other words, dress in a way that makes you feel confident, strong, and empowered, and those qualities will come out of you. Others will see those traits in you, and treat you with greater respect and authority as a result.
5. You look too comfortable.
"Business casual" is a tricky concept. It all depends on the specific environment you work in, but when in doubt, it's always a good idea to lean more toward the business side of things than the casual. True or not, if you dress too casually, it is possible that your coworkers and supervisors will think you don't take your job seriously, and no one wants to promote someone who doesn't take their work seriously.
6. You're dressing your age.
Especially when you are young and just starting out, dressing your age can be a big hindrance to your success. If you look too young, older people in your organization may be less likely to trust you, believing, true or not, that you lack the maturity and experience to do the job properly. At the same time, looking too old can sometimes work against you too, especially if you are working in a creative or sales-driven field where youth and vitality are assets your company is trying to tap into.
When getting dressed for work, ask yourself, "Would I have worn this in college or high school?" and if the answer is yes, then you may want to change up the styling a bit so your outfit feels more grown up, maybe by replacing a bright color or print with something more neutral, or by adding a structured jacket or bag to make the whole look feel a bit more serious.
Similarly, if you look at something and say to yourself, "This looks like the kind of thing my mother would wear," then it is probably a good idea to style it with something a little more youthful to make it feel less old-lady and a little more ageless.
All of this is not to say that a wardrobe full of great work outfits will land you a big promotion and a corner office, but they certainly won't work against you in your pursuit of those goals. True, you have no actual control over the minds and opinions of your coworkers and supervisors, but you can influence them, and how you dress is a great way to do just that.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.