Dress for Success to Increase Your Earning Potential

When it comes to improving our personal finances a great deal of emphasis is placed on issues like eliminating debt, saving for retirement and choosing the right investments. An issue that does not receive as much attention is that of increasing our income or advancing our career. Without income it is impossible to pay down debt and save money. While increasing income can be a great tool for building wealth it is often not the most popular topic because our income and careers are not entirely in our control (for most employed individuals). It is easier to cut spending and put money in our retirement accounts than getting a raise or promotion. That being said, there are some tips to help ensure you are on the right path to promotions and increased pay.

The phrase “dress for success” has become a cliché over the years and many authors have written about the subject. One of the most well-known books on the subject is John T. Molloy’s New Dress for Success. There are certainly mixed reviews on the book as well. Some claim it is outdated and simply points out the obvious while others insist it has been one of the most important books they have ever read. I’m not here to review the book today, but I think it is a great read if you can find a used copy for a few dollars online. Aside from the original there are plenty of variants of the book as well that tailor specifically to women, young adults and specific industries.

So, how does what you wear benefit you in the workplace?

  • Confidence – Dressing well or appropriately instills confidence on two levels. One, if you look good, you feel good and if you feel good you are generally confident. Two, others will view you as a confident person which can lead to respect, trust and admiration.
  • First impressions last – This is more appropriate for when starting a new job, but whether we like it or not, first impressions are everything. You will be judged by your physical appearance immediately and people will form opinions of you based on that alone.
  • Establish credibility – Dressing like upper management can establish credibility, whether warranted or not.

One common misconception about this is that dressing for success means wearing a fancy suit all the time, which is not true at all. If your job requires business casual and you work in IT sitting on a computer all day, you can still improve your dress within that framework and still fit in with co-workers.

In my case, our company dress code is business casual yet I almost never come to work without a suit on. The reason being because I work in finance and meet with people every day and help them make decisions on what can be their entire life savings. Not only do I want to feel good about myself, I want our clients to feel they are working with someone they feel confident can make appropriate decisions and recommendations about their money. Would this have the same effect with a more casual attire?

This doesn’t mean everyone should head out and spend a bunch of money on new clothes, but you should take a moment to consider how you dress at work and see if there are ways to improve. It can be as simple as making sure your clothes match and are in style to picking up a new pair of shoes, but if you take the time to make sure you look your best, you will be noticed. All other things being equal, when it comes time for a promotion or a raise in your office, those who look the part and stand out will have an advantage.

If you are looking to get ahead in your career it pays to spend a little time evaluating your wardrobe. It is easy to get complacent over the years in the same job. Looks get stale and being content with our position can lead to being content with wearing whatever we pull out of the closet that morning. Feeling good about how you look will help you get noticed and will likely lead to increased productivity as well.

As a quick aside, for those of you who need professional attire I must recommend Charles Tyrwhitt. While at regular price their clothing can be quite expensive, they almost always have a clearance section or other good sales that make items just as cheap or cheaper than buying at a local retail store. I recently purchased a few dress shirts there and they are the nicest articles of clothing I’ve owned. This is not a paid advertisement or an affiliate link of any sort, I just wanted to let readers know about a great place to purchase professional attire.

Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle

My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.


You bring up a good point. Unfortunately thanks to our media and how different professions are portrayed in both TV and movies, people still are very superficial when it comes to drawing conclusions based on an individual's appearance. I noticed this especially in sales where it was very obvious that those who dressed the part would almost always get the deal or at least draw more attention to themselves.

It is unfortunate that as a society we react to people differently simply based on how they look, but when that is the case you have to act the part. Like you said, clearly one could argue that someone who does not flaunt their power or wealth with attire could be seen as superior, yet most regular people will (regardless if they are aware of it or not) have a bias towards those who look better.

It might not be right, but when it comes down to it you have to do what it takes to compete.

Col. Steve Austin
Col. Steve Austin

"I want our clients to feel they are working with someone they feel confident can make appropriate decisions and recommendations about their money."

I have often pondered about the largely psychological aspect to this. After all, what does a business suit have to do with appropriate decision making? One might argue that it is a distraction or an impediment to good decision making: spending money and time on a good suit and its maintenance rather than spending that same money and time on research and analysis.

I would expect the truly rational client to assess a money manager based primarily on the answers given during the initial and subsequent interviews. If it's a close call choosing among several money managers, a client might consider that it is the *least* well-dressed manager who deserves the nod. There is a certain power and confidence to a businessman/woman who knows he/she so good that his/her appearance does not matter. Like the high-level executive who flaunts his/her power by working out at lunch and attending a meeting still in workout gear right after lunch. What matters is the content, not the image, and dressing down might be some sort of useful contrarian indicator when selecting a money manager. At least for rational clients. I'll admit that most clients are probably irrational when it comes to their money.