When it comes to accelerating your career, you are most definitely what you wear. That’s it, the final answer, no debate. And, by the way, it’s exactly the same for men and women. You’ll find no double standards here. Your appearance speaks volumes about you and what you stand for. Can you be taken seriously and do you show respect for those around you at work, or with whom you are meeting?
When we watch the news, we don’t like our news readers, either male and female, to be frivolous or distracting. They need to show gravitas and command respect. Reasonable teeth and hair are part of the deal. Politicians must dress as if they can be trusted to run our country, and also to look as if they are someone we can relate to, but never too young or brassy. Margaret Thatcher was the epitome of power-dressing. Her clothes and hair gave a clear signal to the world that she was very much in charge in a man’s world. The Queen sets the professional dressing bar extremely high; always polished, appropriately comfortable and extremely assertive.
Clare Balding, for me, is the current leading example of someone who dresses her best for work but never veers from her clear, very suitable personal style. She’s found a look which works for her, on TV and at different sporting events, and does not let her appearance detract from her fantastic presenting skills for better or for worse. As she has taken on more high-profile roles, so she has raised her style game but she still looks 100% natural; someone we trust to comment on our valued sporting moments and probably would enjoy having a drink with.
For the non-celeb, hard workers amongst us, here are the key dos and don’ts for using your appearance to maximise your professional potential.
- Shine your shoes. In the workplace, shoes must be polished and well-heeled. Throw out anything scruffy. Keep trainers for your commute only, unless you are in a creative business, in which case separate your gym shoes from your office-appropriate converse.
- Hair and teeth. Rather like a Broadway-hoofer, your hair and teeth speak volumes. If like many of us, your teeth are fabulously British, at least keep them as clean as possible and well maintained. Office hair should be tidy and under-control.
- Do your clothes fit? Again, this is one for men and women. Excess flesh on show or bulging out of clothes detracts rather from your key messages in a presentation. There’s nothing worse than clothes which are too tight so make sure you wear the right size and show professional fabrics rather than distracting flesh.
- Accessorize. The items about your person give very strong visual clues to your suitability in the workplace. Use a decent pen, which does not have to be expensive, and not a chewed biro. Clean your phone or pop it into a case which shows who you are – someone to be taken seriously, not glittery or too personal.