Getting Dressed for Work

Most self-employed translators get to work from home and can wear whatever they want to work, which is fantastic. After years of working in-house (Judy), it's certainly nice not to have to get dolled up by 8 a.m., but the question of whether you should be completely dressed and looking professional before you work from home where no one sees you is a topic that comes up quite frequently on listservs. It's a question that Judy also gets from her students at UC San Diego-Extension every quarter, so we figured we'd address it here. The answer is: it depends. 

We don't always dress like this.
Some colleagues like to get up, take their shower, and get dressed in clothes that make them feel comfortable and professional, similar to what they would wear if they worked in a traditional office environment. Others put on comfy lounge pants, yoga outfits or pajamas. After all, the client can't see you, so it doesn't matter what you look like. However, we do think there is, for some of us, a sort of correlation between what you are wearing and how you feel. We do like to get dressed first thing in the morning, after having our tea and reading the paper, but we don't always wear a suit. We are also interpreters, so if we have an interpreting assignment say, mid-morning, then it makes sense to put on that suit at 8 a.m., translate for a few hours, and then head to court (or the conference, or whatever the assignment might be). If we have no client appointments nor interpreting assignments scheduled for that day, we usually put on some business casual outfit that could quickly be converted into more formal dress (by adding a black jacket, for instance) if we had to leave the house for an impromptu meeting or assignment. Other times, we like to head to a 2 p.m. yoga or kickboxing class, and those days, it makes sense to put on our workout gear. We are not known for working in our pajamas, although that does sound tempting. For some reason, we like to be a bit more dressy, even if it's at home. Our one secret weapon when it comes to dressing is that we always keep a black jacket on hand (Judy keeps one in her car). We think it's essential to have one good-looking black jacket that's been recently dry cleaned and has no missing buttons. There's nothing quite like putting on a black jacket -- it makes us feel instantly professional. We like to think of it as our business game face. It's hard not to feel like you are "on" when you are wearing a fitted suit, even if it's just the jacket.

What about you, dear colleagues? Do you get dressed for work most of the time? We'd love to hear your comments!


Alison Hughes on November 18, 2013 at 12:44 AM said...

I always shower and dress, mostly in leggings and a big jumper. I have however been known to change into something more glamerous if I'm struggling for inspiration with a make-up/fashion text.. I needed to feel the part!

Alice in Translation on November 18, 2013 at 7:28 AM said...

I've found out that wearing casual clothing makes me feel more focused, confident and professional, so that's my choise of outfit.
Besides, I'm always ready for a coffee break ;)

Jesse Tomlinson on November 18, 2013 at 9:51 AM said...

Thanks for your post! You are brave to put on a suit and translate for a couple of hours before going out, now that is dedication and willpower. For working at home, I agree that a pyjama outfit is not the most inspiring dress and I think it does have an influence on what you are doing. When I know I will be at home all day, I (try to) wear neat and tidy casual clothes. I recently had a baby and for a little while was wearing pyjama-type pants every day that were very comfortable. On the day I started wearing real pants again, my husband said "Wow! You look great! You don't look like some sick person hanging around here." This was a great motivator for me. Moral of the story: it's important to make an effort. I can't remember who it was who said "When you are feeling your very worst is when it's important to look your very best".

Corinne McKay on November 18, 2013 at 10:21 AM said...

I agree, I get this question *a lot* from beginning translators! When I worked at home, I was heavily into yoga clothes, or whatever was on top of the clean laundry heap that day. Maybe not surprisingly, over time I started to get kind of depressed and unhappy working at home! I love a lot of things about my co-working office, but one of the main things is that it's an incentive to wear something other than yoga pants. If I have a cool scarf or a favorite pair of dress shoes, it's fun to wear them to the office.

