Dressing for success is not a new concept. The clothing you wear can have an adverse affect on your career. Women have a particularly hard time – with more business clothing options, comes more opportunities to make fashion mistakes. As Dolly Parton said, “It cost a lot to look this cheap.”
Perceived Image is Everything
The image you present should make your prospects and clients feel comfortable with who you are. Often you will be working in their offices, interfacing with their company personnel.
There are three areas of professional presence – Visual, Vocal and Verbal. They are the communication signals we send to other people. The visual is what we look at (ie: dress, body language and facial expression). The vocal is your voice. The verbal is the words you choose.
What is most interesting is that these three signals are far from equally weighted. The visual component has the most initial impact. Think of it as the packaging. Would you buy a bar of soap that has the wrapper torn?
Here are guidelines for women putting together their professional wardrobe.
* Never wear low cut or sexy garments or anything too frilly or girlish.
* Check stockings for runs and hide slip and bra straps.
* Avoid designer labels that show.
* Limit jewelry; nothing noisy or dangling.
* Polished nails should be freshly polished, not chipped. Avoid overly long nails.
* Keep lipstick blotted and limit make-up and perfume.
* Make sure you have no visible facial hairs.
* Keep your clothing clean and well-pressed.
* Make sure that your clothes fit. If your body changes, so should the clothes.
* Keep your shoes polished and make sure the heels and soles are in good condition.
* Wear clean eyeglasses; never wear sun-glasses or tinted glasses indoors.
The Basic Styles
* The skirt suit or pantsuit – This should be the mainstay of your business professional wardrobe. A suit with a single-breasted jacket is more formal and more conservative than one with a double-breasted jacket. A double-breasted jacket should always be buttoned. The jacket, skirt and pants shouldn’t be mixed with other outfits.
* One-or two-piece dress – Can be worn alone or with a jacket.
The best color for suits, jackets, skirts are Black, Bright blue, Navy, Taupe, Grey, Burgundy, Brown and Red (for jackets). Pastel color can be appropriate in warm climates, however they often lack power.
* For blouses, best color are Red, Turquoise, Emerald green, Fuchsia, White, Off-white, Pink, Burgundy, Beige, Tan and Grey.
* For dresses, go for Grey, Navy, Burgundy, Beige, camel, Tan, Red, Pink or rose.
* Shoes should come in color of Black, Navy, Burgundy and Taupe. Avoid red, pink, rose, yellow and white.
* Scarves should tie the out together so select color from the suit or dress.
Watch The Accessories
* Belts – They should be leather and should co-ordinate with your shoes.
* Shoes – Go for classic leather pumps. Shoes should be darker than the color of your hemline. Two-inch heels are recommended. Avoid sandals.
* Scarves – Silk (100 percents) is the only choice. Other fabrics do not knot or tie as well.
* Hosiery – You can’t go wrong with neutral or flesh-toned. Do not wear dark stockings with light shoes.
* Jewelry – Don’t overdo your jewelry. Limit rings to one per hand. Wear the best watch you can afford. Pearls add elegance to any business suit.
* Handbag/Briefcase – Leather is preferred. Best colors are black, brown and burgundy. Women can carry either a hard-sided or a soft-sided briefcase.
* Avoid designer labels on the outside of accessories or clothing.
Basic of Business Casual
Many companies today have “dress-down” and business casual days. As an outside professional visiting the firm, this does not necessarily apply to you. Unless you are requested to wear business casual attire, come dressed professionally. You are representing yourself as well as your company.
Business casual clothing can be broken down into two primary areas – “Classic Casual” and “Smart Casual”. Classic Casual is a step down from “business professional”; the clothing is still structured.
Acceptable Classic Casual
* Sweaters and jackets
* Shells and blouses
* Closed-toe shoes
“Smart Casual” is a step down from Classic Casual, where the jacket is gone and fabrics can be soften and less structured.
Acceptable Smart Casual
* Long skirts and slacks
* Stockings and closed-toe shoes
* Collared golf shirts
* Sweaters and sweater sets
* Some denim (no jeans)
Appropriate business casual clothing for women typically don’t include the items listed below, which I refer to as “dress down” or “weekend wear”. This may vary, however, based on corporate guidelines, climate and type of job. For off-site meetings and “resort ware,” the guidelines are more relaxed. However, always remember that it is still business.
* T-shirts and sleeveless tops
* Sandals and sneakers
* Torn clothing of any type
* Sun dresses
* Leggings or other tights
* Sweatpants and sweatshirts
* Cropped clothing
* Anything showing too much skin
Before You Buy
Before you make a purchase, ask yourself these six questions. If you are in doubt, don’t buy the item. You want to buy clothes that look good and feel goon on.
1) Does the garment fit? Check to see if it’s too tight or too large. Don’t buy “your size”. Buy the size that fits.
2) Can you sit down and not have the buttons pull in front?
3) Did you use a three-way mirror to check front, back and side views?
4) Will you be able to wear the garment often?
5) Does if complete your wardrobe?
6) Does the garment look good?
By Marjorie Brody, MA, CSP, CMC