Clothing and Style

career clothing power style style tips success Jan 28, 2024

The clothing you wear can help bring out your power, or it can undermine your success. People form immediate opinions and judgments, both positive and negative, upon first seeing you. Since you do not get a second chance to make a great first impression, you must do it right the first time. 

As Anne Hollander wrote in her book Seeing Through Clothes, published by Viking Press in 1978, "Despite all ideological attempts to transcend the mode in clothes, it is the lust of the eye for change, the power of the eye to make instant associations, and its need to demand and to create and combine images that hold clothing to significant and delicate shifts of dynamic visual form." 

Deliberate, discerning style choices can enhance your ability to look like the leader you are and can give you the confidence required to earn the respect of others. 

One of the most important considerations for you or any leader is to dress appropriately for the venue and demographic of the people to whom you will be presenting. The First Lady of the United States, Michele Obama, is a good example. She wears haute couture dresses while hosting White House affairs. However, when she meets with schoolchildren, she wears casual clothing from more affordable stores such as the Gap.® I recommend that you do advance research to determine the age and generation of your client or audience. It is no fun to find yourself feeling out of place because you are either overdressed or underdressed for a venue or occasion. Do your homework. 

Janice, a client of mine, interviewed for a top-level executive position with a company specializing in high-end athletic gear. The company is managed and staffed by young, hip people in their 20s and 30s, spanning Generations X and Y. Janice is approaching 50, and she had a conservative wardrobe. Together, we developed a more contemporary, fashion-forward style, and Janice felt comfortable and confident in her new look. The company was equally impressed. 

Linda, a skilled executive coach and consultant with an MBA, was in her mid-thirties when she came to me for assistance with her image. A lovely, petite, blonde-haired woman with an hourglass figure, she found herself not being taken seriously by her clients who were at least a decade older than she was. It was necessary for her to present herself in a more mature and professional manner. Our goal was to give her a more tailored wardrobe that would elicit the respect required for her professional credibility. Given her proportions, and the fact that the human eye tends to be drawn to imbalances, we played down her shapely body and chose accessories that were understated and classic. Her transformation and new look increased the level of confidence she needed to attract the business she wanted, and she was well on her way to filling her consulting practice. 

Both Linda and Janice’s stories exemplify how changing your wardrobe can have a positive effect on your self-confidence and on how others perceive you. Here are some image tips for you to consider as a savvy leader: 

  • Dress according to your venue and target audience. 

  • Your clothing should showcase you, not scream for attention. Think of yourself as the artwork and your clothing as the frame. 

  • The human eye is drawn toward imbalances. Dress to downplay any physical attribute that calls too much attention to itself. 

  • Wear your best colors to command attention, gain credibility and enhance your self-confidence. If you do not know which colors are best for you, consider hiring a color expert or an image consultant. 

  • Be prepared! Plan what you will wear in advance of any important meetings or dates. Last minute surprises, such as a stain or rip, can be stressful. 

  • Footwear can make or break an outfit. Keep your shoes shined, well maintained and in style.
  • Update your hairstyle—keep your cut and color current. 

  • Your accessories should complement your outfit, not overpower it. 
  • A great handbag or briefcase can complete your ensemble to perfection.

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