In an ideal world, we would all be evaluated by our effectiveness and character. However, the truth is that the perception of women is heavily influenced by our outward appearance hence wearing inappropriate attire may have unintended consequences and undermine our influence.
Experts estimate that more than 90% of our communication is nonverbal, so the majority of what we communicate to the world is through visual clues. This creates the very real challenge of authentically aligning the messages we speak with our appearance. Let’s be honest: the appearance of our boss, partner or clients impact our opinions, whether we acknowledge it or not. Research shows that our clothing choices have a significant impact on perceptions of trustworthiness, expertise, knowledge, intelligence, success and more. Simply put, people view us and decide upon our credibility based on how we look – mainly the clothes we wear.
The way we dress goes beyond fashion to what I call “personal style”, which means how we express ourselves through our clothes to represent our authentic selves. The challenge for today’s professional women is HOW to be taken seriously as a qualified participant in your company, without losing that sense of personal authenticity. Let’s face it, the moment you sign the employment contract, you have tacitly agreed to represent the company and its brand. Whether you like it or not, every career and industry has a “dress code” that signals credibility. That “dress code” varies widely for managers, doctors, artists, bankers, and fashion models, of course - what signals credibility for a runway model would undermine the credibility of a brain surgeon!
So, here’s an interesting question for us to ponder. Do you feel that you can be “YOU” at work? Or, do you feel that you continually have to put on a front? I think being a different version of you at work is fine, (after all, we have multi-faceted personalities to begin with), but if you are constantly trying to be someone else, then it’s not ok. I believe that we perform to the best of our abilities when we can be ourselves and in that same line of reasoning, being ourselves in the way we dress, is an important start to being authentic.
This comes with its challenges though, particularly if you work in a sector or role where there are very specific dressing expectations. Office environments are very different, almost unrecognizable, compared to 20 years ago. In those days, the “suit” was the default office “uniform”. In some ways, it made life simpler, but in other ways it was very boring and it certainly left very little room for “personal style”. However, in today’s more relaxed working environment, employees, especially women feel the need to conform and fit in, as most of us have the social fear of being disliked and rejected.
Appropriateness is key; turning up in a mini skirt if you’re a lawyer is typically not smart, as is showing up in a formal suit if we work in a creative industry. However, as well as being appropriate, it’s important that we dress authentically ourselves too. We don’t want to blend into the boring office furniture, or to look just like our colleagues with no distinct personality or differentiation of our own, so the key is to get the right balance.
Here are some tips to balance authenticity, credibility, and personal style.
- Be mindful of what your wardrobe choices are saying about you. Never allow your clothes to undermine your personal brand. For example, don’t wear a 10-year-old suit, if you see yourself as a young, forward-thinking executive.
- Being comfortable in your position doesn’t mean yoga pants and tee shirts (even if they are of luxury brands). Professional women should wear professional clothes. Your need to feel comfortable, needs to be measured against your need to represent your company and yourself accurately. You can be comfortable by choosing professional clothes in the right fit for your body - allowing room for individualization and comfort - without completely ignoring the industry norm.
- Details matter. If you want to be seen as a leader who encourages and embraces creativity then pay special attention to the details of your personal style - wearing the same “uniform” of black pants and blouse every day doesn’t communicate adventure, risk or creative style.
- If your work environment is more creative or relaxed, perhaps a good starting point would be to think about what’s the “right outfit” for that day - taking into account your role, what you are doing on a given day, who you are meeting etc.
- Unless you need to be really formal, wearing interesting colors is a great way to add in a good dose of personality. All of us tend to look better in colors rather than just neutrals such as black, navy, whites and grey. If you are new to wearing color, try a scarf, a bag, a pair of shoes or even a brighter lipstick as a starting point.
- Accessories are a great way to reflect your personality and feel authentic without being too over the top. Think about what jewelry, scarf, shoes or bag could help you feel more like YOU – what reflects your “personal style” and helps you to feel more authentic.
- Remember, not everyone has to see it, for you to feel good. For example, if knowing you are wearing your favorite underwear will boost your mood, go for it! Another idea might be a more interesting suit jacket lining, or contrast collar / cuffs details if you work in a more formal environment.
The way we dress can either support or negate our authenticity, along with the messages and the content we’re striving to bring to the forefront of conversations. Embodying our personal style is a process. It’s not about conformity, but identifying our authentic selves and wearing it, inside and out, with confidence. Remember the benefit of being authentic is 2-fold, you’ll feel true to yourself, so you will perform better at work, and it will help you to differentiate yourself from others at work, so you’ll stand out from the crowd and get noticed.
So, let’s get started. Open your wardrobe and get rid of anything you absolutely hate wearing and start thinking about how you could incorporate more of you into your wardrobe. If you have any wardrobe issues, you’d be happy to know that I’ve created a wonderful “A-Z Wardrobe” online course to teach you how to declutter, edit and organize a wardrobe that is just your style. The course is starting soon. To find out more, click HERE and save yourself a front row seat!
Here’s to more authenticity, more credibility and more style in all our wardrobes!
Have a great week, my friends!