Dress for success

People judge you by your looks. Exude energy, reliability and confidence with what you wear to work

We are visual people and gather information by what we see. We make our initial assessments of others based on their outward projection. We determine who people are by how they look, how they move and lastly, by what they say.

Essentially, how others judge us has more to do with how we look than who we really are. This is not necessarily fair, but it is reality. The good news is: we have control over the image we project to the world and how others view us. Change what you wear and how you wear it. Learn power dressing.

Power dressing explained

Man in a suitBeginning in the late 1970s and continuing into the1980s, ‘power dressing’ was a term used to reflect a style of clothing worn by women in particular but men as well to look competent and authoritative. The style was influenced by popular television shows at that time, and was followed by influential people and people in the public eye.

The concept was popularised by the book Dress for Success by John T Molloy in 1976. It is during this decade that the connection between success and image was made. Women and men began to pay attention to their image and style of dress to move up the corporate ladder and to convey an impression of assertiveness and competence. From it emerged a style of dressing, aimed at giving the wearer an appearance of more power. Women power dressers or who ‘dressed for success’ donned themselves in clothes made from expensive materials such as silk and wore jackets that had a masculine shape.

Today, things have changed. Although image is still an important part of appearance and moving ahead in a career, the styles are less rigid and have more variety and colour. Also, the idea of power is beginning to change. Power is no longer seen as an outward force, but as an internal strength.

Power dressing for men

The original term ‘power dressing’ for men was less distinctive and leaned more toward a more expensive business suit. Today, power dressing for men focuses on a sharp, clean, polished look. The first step in power dressing is to take into consideration your working environment and the image you want to present. For example, a man who is the president of a bank will want to communicate that he is intelligent and trustworthy. He is delivering a different message than a man who works in a training and consulting company and wants to make a statement about commitment. Both will want to be impeccably dressed, but in a way, that demonstrates their messages.

The second step is to take care of details; details make the difference. Always choose quality clothing items. This says you care about yourself and you make good choices. Don’t misinterpret this to mean you should visibly wear designer labels. It could send a totally different message—the message that you are unsure of yourself and are trying to appear confident. For men, power dressing means always dressing appropriately and staying well-groomed.

Power dressing for women

Woman in a business suitToday power dressing is less severe and more polished, colourful and friendly. The idea is not to dress for authority and push to the limit, but to let others see that you are competent and reliable. The business professional look [for those who work in banking, law or government] still includes a classic suit in a solid colour, such as, navy, dark brown, black, grey or pinstripe. The lines are softer and colours are more acceptable.

An informal professional look includes wearing colourful jackets, sweaters and blouse styles. You can also wear print dresses and skirts combined with tailored jackets and sweaters.

It is important to be aware of your company’s dress code when selecting your wardrobe. Look at what the top brass in your company wears to make decisions about what you should wear and ask yourself this question, “What message do I want to portray”?

Power dressing with colour

In business settings you can use colour to create an impression of power, understanding or security. Generally, the darker the colour of the suit the more authority is bestowed upon the wearer. For example, navy is the universal colour for authority and power. This is a great colour to wear when making business presentations. Charcoal is a colour that creates a sense of security. It is a colour worn by those who want to be seen as honest and trustworthy. Earth tones create a feeling of understanding—a great colour to wear if you want to build rapport.

Colour is one of the most important aspects of looking great. The colours we wear have an effect on how we look and how others view us. Some colours have a calming effect while others arouse. For example, blue has a peaceful, calming effect, while red arouses. This is something to consider when choosing colours for your wardrobe and the occasion on which you will wear them. Wearing yellow will make you seem joyous; while blue creates a feeling of calm.

At the same time, the wrong colour will make your skin look dull, lines and wrinkles more apparent and dark circles darker. The right colours will make you look radiant, make your eyes sparkle and make the lines, wrinkles and dark circles less noticeable.

Colours are either warm or cool. For example, candy apple red is cool and rusty red is warm. If your skin has yellow undertones, you will look best in warm colours. Yellow will make your skin look radiant and your eyes shine. If your skin has blue undertones, you will look best in cool colours. Blue will make your skin look radiant and your eyes shine. Usually, we get drawn to colours that look best on us, but if we pay attention to how different colours blend with our skin tone we will make better colour choices.

Even though colour is divided into categories, you don’t have to be stuck in one, you can wear any colour as long it matches your skin tone.

Sheila Dicks
Sheila Dicks is an image and wardrobe consultant. Her motto help people reach their full potential and perk up their self-confidence with improved dress sense. She lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.


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