There is no second chance at a first impression. In a meeting or conference environment, the first impression you present to others can often be as simple as your appearance. It is therefore vital that what you wear, indeed your appearance overall, is sending out the right message. Are you reflecting a self-assured, professional image that instills confidence… or are you losing from the very start?
Conveying a sense of business savvy through an impeccable look is not as daunting as it might sound. In essence, it is a mix of common sense combined with developing a business style that you feel comfortable wearing.
“I’d say the most important thing is fit. Nothing looks more unprofessional than turning up to a meeting or conference in an ill-fitting suit or a too-tight dress,” says freelance stylist Priscilla I’Anson. “Getting things tailored to fit you perfectly is so easy to do; I don’t understand why more people don’t do it.”
She adds that those who can’t afford to have tailor-made suits and other work apparel should at least have their clothes altered by a professional so that they fit properly. “Small things like the wrong sleeve or pant length can really make a difference.”
Eve Roth Lindsay, founder of Savvy Style, Colour Me Beautiful HK, a personal and corporate image consultancy, thinks that men have it easier than women when it comes to reflecting business acumen through appearance. “Men are blessed with the suit.
A well-fitting suit is a businessman’s best friend. Assert your presence with clean-cut lapels, collars, cuffs and a neat tie to show you know not only what you are doing but what you are about.”
An impeccable look goes beyond what you wear and extends to how you wear it… “so walk in your polished brogues with confidence and assurance,” advises Roth Lindsay. For women, she says a well-put-together look will be smart and tidy, whilst tying colour and stylish accessories into the mix will keep the outfit current and individual.
I’Anson suggests standing out from the crowd of black and grey that often dominates a meeting or conference.
“For women, colour is a really powerful tool. You will immediately convey confidence by sporting a pop of colour because you have dared to be different. It also instantly brightens up the face.”
A key part of Roth Lindsay’s consultations, for both men and women, is also centred around colour. She says knowing what colours suit you best can make or break an outfit and impact the impression conveyed.
Women have the added headache of makeup. Says professional makeup artist Rachel Wong, “You’ll want to look fresh, attractive and confident. You don’t need to be boring but you do need to fit in.” Other than having a consultation, she suggests that those who feel less comfortable wearing makeup should look around them.
“What makeup are the other women wearing? What does your mentor or someone who you respect or admire look like?” Ultimately, any makeup you do wear should deliver “the same strong, feminine, chic and simple look as your favourite business outfit. Business makeup is typically a blend of
This would involve using a 2-in-1 compact powder foundation, mascara, black or brown pencil eyeliner, earth-tone eyeshadows and a soft colour blush. “A touch of fresh and zesty lip colour such as red or coral shades is acceptable in the business world but watch out, some people feel that a strong lip colour looks severe.” For a safer option, Wong suggests finishing off your look with a tinted lipgloss. Making sure that you look your best all day is simply a matter of regular touch-ups.
Look good, feel good
There are differing views on whether or not an impeccable look really increases confidence, although most agree the key is to be true to one’s self. Wong says, “The right look can’t transform your personality but it might open a few doors for you. A fresh, polished look will make a good first impression. I suspect, though, that a lot of the benefits that come from clothes and makeup are indirect.”
The resulting confidence doesn’t come from the clothes and makeup but from feeling good about yourself because you like the way you look, and this translates into a more confident way of speaking and interacting. “Nothing beats self-confidence as a tool for leaving a charming and capable impression,” adds Wong.
Roth Lindsay believes confidence comes down to a combination of staying true to who you are as an individual, while at the same time maintaining professionalism. “Expressing your sense of style (in a setting-appropriate manner) will allow you to ooze confidence and authority, and your colleagues or clients will take you seriously.”
According to I’Anson: “It’s the wrong approach to think that the ‘right look’ will impact your personality. You should plan your outfits around your personality, because that’s what will make you feel most comfortable and, therefore, make you appear most confident.”
Of course, if you don’t feel that what you wear is stimulating confidence, then it is time to consult the experts, which is something marketing and PR consultant Katie McGregor did. She says the experience did make her feel more confident. “I have always felt a bit out of sync when it comes to being stylish. I used to have wardrobes full of unflattering, mismatched clothes and had nothing to wear.”
