25 November 2007

Route to success

Shine by Dressing for Success

Dress for Success. Is that irrelevant in today's business world? How much importance do we place on "dressing up"' for work? Well I think in some instances - not enough.

What message does your image send? Do you feel confident in the way you present visually through what you wear? It seems that there is still a lot of confusion in the work place about how we should dress. I read a posting recently on small business website Flying Solo which detailed one guy's dilemma about what to wear to a client interview and possible photo shoot. To wear a tie or not to? Well the reaction from the comments posted were varied, from "I wear a funny bowtie to break the ice"' to "my best suit"' to "who cares?"'

How well do you understand the image you put across? Image is created by a lot of different ingredients acting together. Physical appearance, dress, voice, manner, the views you express or the fact you don't express any and the way you react to the people around you. These impressions are made instantly. Images are so powerful because however little you may like it they do say something true about your personality. It's no accident that you dress, talk and behave the way you do.

So what is your visual appearance like? Do you grab the first thing you see in the morning or put some thought into what is the most appropriate outfit for that day? Having an extensive wardrobe of all the latest fashions isn't really necessary. Establishing your own image and a strong sense of individual personality and style is the key. You may only need a few quality, signature pieces that reflect your individual style and that you can mix and match. You don't have to look different every day, you just need to look good and look professional.

Let's look at the scenario of work from home.

Get up and get dressed! Ditch the pj's and trackie daks. Put on something smart and comfortable. I've often read that it helps to have a separate work place in your home, a dedicated office phone line. Well it's the same with your personal brand. To be making calls, sending emails and acting in a professional way to run your business, means dressing in a professional way too. Now I don't mean you need a shirt and tie or a corporate outfit but choose clothes that make you feel like you're working. You must look smart not only in the eyes of the people you're around but your own as well.

Going out to meet a client? Dress appropriately for the occasion. Do your research. You wouldn't go to a client meeting without knowing something about the company. Find out how the boss dresses, that's a start, or the code of dress in that organisation and take it up a notch. After all you're there to win the client's business and that won't happen if you dress inappropriately or look like a slob.

Think about what they're looking for. If you're in finance, law or other professional services they want you to look like a credible, successful business person. You might be in IT or a creative service. Your potential client wouldn't expect to see you in a 3 piece suit. However does that mean you need to wear jeans and scruffy sneakers? Think about it, plan it out. You are part of the package that you're presenting to the client. People shouldn't judge us by our outward appearances, but of course they do.

I know a number of professional speakers, it's the industry I'm in. Let me share an example of two men, both $10,000 speakers. One works mostly with creatives yet has invested time and money into developing his image, finding the right cut to suit his body shape, wearing flattering colours, and choosing smart casual outfits. He looks like a $10,000 speaker. Another with a great reputation for the work he does with leading entrepreneurs still chooses to wear the tried (or maybe tired) and trusted jeans and black jacket. Mmmmm.

This scenario should be considered also by those that work in a slightly more casual workplace environment or have to endure casual work days. Jeans just don't cut it. They are what you wear when you are out and about at weekends or going out with friends at night.

Your appearance does label you; therefore it is crucial to get the right label! If your appearance shows that you care, people will recognise this. If you look like a slob, they begin to question your professionalism. It's not trivial to concentrate on your outward appearance. When you carefully select your wardrobe and create your look and personal style, you propel yourself forward by having a unique self brand.

Let's take a look at the corporate workplace.

Each workplace usually sets its own standards. However in the corporate environment there is an underlying code of dressing which is smart and professional. Suits have been the most acceptable form of dress in most industries with a trend today toward more casual wear particularly in IT and advertising and similar industries. Men have it easier than women in the matter of image. They at least have an example to follow. If everyone in the office wears suits there's no question they will do the same.

I think if you have one good working outfit for every day of the week that is all you really need. The idea is to mix and match and choose good, quality pieces. You can update with shirts, ties and accessories. What your clients or bosses want is someone who looks speaks and acts like they think someone in that position should speak or act. I think a woman or man who dresses smartly, elegantly and looks neat has a clear image of his or herself and what they are presenting to the outside world.

What do you think?

Sue Currie, the director of Shine Communications Consultancy and author of Apprentice to Business Ace - your inside-out guide to personal branding, is a business educator and speaker on personal branding through image and media. Sign up for free monthly tips on personal and professional PR at


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