Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

I love a parade. I love the bands, the colors, the excitement, and even the floats. However, I hate to decorate floats, even though I’ve found myself doing so many times over the years.

Some people love to decorate floats, but I find it tedious. I have nightmares about stuffing chicken wire with tissue paper. I simply don’t have enough patience to make sure everything is in exactly the right place. But I do know what belongs on a float, and what doesn’t. Suits don’t belong on floats.

I’m not talking about costumes or official uniforms, but the kind of suits men and women wear to work. I first realized this when I was working on a float for a client. As the client approached the float, in his full suit, it dawned on me. We never talked about what would be appropriate to wear. It was then that I knew, you can’t wear a suit on a float.

I remember this incident for many reasons, but mostly because of how all of the other communication efforts that had so diligently been put into place were now meaningless in the face of such an oddity slowing moving down the street.

We talk a lot about effective communication as a means to business success, but what about unspoken cues? Whole studies have been devoted to non-verbal communication, and how it impacts others. Many people don’t realize that their appearance speaks volumes.

Businesses have their own cultures, and much of this involves appearance and/or attire. Many businesses have “dress down” Friday for instance. Increasingly, however, employers are faced with employees who don’t realize that how they dress may not fit the context in which they are operating. Many employers cringe at the thought of discussing inappropriate attire or appearance with an employee, feeling that it is too personal and not important. They are wrong.

All of the effective marketing in the world won’t help your business if the appearance of your employees, or even yourself, is jarring to the image you’ve worked to create. Distractions, such as inappropriate attire, may leave your customers and prospects thinking more about the visual disconnect they see, rather than your business.

Each business is different, so expectations are different. Professional business attire, therefore, depends somewhat on your business’s culture, expectations and audiences. Tom Ford once said, “Dressing well is a form of good manners.” What he means is that sometimes we dress for others, not ourselves. This is true in business. If you interact with the public, you should be aware of the non-verbal message you are sending.

In the Front Range region, we’re a pretty casual group. Many businesses are more relaxed with company dress codes, for instance, than they were 20 or even 10 years ago. For many, this is great and doesn’t create problems. However, when casual strays into unkempt, or unprofessional, then dissonance is create between the image of the business and the image of the individual in front of the customer or client. Additionally, being overdressed, such as on a float, creates the same problem.

Whether you like it or not, the way you look plays a role in your success in the modern workplace, as an employee and as an ambassador for the business that you represent.

If you’re not sure about your attire, consider this – what do you want to be remembered for, what you wore or what you said?

And remember, suits don’t belong on floats.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
She may be reached at 303-651-6612; scornay@comm-concepts.com; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; Twitter @CommConceptsPR; or Linked In.

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