She sought Roth Lindsay’s advice on makeup, colour and style, and said that the increase in confidence started from the beginning. “Eve makes you feel wonderful about yourself, so if anyone is feeling down, this is a great present. And her advice and tips really worked. Since I have had clothes made in the colours and styles that suit me, I have had many complimentary comments.” And as we all know, a compliment does make you feel more confident.
“After my session, I was glad to go out and buy a new wardrobe. I also felt confident in choosing clothes and had quite a few things made because I could then get them made in the right colours and the right style to suit me best. When you know what colours and styles suit you, you also feel braver choosing clothes that make the right statement for the right occasion,” concludes McGregor.
“For everyday feel-good confidence, get to know the cuts, lengths, colours and materials best for you. You’ll be surprised at the difference this will make in your professional life,” says Roth Lindsay. When you look good, you feel good, and you carry yourself with more confidence. It’s that simple.
• Tailor/alter your apparel to fit your shape.
• Introduce some colour into every outfit.
• Avoid distracting prints or overly complicated embellishments.
• Wear proper undergarments – invest in a good foundation that is comfortable and flatters your figure.
• Wear appropriate accessories, such as a tasteful pair of earrings, a cocktail ring or necklac
• Tailor/alter your apparel to fit your shape.
• Keep your attire neat and clean.
• Avoid fabrics that wrinkle easily, such as linen.
• Invest in a suit that fits properly. Tailored, neat and well-fitting clothes create an air of power and authority; make sure your outfits are never too tight.
• Keep shirts with collars to wear on days when you leave your suit jacket or blazer behind.
• Look up to your boss: dress to their standards to show you mean business.
• Wear small heels to give added height and promote a confident posture.
• Ensure tights, blouses and jewellery are impeccable; mend or replace damaged or stained garments.
• Add small, tasteful accessories to a skirt suit.
• Always have a classic white button-down shirt on standby.
• Deeper solid colours will make you appear more professional.
• Buy a microfibre suit for all-year wear. These fabrics look good even after having to travel some distance to a meeting.
• Look up to your boss: there is no clearer sign of how you should be dressing than looking at what your superiors have on.
• Finish your look with a smart leather briefcase that doesn’t cut corners on style and finish.
• Remember trends in fashion come and go very quickly. Follow trends carefully and don’t overbuy trendy items. Spend less on new fashion items and more on classic suit pieces.
• Whenever you try a new makeup range, set aside a couple of hours at the weekend and experiment. If you are not confident with makeup, there are lots of makeup tutorials on YouTube.
• Using makeup every day can quickly become expensive. Palladio Cosmetics from the US has an affordable range well suited for everyday use that can be bought online.
• Grooming is important. Hair, beard and eyebrows should be trimmed regularly.
• Practise at least a basic skincare routine: cleanse, tone and moisturise.
• If you feel you look a little pale, use a tinted moisturiser for a natural healthy look.
THE RIGHT OUTFIT EVERY TIME
• Follow the dress code
• If no dress code, take note of the location/activity
• Select clothing that you feel confident wearing
• Better to slightly overdress than underdress
• Ask colleagues/superiors for advice
• If you are presenting: a touch of colour will maintain audience attention; vertical lines, such as pinstripe will naturally draw attention up to the face; let your voice do the talking so avoid loud clothing
DEFINING DRESS CODES
Dress codes can vary depending on the type of business, but here is some advice for corporate business day wear:
• Business formal – traditional full-suited business attire with absolutely no compromising. Women can also wear a dress or dress pants (with tailored shirt) and matching jacket.
• Business casual – a dressed-down version of traditional business attire as opposed to casual dressed up. For example, a suit with no tie; or blazer as opposed to a suit jacket for men, or a shirt and trousers/skirt (not short) or a shift dress for women (but bring a jacket just in case).
• Smart casual – dress up your corduroys or chinos with a smart shirt for men. For women as above, minus the jacket.
• Contemporary business casual – allows for stylish jeans with a collared shirt, or smart top for women, no jacket.
UNPROFESSIONAL BUSINESS ATTIRE FOR WOMEN
Source: Linda Thomas AICI CIP Powerful Appearance
UNPROFESSIONAL BUSINESS ATTIRE FOR MEN
Source: Linda Thomas AICI CIP Powerful Appearance
Eve Roth Lindsay
www.aici.org (Lists stylists by country and some useful links)
www.conselle.com/style-scale.php (an interesting article on business dress codes and confusion)
www.powerfulappearance.com (articles and a free tips newsletter)