Also, I have become a huge fan of suits for conferences and meetings. If you're kind of fashion-disabled (which I am), a suit is the perfect solution because it's like a uniform: just throw it on, and you're set. I even have a set of 2 "mix and match" suits that I take to conferences. I just think that in general, you really can't go wrong being one notch above what most people are wearing.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. I think there is something about the way you are dressed and the way you feel but on the other hand when working at home it´s good to wear something comfortable like a pair of shorts and t-shirt. :)

Oliver Lawrence (Incisive Translations) on November 19, 2013 at 4:26 AM said...

I find there is a correlation of sorts between what I wear (and, by extension, my body language) and my level of professional focus.

I only dust off the suit for trade fairs, preferring to wear something casual - but never pyjamas, which could lead to an overly casual mentality.

I also stand up when calling clients on the phone, to cultivate a feeling of assertiveness, especially if there might be a bone of contention in the air, not that that happens very often, of course.

Dave Powell said...

334When I retired from the Army and starting freelancing, I LOVED not having to put on a uniform. I would just throw on my jammy pants and go to work. But, after a while, I returned to showering and getting dressed. I found that it worked more as a "switch" that told me it was time to go to work. Being in "lounge wear" made me a little too lackadaisical. Of course, I'm middle-aged, so I'm allowed! Love your blog.
Warm regards,
Dave Powell

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on November 19, 2013 at 10:13 AM said...

@Jesse: Great to meet you and baby Seneca in San Antonio! And thanks for reading and for commenting. Yoga pants are actually quite cute, we think, but the lesson is a good one: being dressy is never a bad thing.

@Corinne: Yes, the dress issue seems to be a source of anxiety for many beginners, but it doesn't have to be. You are so right in terms of co-working... it really forces you to get dressed. And our friend Corinne is the inspiration behind our own (well, Judy's) co-working experience. It's really nice to get out of the house for sure.

Ah, power suits: we love them very much. They do make things so much easier, don't they? We always have several on hand that are sort of our uniform, and they always make us feel good!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on November 19, 2013 at 10:14 AM said...

@1GlobalTranslators: Exactly. Comfy is good, but one can also be comfortable and stylish, and the way you look sure does influence the way you feel. :)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on November 19, 2013 at 10:14 AM said...

@Oliver: Thanks for reading and for commenting. We love your tip about standing up to phone customers. It's an excellent idea indeed! We might just have to try it.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on November 19, 2013 at 12:13 PM said...

@Dave Powell: Many thanks for your comment, and how fantastic that you've already had a whole other career. We hope you are enjoying freelancing. Thanks for your kind comment about our blog; we really appreciate it. And we agree: it feels good to have a shower and be properly dressed (however you want to define that) before going to work!

Lydia said...

I have to take my children to school before I start work, so I always get dressed! I wear casual clothes most days (jeans, leggings or skirts, slippers in winter, flip-flops in summer). Some days if my husband takes them to school, I will work for several hours in my pyjamas before showering and getting dressed. Sometimes I translate in my pyjamas at midnight. Quite honestly, it doesn't affect my work one way or another :)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on November 20, 2013 at 11:22 AM said...

@Lydia: That's right, if you have kids to drop off at school, that certainly forces you to get dressed. Thanks for your comment, and how great that you are able to work in any outfit without it affecting your work one way or another (makes sense). For us, sometimes when the suit is too tight, our concentration suffers, but we digress. :) Thanks for reading!

Unknown on November 20, 2013 at 6:33 PM said...

Thanks for the post! I tend to get up and get dressed anyway for classes. I'm not a suit person, or heels (unless it's for a night out). Casual, but nice, that's my motto.
I do find myself coming home and changing into my yoga pants for some comfort. I think getting dressed and starting the day makes all the difference than starting in pj's. Psychology I guess!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on November 22, 2013 at 4:04 PM said...

@Daniela: We agree -- comfy is good. It's important to feel both comfy and professional. We used to not like suits many years ago, but now we wear them all the time. They can be comfortable if you buy the right one, and it's nice to have a uniform to just grab and go. That said, we love our yoga pants, too! Thanks for reading and for commenting and so great to meet you in San Antonio!

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