Dress To Kill

Long ago, as a teenager and young adult, I heard conventional wisdom about people arrested and required to appear in court.

The attorney and others understanding the system suggested to the alleged individual, trim your hair and wear a jacket and tie or nice dress. Appear as your best version of you.

Now I have not been in a courtroom much of my life unless court ordered in my professional role during the eighties and nineties. I recall little except I and others of my ilk wore business attire. For today’s professionals, that continues to be the expectation.

How about unspoken rules for twenty-first-century appearances of individuals ordered to court for a hearing?

Videos and television have revealed that these traditional customs have gone by the wayside.

You might wonder if the reasons are financial. I would argue, not a worthy excuse. Through the ages, poverty has continued to exist as it will into perpetuity. If one has limited funds, borrow a jacket and tie, or a dress, or search for inexpensive bargains. Places such as Goodwill, Savers, and the Salvation Army offer massive discounts.

This new casual style does not apply to mischievous, alleged perpetrators alone. It seems our culture has embraced this lackadaisical approach. Call me old-fashioned, which I am, but I do not believe this bodes well for society, including mental health.

Appearance matters.

Am I being superficial? No, realistic, based on the fact we are visual beings, and like it or not, we judge. I did not read Blink, but from what I have been told, Malcolm Gladwell discusses this at length.

Why do I raise this issue?

As a therapist, I have always dressed my best — dresses, suits, high heels, yes, as an under five-foot woman, a necessity for my final touch.

During the pandemic, except for replacing heels with clogs, I continued my routine. The exception is when I saw a client off hours.

Many clients became depressed because of the lockdowns and did not maintain a professional dress code. Pajama bottoms and sweats became their chosen apparel while working from home.

You might say, so what? No one sees anyone on Zoom below the waist. True, but they see themselves, and believe it not, this extreme lack of care often contributes to depression. Some continue this relaxed form of dress as they return to their physical sites of employment. I think it is a mistake.

Not only do people appear how they dress, but it may impact how they feel about themselves. I am not suggesting they cannot get their work done, but what does it mean to go the extra mile by dressing like you care?

A couple of weeks ago, an article in the Wall Street Journal addressed this issue. Somehow, people felt empowered by this more relaxed stance. Even someone in my profession expressed her pleasure in wearing shorts or something more relaxed while doing virtual therapy.

I wrote a response regarding my stance on this topic, and based on the thumbs up from a limited amount of commenters, many people agreed with me. Even a young man who disagreed told me my position bore merit. When I emailed the reporter, she thanked me and informed me of her surprise not to find more people sharing a similar viewpoint while researching her article.

People seem to underestimate the power of a person’s presentation.

Let me give you an example:

Many years ago, I waited for my therapist, who continues to take care of her appearance at age eighty.

While sitting in the waiting room, another therapist, a stout woman, came out to retrieve her client.

The therapist appeared to take little regard in her presentation, holding a cigarette, wearing cheap-looking trousers, and maintaining a chopped hairstyle

Her extra weight did not matter. She rented in the same suite with a Rubenesque woman, who took immense care of her appearance.

When I saw my therapist, I informed her I would never see someone like that woman who may have been a gifted therapist, but whose presentation created a turnoff. To me, inside and out, creates an impact.

Unless you are a blue-collared worker, my suggestion for any white-collared professional, young and old, take care of your appearance. Even those working dirty jobs do not have to gain a dirty appearance. Believe me, as someone in the helping profession, it has power. Dress to kill. Even as a virtual worker, with few observers, your mood may elevate, and who knows the impact on the rest of you?

Why not try it and watch what happens?


Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett views herself as a life-long learner, a pursuer of excellence, a work-in-progress, and a seeker-of-the-truth. She is also referred to as the "Unstuck Expert" in her many roles. Why? Because for over thirty years, she has been assisting people to get unstuck. Darlene's primary roles are now Therapist, Hypnotherapist, and Author/Writer. Although she loves speaking, it is now secondary and done mainly through her podcast, "Get Unstuck Now. Because of her wealth of experience, Darlene began putting her thoughts on paper.  Many of her blogs can also be found on Medium, Sixty and Me, and Penning these articles set the stage for her first book, "Stop Depriving The World of You," traditionally published by Sound Wisdom. Being a believer in pushing oneself as long as one has life, Darlene has tried her hand at fiction, hoping to have something completed in the no-so-distant future. Over the years, Darlene has been described as animated or effervescent which contradicts the perception of a psychotherapist. She firmly believes in the importance of being authentic and discusses platinum-style authenticity in her book.

