Feb 26, 2014 0 Share

Dressing for Success

Man in suit and tie in front of rack of clothes.

As a special educator, I have had ample opportunity to consider the process of Transition to adulthood for individuals on the autism spectrum from a multitude of perspectives. I am amazed at the upheaval that arose over what I thought would be the simplest of discussion topics among my senior class of students—how to dress professionally. After all, it’s not even that complicated, right? Compared to understanding the economics of the current job market or how to find affordable housing, knowing how to dress appropriately for work should be a piece of cake! As it turns out, this seemingly basic employability skill seems to be a hot-button issue.

I felt the need to open this particular Pandora’s Box when the issue of appropriate workplace apparel surfaced for a student entering a new intern placement. This student was being provided with a uniform by his job site and he looked quite the gentleman in his new, well-fitting attire. I was duly impressed. I was then disheartened when he reported for his off-campus job the next day—at a long-held placement—and he was back to technically meeting expectations but looking quite slovenly. He failed to understand my concerns. After all, he was following the rules about the type of shirt and pants and shoes he was supposed to wear. He referred me to the Student Employee Handbook (which I wrote). He was meeting expectations … well, except for the part about not having a belt on … but wait, that wasn’t IN the handbook, so why did he need one? Pointing out that his pants were falling down every time he took a few steps forward was not the answer he was expecting, apparently. As it turned out, he was the tip of the iceberg. I spent several days with a critical eye turned on this student and his peers, particularly those on the verge of hearing Pomp and Circumstance. The next time the students heard from me on the topic, they were clearly less than thrilled.

So what did I tell them? What sage words of wisdom did I pass along to these youngsters? The lecture went something like this:

  • Clothes need to fit. Clothes that we wear to work HAVE to fit.
  • Clothes need to be wrinkle-free, and that means you probably should not roll up your work clothes and stuff them in a bag and carry them around for a few hours like that before changing into them.
  • Pants you wear to work should not be made of denim, unless your boss says it’s okay to wear jeans.
  • Clothes need to start out clean and stay that way, and be washed after you wear them the first time.
  • If there is a uniform you are expected to wear to work, there is no excuse to not wear that uniform. If you think there IS an excuse, then it is something you need to discuss with your boss before reporting for work, not when you report for work.
  • Your clothes need to be appropriate for weather conditions (shorts in February are NEVER a good idea).
  • When your boss expects you to be clean-shaven, it is not acceptable to point out to the boss that so-and-so doesn’t have to shave when he goes to work (at a different location) so why should you?
  • Perhaps the biggest piece of advice on how to dress for success—making sure you are meeting wardrobe expectations is YOUR job as an adult, not your mom’s and/or dad’s. They may still be ready and willing to make excuses for your attire, but it is time to stop letting them.

Suffice it to say that the more I learn, the more I need to learn, which I suppose is not an unfamiliar lesson to most of us in the adult world. I find myself at times overwhelmed with the lessons I am going to run out of time to teach, especially when I would have thought they would be the first lessons mastered and generalized. Regardless, while those caps and gowns have been ordered, they are not on-site yet, so perhaps this part of the transition to adulthood is not a lost cause just yet!