Why Appearances Matter
You wouldn’t submit a report with typos and grammatical errors, so why settle for the sartorial equivalent of sloppy communication? Our appearance represents the brand we’re creating for ourselves, into which we want our superiors and co-workers to invest and believe. Conscious dressing is a major key to professional success. In fact, 90 percent of women executives questioned in a recent poll conducted by Ipsos Reid on behalf of Randstad feel that overall image is a factor that has an impact on their career progression, versus only 37 percent who feel that image affects men’s careers. So, as they say, image can be everything. When was the last time you worked on strengthening yours?
Keep reading to learn how to dress your best for seven common work scenarios.
You're Interviewing for a New Job
Best look: Sharp and tailored with some memorable flair
Why it works: Looking polished matters. Studies suggest that people who demonstrate a polished appearance are most highly rated with regard to competence. Wear pieces that fit properly and pay for tailoring if necessary; it’s worth it. Gravitate toward classic pieces and solid colors (note: classic, or looking timeless, is not the same as conservative, which can read as boring or stuffy). Then find a way to stand out by choosing one specific area to introduce a bit of style and flair into your outfit.
You're Starting a New Job
Best look: A signature style
Why it works: Think about what you want to be known for: Interesting glasses? Colorful shoes? Monochromatic outfits? Create a plan for your closet that is comfortable; appropriate for your specific office, industry and position; and allows you to look sharp on a daily basis -- then stick with it. Having a cohesive wardrobe not only creates a signature identity for you in the office, it also eliminates decision-making time in the morning. Invest in quality over quantity. (Men often learn this earlier than women, and we should follow their lead on this one.) Spend a little extra money and buy quality, classic pieces that will wear well over time.
You're Working in a Male-Dominated Office
Best look: Classic and feminine
Why it works: Professional women have infinitely more challenges than men when it comes to effective visual communication and self-presentation, so they need to be that much more hypervigilant. Curves, accessories, heel height, hem lengths, makeup – the list of everyday challenges goes on. However, that doesn’t mean you need to dress like men to compete with them. If you favor a more androgynous style, then stick with it. But for everyone else, embracing femininity in a male-dominated workplace — in a tasteful, not overly sexualized way — can be quite powerful.
You're Presenting to Clients or Investors
Best look: Fuss-free and impeccably groomed
Why it works: Wearing items that encourage fidgeting distracts from the overall quality of your presentation. Wearing fewer pieces can diminish adjustments, so from a simplicity standpoint, dresses are the clear winner. And never underestimate the power of grooming. When you’re presenting, all eyes are on you, so details really matter. Be sure your hands and nails are nicely groomed and set aside time for last-minute touch-ups to hair and makeup.
You're Presenting to Your Boss or Angling for a Promotion
Best look: Extra height
Why it works: Wearing heels in the office is not about sex appeal — it’s about how they transform your body and give an illusion of height (which is inherently more powerful than “looking sexy”). Research points to the significance of stature in the workplace, so heels can afford even relatively shorter individuals a subliminal sense of power. Stay away from impractical (and inappropriate), sky-high footwear. Even if you’re only comfortable in a small heel — like an Oxford or a boot with a 1- to 2-inch heel — it’s better than ballet flats, which look less polished when paired with most professional attire. And fashion aside, many female executives feel more powerful when they’re closer to the same height (or taller) than the men they’re competing against.
You're Leading Colleagues on a Project
Best look: A healthy glow
Why it works: Wearing some makeup has been proven to be positively rewarded in professional settings, and women who wear makeup in the workplace are perceived as more competent. Use it to your advantage, especially when you need to collaborate. We are naturally attracted to healthy looking people, and makeup can enhance that perception: A bit of mascara will give you a look of rested alertness, and a touch of color on your lips and cheeks warms your face, giving you a healthy glow.
You're Going to an After-Work Networking Event
Best look: Primetime professional
Why it works: Transitioning from day to night is an art form. The trick is to wear a neutral base and swap out more tailored daytime pieces for something slightly edgier or with softer lines for the evening. Adding slightly more dramatic makeup, a dressier shoe and some bold accessories is a great way to make a fast, seamless transition without the need to go home first.
Anna Akbari, Ph.D., is the Director of Content at Monogram, which offers news, fashion and lifestyle articles as told by the community, and she is the founder of Closet Catharsis, where she is the "thinking person's stylist." Sign up for a Monogram subscription and follow her on Twitter.