Your Professional Image

“Style is a way of saying who you are without having to speak”  – Rachel Zoe

With the fantastic news on the two vaccines, hopefully this year life should start returning to normal. For many of us this will mean working at least part of the week from an office and meeting in person with colleagues, suppliers and clients.

Stylish business woman
Pink suit from Hobbs – You don’t need to wear black to look professional.

This is a great time to be a woman in business. Companies are keen to employ and promote women but you need to make it easy for them to recognise your value and potential by creating a strong personal brand. If you spent much of 2020 working from home in loungewear or just dressing waist-up for those Zoom meetings, you may well need to up your style game.

Over recent years, businesses have increasingly adopted a more relaxed dress code allowing us more choice in what we wear and more scope to express our personal style. This is great news for those who know how to dress well as it can give you a professional edge.

Many professional women I work with are ambitious and talented but simply not that interested in clothes. They want to look good and project a professional image but feel that they don’t have time or the know-how to make the right choices. Add to this the fact that they know a woman’s appearance is judged more harshly than a man’s and it’s no wonder many find deciding what to wear to work downright stressful. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Dressing well for business is simply a case of understanding what suits you, your personal brand, company culture and the image you want to project. It’s perfectly possible to build a flexible capsule business wardrobe that meets all these requirements.

Presentable versus Promotable

As a minimum, your working wardrobe should make you look presentable; if not, you are almost certainly hindering your career prospects.

To look presentable, your clothing should at least meet the following criteria:

  • Fit properly and flatter your figure – items that don’t show a lack of self-awareness
  • Be clean, crease free and in a good state of repair – if not, you will look like you’re not in control, possibly even unkempt.
  • Be appropriate for your role and the occasion – inappropriate clothing will distract from your message
  • Be current – anything dated will make you look out of touch

If you’re ambitious though, you’ll want your wardrobe should work positively in your favour to enhance your professional image and make you look more promotable. How is this achieved?

Start by thinking of three words you would like your  managers, colleagues and clients to use to describe you.  These will differ depending on your role but might include any of the following: professional, organised,  creative, reliable, inspirational, innovative, detail-orientated, forward-thinking etc

Now, taking into account the industry you work in, your role and seniority, think how you might convey these qualities through what you wear. For example, if you are an ambitious young woman in the early years of  your career and want to emphasise your professionalism and reliability, you may choose to dress fairly conservatively to counterbalance your youth and relative inexperience and to add gravitas. However, as a woman who is mid-career and has concerns about being “written off”, you could use your wardrobe to demonstrate that you are forward-thinking and relevant.

How does your wardrobe measure up?

Casual dress code
Jeans and a tee may be acceptable in your workplace but this outfit from Boden will give you a more professional edge.

To find out how well your wardrobe is working for you, try on at least three of your typical workwear outfits (including shoes, bags and jewellery) and take a critical look at yourself in a full length mirror.

The first thing to ask yourself is whether your outfits meet the Presentable criteria above. If they don’t, you owe it to yourself to take action because they are undermining your professional credibility. Assuming they do at least meet the basic criteria though, consider:

  • Do they support the image you want to convey (ie those key words you selected)?
  • Do they look “put together” or somewhat random?
  • Do they make you look and feel confident?

If the answer to any of the above is “no”, think about how they can be  tweaked to rectify the situation. For example, whilst wearing black trousers and a white blouse may be appropriate (if a little dull!) if you want to appear reliable or “a safe pair of hands”, it’s a poor choice for someone keen to demonstrate their creativity. In that case, you might want to pair the trousers with more unexpected colour such as emerald and / or add some interesting jewellery to give it some personality and individuality.  If the main problem is that your outfits look a bit uncoordinated, adding an accessory such as a scarf or belt in a colour that already features in part of your outfit, can pull your look together.

Golden Rules

Whatever your company dress code, if you want to get on, you will do well to follow the following rules:

  • Don’t wear anything that could be considered loungewear – you are at work!
  • Buy the best you can afford – clothes are an investment in your career
  • Pay attention to grooming and personal hygiene
  • Wear a little make-up – studies have shown you’re considered more professional if you do
  • Dress at least as smartly as your clients
  • Dress for the job you want next

Having a well thought out, flexible working wardrobe takes the stress out of getting dressed and means you can get down to business knowing that your image is working for, rather than against, you.

If you would like help in developing an attractive, credible and authentic professional image or have staff members who would benefit from some advice, I’d be delighted to help. You can find out more by clicking here, or just give me a call on 07703 405106.