Taking micro-risks can lead to macro-change in your career.
According to the Harvard Business Review, men are more likely than women to take risks. When you add in stress—and who isn’t stressed?—the disparity grows, with women becoming even more risk-averse.
Rental fashion aficionado Dona Sarkar, who hasn’t bought clothes in two years, says style is a great place to start.
“You stand out ANYWAY by being a boss babe, so why not do it on purpose?” said Sarkar, who works as Chief #NinjaCat at Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program and prefers statement dresses and chunky heeled boots for the office.
Standing out isn’t always simple for career-minded women. Inc. previously reported on a KPMG study that found 41% of female respondents feared appearing as though they don’t know as much as they should at work. A lack of confidence was cited by 29% percent of women, and when failure inevitably happened, 86% of women said it made them more cautious about future steps. There are a lot of changes you can make to boost confidence at work: enroll in professional development classes and study your field, enlist a mentor, and join a networking group for your industry.
But, showing up more boldly at work can also start with your daily routine—how you choose to get dressed every morning. Maybe you’re a human rights attorney and opt for androgynous pinstripes, cufflinks, and a tie from Wildfang. Perhaps you’re a professor of environmental sciences and purchase ballet flats made of recycled plastic bottles in order to demonstrate your values through your style choices.
Here are five ways you can take micro-risks with your closet to increase your confidence in the workplace.
1- Dress like a boss, even if you aren’t one (yet)
Face it, we’re all judged on how we look. According to studies conducted by psychologists at Princeton, that judgment happens immediately. This is especially true if you are not a white male. In your professional life, that constant scrutiny can affect your presence (and energy level) in the workplace.
When other odds are against you because of age and racial discrimination, clothing can feel especially important. Author, speaker, and diversity training consultant Ruchika Tulyshan said she’s taken more seriously when she’s well-dressed. This is especially important as the stakes are higher for her as a woman and a person of color. She recalls one versatile wardrobe item in particular that served her well as a speaker and presenter.
“One of my favorite pieces of clothing was a Jugni blazer that was absolutely perfect for back-to-back speaking engagements. I wore it with black pants and a black shirt one day, the next day, with a dress.”
When you feel like a boss on the inside, you’ll be able to better project that confidence to the world.
2- Dress for the mood you want to be in—not the mood you actually are in.
Just like you don’t have to be the boss to dress like a boss, statement earrings or a well-tailored dress with heels can help you channel the feeling you seek to bring into your workday. Women are judged more harshly than men if they look or seem tired. An on-point outfit can mitigate the sexist scrutiny we sometimes encounter.
“I often think about dressing for the job you want,” said Katie Krane, executive vice president at global communications firm Edelman. “When I was junior in my career, I always dressed up—I was never a jeans-and-sneakers girl at the office. Even now, on the days I feel the worst, I usually look my best. If I have a headache or didn’t get sleep and feel lousy, the best way to deal with that is a fabulous outfit.”
3- Rent first, buy later (or not).
Commitment issues? No problem. Risks feel easier to take when the consequences are short-lived. When you rent an item of clothing yet, you’re able to experiment with styles you might not otherwise get to try on in the comfort of your own home mirror, and you’re able to discover items that might otherwise feel too risky to invest in.
You might end up turning an item you once rejected into a closet staple like Sarkar did.
“I chose a wrap dress through Armoire last year—something I always shied away from. To my surprise, I LOVED IT and now wear them almost every day.”
Krane has tried Le Tote and Armoire’s rental fashion services as a way to encourage herself to make bolder fashion statements that give her confidence to accomplish her goals at work, including winning pitches for multi-national brands. “It’s not too expensive or too crazy to order something and try it. If you don’t like it, you send it back immediately and get something else. It makes getting dressed a lot more fun.”
4- Outsource the stress
With four children under age 5 and leading a rapidly growing co-working space called The Riveter, Amy Nelson doesn’t have time to shop. She turned to rental fashion, including personal stylists, for help with clothing choices that were breastfeeding-friendly and still suitable for fundraising pitches and speaking events.
“The amazing stylists on the team telling me what suits me and what to take a chance on are great,” Nelson said. “When renting clothes, I say, pick a new, more daring piece every month or so that you want to try — and do it.”
5- Play around with different characters
Your hair: fancy blow-out or a sleek bun.
Your makeup: dewey naturals or total glam.
Your clothes: super edgy one day, soft and flowing the next.
Instead of stacking a closet with clothes that all give you the same general look, consider toying around with different types of clothing to tap into different aspects of your personality. A soft look might help you be extra understanding with a colleague who’s made a mistake one day, while a more striking look might make you feel emboldened to speak up when you otherwise wouldn’t.
Ultimately, fashion should serve as a vehicle through which you can present what really matters: yourself and your work. In a world where women’s words, behavior, and yes, clothing choices, are under constant observation, find a style that works for you and gives you the confidence needed to advance your career.
Ready to have a wardrobe that makes you feel confident? Take our 3-minute style quiz to get started!