Last year, I ran a workshop on image and dressing for success. The women who came were from a mix of fields and the formality of their dress varied hugely. What amazed me was how many women felt that projecting a professional image did not apply to them, citing it as completely irrelevant. What do you think?
What Does Your Dress Sense Say about You?
There was an unspoken idea that if you do your work well, projecting a well-presented image is superfluous. Realistically though, even if you wear a lab coat or boiler suit for work, people will still make assumptions about you through your hair, makeup and posture even. Humans are very visual and pretending we do not judge one another based on some aspects of appearance, or indeed that we are above such scrutiny ourselves is a complete fallacy. Ask yourself, how do you decide who to sit next to in public transport in the split second after you board?
The clients I work with are ambitious women keen on career progression. Whilst we work on the basics around communication, leadership and management skills, personal presentation is also vital. If you want to be taken seriously or indeed want to be considered for promotions, you cannot rest on your laurels when it comes to your professional image. Put yourself mentally in the job you aspire to and "how would I dress now?" Take a clue from senior women around you as to their level of formality – obvious cleavage and bare shoulders never go down well with senior members of either gender -at best it is inappropriate, at worst threatening. Even jeans are a minefield -dark, ironed and paired with low heels if you must wear them, but probably not a good idea even on "dress down days". Linen or khaki trousers are a much safer "casual" alternative.
If you don’t wear make-up, you should consider it, if only for the sake of your bank balance. Studies show that women who wear make-up to work earn 20- 30% more money than their bare-faced colleagues. Unfair, I know, but it’s a game you have to play, even if you have two very different looks in and outside of work. I once knew a man who wore a pinstripe suit during the week only to show off a fetching Mohawk and body piercing when clubbing all weekend long. Maybe not your look, but even he knew that a sense of personal style speaks volumes in the workplace.
Top Tips for Polishing Your Look
1. Before you buy a single item, sort out your current wardrobe. Make three piles; one to keep, one to fix and one for the charity shop. Donate anything that is too big, too small or hasn’t been worn in over a year. Dress for Success is a great charity that donates business clothing to low- income women who are entering the workforce – a great way to help another burgeoning career woman. On your way there, take all the items that need fixing to a seamstress who can do all those fiddly alterations you were meaning to get to.
2. Buy investment pieces that will last: a dark wool trouser suit, a cotton white button down shirt, comfortable heels (Shoon specialises in what used to be a contradiction in terms – gorgeous comfortable shoes) and great winter coat in a wool and cashmere mix-cashmere for the softness, wool for longevity.
3. Invest in a good dark leather handbag which will hold unfolded A4 papers plus your diary. I’m a big fan of keeping your ensemble to just one bag, as a laptop case, a too small handbag plus briefcase and gym kit detract from a polished look.
4. When packing for business travel, stick to one neutral colour: either brown or black. Your clothes then all coordinate and shoes, handbags and belts multi-task for every outfit. Buy wheelie suitcase, ideally one small enough to fit the new regulations for the overhead compartment.