Don’t try to change your whole look at work, simply focus on enhancing your positives with subtle changes that are true to your style DNA.
Dress for the job you want – even when it may not be the job you have – yet.
Over the past month I’ve been helping a variety of professional women revamp their work wardrobes. What I have been hearing from these talented professional women is that they have to dress to “fit in” with the male dominated worlds they work in.
Accountants, lawyers, senior banking positions and board members have all expressed similar views to me. These women are passionate about their work, but they are bored and frustrated with having to wear what they perceive as the “norm” to the office. And little wonder. The “norm” they have settled into has not been created in a positive and career supportive way. Instead it has come about to avoid the raised eyebrows, second looks and side comments from the males in the office. Just a little quip about wearing a brighter colour, deviating from the sober shades of grey, black or navy, sadly is enough for the women simply not to bother doing so again; such is their perceived sensitivity to what they are wearing.
Two female thirty something lawyers both expressed their dismay about how they just wouldn’t be taken seriously enough by their male counterparts if they put some summer colour into their work attire. I say poo hoo. Adding colour can do quite the opposite and actually show individuality and strength of character.
I’m not suggesting for a minute you break any professional code of conduct or push boundaries which will leave you ridiculed not empowered, but oh so often I find when working with women clients in middle management or senior positions in the corporate world, that they ignore their Style DNA to simply ‘fit in.” Yet the male manager with the crazy socks or the fancy suits he gets the dutiful nod of respect from fellow employees, male and female, but should a woman dare to push conservative boundaries in a traditional grey or navy suited corporate environment, watch the comments fly.
In my design director days, I would normally attend meetings with CEO’s in heels and a dress/skirt. It was pretty much my whole business wardrobe. But as my career progressed and air travel, hire cars, trains and quite literally running for my flights on so many occasions, trousers and flat shoes became my best friend. No ordinary flat shoes of course, they had to be funky and stylish, so I opted for what I think of as the 1st fashionable training shoe for office wear. My black leather Prada’s, which I still wear today. The reason I mention these is because as I was leaving a certain CEO’s office after a meeting he asked in a tone of disapproval, “What are you wearing on your feet?” Yes, I was taken aback by the condescending tone and I guess had I not been as strong willed a designer as I was, I may have avoided wearing them in the future to present to him, but I quickly and politely replied they were my “go faster shoes.” I proceeded to win that pitch (and catch my flight) and many more, wearing said Prada shoes.
As you know my feet are one of my positives that I love to adorn. Had I been wearing some form of predictable and “acceptable” flat shoe of the era, I know his comment would have been the end of said shoes. But, the fact that I loved (and still do!) those shoes because they are a match to my techy, sporty style DNA, plus he was commenting on a part of me that I feel very positive about, his comment simply bounced from my shoulders.
So, my message is simple. Especially at work, make sure you are enhancing a part of you like the most. It could be your ankles – wear ankle grazing trousers, your wrist, buy a brightly coloured watch strap for the summer, your neck line – wear a simple necklace to draw the eye. Your waist – wear a skinny self-coloured belt or if you want to make more impact go with a contrast colour. Your shoulders – invest in a great jacket that really defines your shoulder line.
Don’t try to change your whole look at work, simply focus on enhancing your positives with subtle changes that are true to your style DNA. There is even a school of thought, that if you find your office wear dull and monotonous, wear bright and fabulous underwear that only you know you are wearing. There is something kinda fun about conforming on the outside but underneath that outer layer you know you are being true to yourself. Trust me, when you are not feeling constrained or limited by what you are wearing your true personality and ability will come through even more.
Clothes can be your secret weapons to boardroom success. Why blend in when you can stand out for all the right reasons?