An Image that Means Business by Susan Hill
Way back in the 1980s, much was written about the image of women in business. Females were just beginning to fill management roles starting in the 1960s and ’70s, and the groundbreaking book, Dress for Success, found millions of devotees. This fashion bible instructed women to dress strategically to be taken seriously, in blouses with bows (the feminine power tie!), skirted business suits, closed-toed shoes and strictly limited jewelry. The photos seem laughable now, but the rules were akin to religious doctrine then: women had better suit up to make it to the boardroom. Dial it forward a few decades, and what’s changed? Obviously, styles have, and it’s been widely noted that the workplace has become more casual. But in this second decade of the new millennium, women still need to be aware – in different ways than men – of their professional image.
- Dress professionally. This means different things to different professions, but if you need guidance, take a look at the people who are leaders in your organization or profession, and model your dress after theirs. If your role models wear suits, invest in some good interchangeable pieces to polish your look. If the look is button-up shirts, buy some crisp tops to mix and match with skirts or pants.
- Bottom line. Closed-toed or peep-toed mid-heeled shoes are best; strappy and stiletto looks are business-inappropriate as well as downright dangerous when you must run to the next meeting. Mid-heeled boots are practical and look great in any length below the knee.
- It’s not my party. You may think it’s unfair or sexist, but it’s true that women can’t show very much skin without creating an unbusiness-like impression. Save the tight knits, cleavage and bare arms or shoulders for clubbing, not working.
- Gilding the lily. A long necklace or dramatic pin can add flair to a jacket or top. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright was famous for her statement brooches that she used to send signals to diplomats and heads of state. Glittering evening accessories don’t add to your professional image. Long dangly earrings and jangly bracelets are fun and cute, but distracting at work.
- Firm foundation. Oprah has said it, and I can affirm from personal experience: the majority of American women are wearing the wrong bra. Get yourself to any major department store lingerie department and have a professional fitting if you’ve never experienced this revelation. You may well be stunned at the difference wearing the correct size makes in the look of your clothes, not to mention your comfort. As for below the waist, many women swear by Spanx®, but my philosophy is that if the outfit needs them, that look is for after-work.
- Are we really still talking about hair? Yes, it’s still important to have a current hairstyle. Women of a certain age are judged by their hairdos, particularly by younger people who tend to assume dated style equals dated technical abilities.
- Face facts. As women become older (and wiser), the need for careful makeup increases. Only the younger set can get away with none, but you don’t want to look like an explosion at the Revlon factory, either. If you’re unsure of what would look best on you, schedule a consultation at Sephora or Ulta. These sessions are free, and you’ll walk away with a list of products that will make your skin, lips and eyes look their best. Many of these stores offer small samples to try at home.
- In the bag. Buy a great handbag, which doesn’t necessarily mean a pricey designer brand. Outlets and discount stores offer worlds of options in all sizes. Look for a larger bag with room for a small notebook and pockets for graceful retrieval of business cards for everyday, preferably in a finish that can be wiped clean. Find one in a lighter hue for spring and summer.
- In the cards. While you’re bag shopping at the outlet, look for a business card holder to keep yours clean and readily available. You’ll have your card out in a flash whenever anyone asks for it.
- Walk tall. Take a good look at yourself in a mirror, and practice walking straight and tall, as if a string held your head and spine in a straight line. This not only is slimming, it also instantly adds confidence and authority to your presence. Avoid walking or standing with your arms crossed in front of you, a practice that makes women appear defensive.
Whatever your age, remember that real power comes from your years of education, life experience, professional background and confidence in yourself. That power is real, and your image can reflect it to everyone you meet!
© Susan Hill, MA, APR
Susan Hill Public Relations~Marketing
For more suggestions related to designing your professional presence for success, you will want to access the Get a Plan! Guide® to Deliberately Designing Your Professional Presence, which is part of the Get a Plan! Guides® series. The Get a Plan! Guide® series will give you the ideas and inspiration to do your work easier, faster, and in a more focused fashion – so that you can accomplish your goals more smoothly, i.e., peacefully, productively, and predictably.