Earlier this week, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with the Year 11 students of John Gray High School around the subject of “Dress for Success”. The morning was colourful and animated and hopefully somewhat informative for the kids! With school still to finish, it will be a little while before they find themselves in interview scenarios for professional roles. However, as internships are becoming more and more prevalent on-island, it’s an important topic to cover – sooner rather than later. And, it is a topic that often confuses people.
Cayman is interesting, in that the professional dress code here is traditionally much more laid-back than our international counterparts. However, a more laid back dress code is not an invitation to roll out of bed and into the first ball of clothes you find on the floor. So, listen up… and I will tell you what I told the lovely Year 11 (important stuff coming here guys ).
Making the right impression at work/interview isn’t difficult, if you keep in mind some basic points when buying clothes and dressing for the office:
- Presentation counts and grooming trumps style.
- Dress as you want to be seen: Serious, professional, upward-bound and ready to meet clients. We’re dressing for the job we want peeps, not the one we have.
- A good rule of thumb for interview is to ascertain your prospects dress-code and then dress one step up.
- And, on Fridays, “casual” does not mean slovenly. The crustys really do ruin it for everyone.
If your office/prospective place of work has a written dress code, you’re away on a hack, and you can “dress by numbers”, so to speak. However, in true island-style, many offices won’t have written standards here, and it’s up to you to get it right. So, here’s the rule of thumb: Understated elegance beats “flashy does trashy” 8 days a week. Keep it traditional, kids.
For the boys… traditional means:
- A button-down shirt. Or, what we would just call a shirt, in Ireland.
- Polished shoes.
- A blue, black or gray jacket. (Interview/client meetings only – most workplaces here typically don’t require jackets on the daily).
- Trousers that complement the jacket (shirt).
- You can’t go wrong with a conservative tie. (Alas, this rules out flamingoes, hula girls and anything to do with sports – bummer).
And, before I forget – Dooooon’t forget the socks. Here’s a tip for you lovely style-impaired Y-chromosome types the world-over: get yourself a dozen pairs of identical black or navy socks. THAT WAY – you can pluck two at random from your drawer on any given morning and you always have a matching pair! Genius.
Blue and white shirts are your best pals too. Although… perhaps, in the height of summer months, you boys will need to steer clear of the blue. It can be very unforgiving if you’re a little hot and bothered. Pink is easier to work with here.
For the ladies, the traditional look includes:
- A skirt that hits just above the knee, trousers, or tailored capris.
- Simple jewelry.
- Minimal and understated make up. You want to look groomed but nothing that will distract. Not too much eyeshadow, eyeliner, lipstick. Basically, not too much anything.
- Skip the perfume too, especially during a job interview or the first few days at a new job.
- Polished flats are definitely okay for Cayman or moderate heels. Keep your platformed heels for cutting a rug in Friday night Obar.
- Pantyhose may be the office standard. You can ask.. or just look around. That works too.
Remember; you’re not dressing to attract attention in the same way say that you might on a girls’ weekend in Miami, you are dressing to underscore your professionalism and your competence. Some young workers don’t understand the difference and this can damage your career. Getting it right is particularly crucial at interview stage. Overcoming a bad first impression is about as easy as un-ringing a bell or parking in Georgetown.
It’s also better to overdress for day one of your new job. Of course, there’s always one highly entertaining individual that will pull you up on it (these types of people typically suffer from chronic insecurity, by the way, and are to be ignored). Either way, when it comes, take that petty quip on the chin – it certainly beats your new boss thinking your not taking your work or this opportunity seriously.
Bottom line….? Rightly or wrongly; appearance creates credibility. It just does.
Unsurprisingly, Mark Twain said it best: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.”
So, don’t go naked (or inappropriately dressed)…OK?