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  1. My wife is a strong adherent of this type of thinking. I agree with you too, but my wife feels that dressing up and putting some effort into your appearance makes you feel better about yourself, gives you more confidence and shows respect to everyone with whom you interact. I also believe that, it’s just that when I am responsible for picking my attire, I usually tend toward more casual, comfortable or informal attire. I know that I do feel more confident when I’m dressed up.

    People are putting less effort into their appearance and I believe that it’s a reflection of other values. There is a certain level of entitlement that is becoming more evident. People feel entitled to a good salary if they just show up. People don’t feel as if they need to start at “entry level” positions. There shouldn’t be any reason to have to work weekends and holidays… Dress code is an extension of unrealistic expectations that people no longer feel the need to put effort into.

    The flip side of this discussion is that I try to make sure that I keep my interactions upbeat, professional and respectful of others. I try to interact with the person and their vibe, not their appearance. It’s not easy, but we should always be putting in the effort, regardless. Thank you for a worthwhile and important discussion, Darlene!

    • Thank you, Tom for your thoughtful response. Yes, I too am respectful of others regardless of how they dress. I come from a background of disabilities and have seen people in my practice, due to the unfairness of life, have endured these challenges. Beauty is skin deep. My point, however, no matter your situation, if you take some care in your appearance it will make you feel better. Cheers to your wife. Again, I appreciate your participation in the discussion.

  2. I think all this “informal” dress issue started with “casual Friday”. We should look and dress as professionals Monday-Thursday, but not on Friday? What kind on nonsense is that? I resisted casual Fridays, personally, and for those in my sphere of influence. Of course, the work from home due to pandemic furthered the “casual” issue and I don’t see that it has made anyone more professional. Look at the lack of service we endure every day. Is that due to people working in their jammies? Perhaps not, but I doubt that the lack of dress standards help.

    • Thank you, Ken. I could not agree with you more. Years ago, I saw a lovely client who told me that she and her boyfriend sought couple therapy. She shared the male therapist happened to be wearing Teva sandles, remember those? I always thought they were hideous, but who am I? They were quite popular. Anyway, my client could help notice this man who felt a need to bare his feet. It did not make a good impression on her.

  3. Thank you, dear Simon. Yes, I do believe beauty is skin deep, but I also know if people tidy themselves beyond pajamas and sweats, they feel better. I am not suggesting a three-piece suit, but even a nice pair of jeans, crisp shirt, and nice jacket can make all the difference in the world. The same for my gender, wear something that makes you smile looking in the mirror. As I wrote in one of my comments, even Mr. T-shirt, Mark Zuckerberg, wore a suit and tie in front of Congress.

    Unknown to me, because I am behind, the WSJ wrote another article on this matter, the same day I penned my article. HR is struggling with this issue, but at the end of the article, the reporter noted one man maintained who dressed professionally from head to toe even while working virtually. He maintained that being attired in such a fashion contributed to his productivity.

    Again, we do not have to be formal, but dress as if you care. Anyway, I thank you, and yes, at times, I write to provoke (lol). Thank you again!

  4. Dear Darlene,

    A really super essay. First appearances can be misleading, but gradually a person’s appearance does not match for example, a splendid individual. Personally, although retired, I enjoy wearing smart outfits. Not because I have to, because I want to, not to show off, but wearing a blaze, trousers, shirt and a neck-tie.
    As an Exhibition Steward at the Kings and Scribes Exhibition, Winchester Cathedral. I wear such an outfit because I feel comfortable. It is me. To me it is ‘neutral’. I love meeting people from the world over and wearing such an outfit cannot offend or make anyone feel uncomfortable or ‘inferior’.

    Rather thought provoking Darlene.