Image 2!

Second in a series where we explore the Edison image from a more scholarly perspective.

The Emperor Has Clothes--but are they the RIGHT clothes?

Do a web search for "dress for success" or "business attire" or any synonym and you'll find many websites from image consultants who will confirm that John T. Molloy's advice from the mid-70s in Dress for Success and The Women's Dress for Success Book has changed but little. The major difference is that a business suit for men is now two-piece rather than three-piece.

While there are some minor disagreements, the overall considerations for business attire remain the same. You dress according to your business' standards, your geographic region, your role in your business, and (most importantly) what your client expects you to wear.

Ohio--unlike Puerto Rico or Texas--has no distinctive regional style of business attire. Therefore, we're relatively safe with sticking to the mainstream recommendations of the image consulting industry. These recommendations break down into relatively few subsets in Edison's case.

The Look for the Boundary Spanners

"Boundary Spanner" is an academic term for anyone who crosses the boundary between the organization and the outside world on an official basis. It does not include everyone at Edison who has contact with students--students are not the outside world, they are a part of our organization. It does include everyone who acts as an official spokesperson for Edison to the media, to the government, or to the general public.

People in these positions are advised to wear the most conservative of business attire--they should dress like investment bankers. This appearance satisfies the prejudices of their target audiences; it conveys an image of stability and reliability (regardless of the recent degrading of the image of investment bankers). This is the stratum of the organization where the image consultant can be most prescriptive--the rules are narrow and widely recognized.

In particular, the attire should be:

  • two-piece business suit in navy blue or grey (charcoal/silver--not verdigris, slate). Pinstripes optional.
  • white, long sleeved dress shirt (some also accept blue, but that color plays poorly among African-Americans).
  • necktie--a long tie, not a bow or bolo or other style--standard knot; solids or diagonal stripes in conservative colors, perhaps with some brighter color for contrast--alternatively, any tie recently seen on the President of the United States.
  • black hosiery, long enough so that the leg is not seen no matter how much the knee is bent.
  • black shoes, preferably wing-tips, highly polished.
  • wristwatch--preferably resembling a Rolex
  • wedding band (if married), class or professional ring--no more than 2 rings total.
  • medic-alert bracelet if needed.
  • professional briefcase.
  • no detectable aroma of aftershave or men's cologne.
  • business suit--skirt and matching blazer--in navy blue or grey, pinstripes optional (same colors as for men)--skirt should reach knees or slightly below.
  • business blouse (button-down and long sleeve) in white or pastel color.
  • something at the neckline to provide contrast--a neck scarf, a necktie that isn't the masculine long or bow tie, or a fancy neckline to the blouse itself.
  • if needed, neutral-colored non-patterned hosiery.
  • black business shoes--these are pumps with a 1-2 inch heel, black, highly polished, closed toes. Very tall women may opt for flats.
  • wristwatch that looks like a Rolex.
  • engagement ring and wedding band (if appropriate) and class or professional ring--no more than 3 rings total, and the style of the engagement ring and wedding band should match.
  • Medic-alert bracelet if needed.
  • no more than one earring in each lobe, small posts or tiny hoops, no other jewelry.
  • professional briefcase--businesswomen should not carry a purse.
  • invisible make-up, no detectable perfume or cologne.
Here, we might pause to identify the college's boundary spanners who deviate from these ideals. We've all seen men whose suits are not entirely business-style, whose neckwear takes flights of fancy--or women whose skirts barely reach the knee and whose shoes resemble open-toed stilts. But probably it's not necessary to name names. And we also might name the mid-level administrative assistants who have upheld these standards regardless of the strain it must put on their more-limited incomes--but best not to name them for fear of jealousy.

The Look for Faculty

John T. Molloy only mentions college faculty once in Dress for Success. In a section on selling, he notes that if you're trying to sell to college students for a charity or nonprofit, you might want to adopt the "rumpled, slightly seedy, professorial look."

That the college professor is the least polished-looking of professionals is widely known, and has often been explored--but not conclusively--in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Are there no standards?

There are some points that faculty should consider, but the leading one in my mind is that faculty are supposed to model their professions to the students. Now, do you interpret your profession to be the one you prepare students to do--or do you interpret your profession as professor?
  • faculty in liberal arts and sciences should adopt the quasi-casual styles traditional to those disciplines--moreover, since this is the stereotypical college professor style, it might be adopted by any member of the faculty--however, other disciplines may move toward more professional looks.
  • faculty who teach courses that lead to boundary-spanning positions (e.g., business management, paralegal, sales) might adopt the same sorts of attire that a graduate ought to wear in the professional office.
  • faculty who teach in disciplines that involve messy or hazardous materials ought to dress in durable work clothing--which would include denim blue jeans in many cases, since no other fabric is quite so durable and resistant to penetration by stains or noxious chemicals.
  • faculty in office professions that are non boundary spanning (accounting, IT) could dress professionally but not in the strict management-style attire of boundary spanners.
  • faculty in professions that require a uniform might choose to wear that uniform.
The Look for Student Services

This section doesn't only deal with the student services office, but all areas that serve students directly--libary, learning center, bookstore (tho' the bookstore is no longer under our control).

I still recall back in the first year of "swap days" when Bollenbacher and I volunteered to try to recruit at a local manufacturer. Impressed with the gravity of our assignment, Dick and I both showed up wearing Molloy-style management suits and ties. I was a little surprised when Chip Hare showed up in a polo shirt, but he was kind enough to explain (and experience confirmed) that business suits scare the people we want to recruit and a more 'business casual' approach is more successful.

Lesson learned--student services professionals need latitude in their outfits in order to make themselves approachable by students. The Molloy-style business suit ought generally to be discouraged in this line of work.

We'll not need to go into detail regarding the infrastructure employees, many of whom are uniformed and all of whom are dealing with far more important things then clothing.

next in the series: Are there any major exceptions--and if not where does Gordon Gee get off with that bowtie?

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