It’s hard to believe but, the iconic book Dress for Success by John T. Molloy about the effect of clothing on a person's success in business and personal life is about to turn 45 years old. And even though the bestseller is now middle aged, its basic message about the importance of appearance in your professional life still resonates today. Of course, times have changed and the “power suit” culture that was advocated in Molloy’s book has been softened over the years due to more casual workplace dress codes. But here at The Protocol School of Washington, we like to find the happy balance between the old pin striped suits of yesteryear and the current culture of khakis and golf shirts on Casual Friday.
No matter what year it is, most people still agree that appearance does matter—especially when it comes to perceptions about professionalism. We are not talking about physical attributes or having the perfect body, we are talking about practical ways that men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes can use to easily enhance their wardrobe, step up their grooming and make a memorable first impression that lasts for a lifetime.
Find your color: Men and women should always select clothing that enhances their complexion and that creates balance for an overall look. In general, most people are aware what color suits their complexion, hair color or eyes—so it’s always a good idea to have some key wardrobe pieces in your most flattering colors. But don’t forget that neutrals are also a safe bet since they can be paired with practically anything—including a classic white button-down, or some colors and eye-catching (but not over-the-top) accessories.
Accessorizing: For women, classic jewelry is always a safe bet, but make sure you don’t wear too much bling on the job. It could be thought of as ostentatious or gaudy. Another good rule of thumb is to make sure not to wear too many accessories at once. You don’t want to look like a walking display case. Add a belt or mix up your colors to dress up a casual business suit. But remember, less is always more.
Cosmetics: Again, when it comes to makeup, a little goes a long way to enhance your appearance (for women, of course, but men’s makeup is becoming more and more popular for hiding blemishes or under eye bags). In general, makeup should always be understated, and your best bet is to avoid heavy mascara, fake eyelashes or heavy eye shadow. You should also avoid glittery eye makeup, lip gloss or any other cosmetic that makes you look unprofessional.
Grooming: For both men and women, personal grooming can make or break someone’s professional appearance. Dirty hair or nails are a real turn off and can distract from your image. Deodorant is a necessity but, if you’re concerned with the safety of such items, there are many organic alternatives available online or in your drug store. On the subject of good scents, try to avoid over the top cologne or perfume. You don’t want to leave a lingering impression that causes your coworkers to sneeze or get a headache.
Fitted Clothing: One of the biggest considerations in building a professional wardrobe is ensuring your clothing is properly fitted for your body. You may have lost or gained weight since you purchased an item and your clothes may hang on you or be too snug. A good tailor can help you look your best at any size.
(Not too) Casual Fridays: We’re not sure of the timeline, but we have a sneaky suspicion that the birth of Casual Friday was a watershed fashion moment that quickly evolved into “office casual” being worn throughout the business week. Not to sound too old-fashioned, but we do suggest that office casual never be taken to the extreme—whether it’s a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. This means keeping it classy even if you’re in jeans by wearing a nice, ironed button down or something else that speaks to your style and decorum. What to avoid? T-shirts, flip flops, short pants, or any clothing item that is too tight or too revealing.
Remember that no matter what, people do make assumptions and judgments based on what you are wearing and how you present yourself to the public. Do yourself a favor and step it up a little and you might see some big changes in how people respond to the more fashionable you.
Did you know you can be licensed to train others on business image? Intercultural Etiquette and Protocol Trainer provides you with all the resources to deliver the seminar “The Power of Professional Presence” as an internal trainer or consultant.