Let that sink in. You’ve heard the phrase “put your best foot forward”. Well, let’s talk about how we can put our best physical self forward in a business setting.
The onus is on us to present ourselves as professional, respectable, and powerful. Whether we like it or not, appearances do matter. They are the first impression people get of us, so let’s craft our appearance to give off the right impression.
Clearly, qualities like work ethic, competency, and professionalism matter immensely. But also people do, in fact, take cues about who we are and our aspirations in the work place from how we present ourselves. Think of how you dress as an aspect of personal branding.
Note that I come at this subject from the perspective of a very traditional corporate office environment. If you work in a more creative, artistic, or relaxed environment, you might have a bit more leeway with your work uniform. But some basic principles still apply.
1. Do be authentic to yourself.
I am not a believer that you must dress to conform in an office space. I am a believer that you should dress in a relatively modest, office-appropriate manner. But within those guidelines, you do you!
If you prefer color, then wear color. If you prefer heels, then wear heels. If you like to wear a bold lipstick, then just keep the rest of your makeup fairly natural. Just balance statement pieces with more conservative, neutral pieces. Everything in moderation.
As Polonius so famously declared, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Being true to yourself is an admirable leadership quality. So practice it in all ways, including how you dress.
2. Do invest in quality, staple pieces.
As a business woman, you likely are smart with how you spend your money. There are certainly ways to penny pinch, but your business wardrobe is not one of them. Though the cost may seem like a lot up front, in reality you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck. If the item is high-quality, you’ll be able to wear it many times over many years, making the cost per wear low.
Think quality over quantity. When shopping, pay attention to the materials and craftsmanship of the garments you purchase. Then once you buy quality items, take proper care of them. Have them tailored, have them professionally cleaned regularly as needed, hang them on velvet hangers (just say no to wire hangers!), take your shoes to a cobbler when they need to be polished or resoled. Basic care will go a long way in extending the life of your clothes and shoes!
Action item: If you don’t already have a trusted tailor, find one! Fit is everything! You want your clothes to fit not too tight, not too loose, not too long, not too short, but just right. And a good tailor will help you achieve that.
3. Don’t wear open-toed shoes.
Speaking of shoes… I don’t know what it is, but something about open-toed shoes is very off-putting in the office place. Save that for the beach, for the weekend, for the night out, or really anywhere else but the office.
I’m less concerned with if you wear heels or flats, pointy-toe shoes or rounded-toe shoes, but I do think you should stick to closed-toe shoes.
Now, if you do insist on wearing open-toed shoes, make sure your feet are well-groomed.
4. Don’t show too much skin.
I suggest being cognizant of this in two particular ways.
(1) Pay attention to your skirt or dress length.
The right length is critical! Dresses and skirts should at least graze the top of your knee. Keep in mind that when you sit in a chair, your dress or skirt will automatically rise up some, making it seem shorter. Be aware of any slits your clothing might have as well. Never choose pieces with super high slits.
(2) Don’t show cleavage. It’s just not appropriate. Along those lines, make sure tops are not at all see-through. And make certain that undergarments are not visible.
Some might add a third rule about not showing too much skin, and that’s the arms. Some stringent office guidelines often prohibit sleeveless tops or require a sweater or jacket over such. I’m not as much a stickler on this one, but then again it’s often a practically good idea to wear a sweater or jacket, as offices tend to be cold.
Always be sure to consult your employee handbook for specific dress code rules for your office.
5. Don’t overdo your makeup.
Like most of these tips (and most things in life!), moderation is key. If you like a bold lip, feel free to go for it. But keep everything else very natural. Avoid overly dramatizing yourself with things like false eyelashes, smoky eyeshadow, or an abundance of bronzer. Use your makeup to enhance your natural look.On the subject of make-up, always keep a mirror at your desk to double check yourself before you go into meetings. Make sure you don’t have lipstick on your teeth, any make-up smudges, or food in your teeth. Likewise, try to keep a toothbrush and toothpaste handy just in case.