THE BLOG
10/28/2013 03:25 pm ET | Updated Dec 25, 2013

Fearless Self Image: How You Dress Matters

So many of my clients are influenced by how they look and how they feel. If someone feels depressed and lacks confidence, this is reflected in what they wear, and conversely, if someone has a positive attitude and is confident, that will show in their attire.

I was not immune from this. As a teenager and in my early 20s, I felt uncomfortable being skinny. Underlying my anxiety was fear and negative thinking. I had thoughts such as: "People won't find me attractive. I'll be thought of as weak. Nothing looks good on my skinny body." These thoughts were entirely self-defeating and limiting. In an attempt to compensate and cover this up I'd wear clothes that were bigger than my size, baggy even. Eventually I came to realize that slim is actually highly desired and what most people aspire to be. This belief was reinforced after meeting several executives in the fashion world and top models. From that point forward, I started to embrace my skinniness and wear clothes that fit.

Clothes certainly don't make the person, but they can definitely influence the public's perception. I recently had the opportunity to speak with New York City image and style consultant David McKnight, the author of the exciting new book The Zen of Executive Presence. In it David helps professionals learn to use their personal image as a way to control and propel their career success.

Here is part of my interview with David:

What are people most fearful of when it comes to how they dress?
Two things. First, they are fearful of change. We've all seen the makeovers on TV of the woman or man who got stuck in the 70s or 80s, style wise. Then, after a style transformation by a team of experts to the modern-day era, they seem to evolve from their shells with a renewed sense of confidence. What held them back from making a change was fear -- fear of not knowing where to start, and fear of not knowing how to start. Second, people are afraid of failure. What if others don't like it? What if someone snickers at their new hairstyle? If they don't know what they are doing, and they don't know what will work best for them, then they get stuck and stay stagnant. In my experience working with clients, it seems that people are afraid to wear clothes that fit properly. I know that may seem strange, but I can't tell you how many men I've worked with who are afraid to wear a well-fitted suit. They are used to wearing suits that are too big and boxy, shirts that look like balloons, and pants that are too long and baggy. Slim silhouettes seem to frighten them. Perhaps they're afraid of being viewed as too contemporary or stylish. On the other hand, I've worked with a number of women who wear larger sizes because they think that the extra size is hiding or covering up a few extra pounds. In fact, this couldn't be further from the truth! The extra size actually adds extra weight and doesn't hide anything at all.

What is the connection between how someone feels and how someone dresses?
Dress is often a barometer for feelings. When someone is dressed to the nines in something that looks great and garners a lot of compliments, they feel fantastic. They feel as if they can conquer the world. On the other hand, when someone is not confident in their dress then the self-doubt shows up in their actions and interpersonal relationships. It's amazing how wearing the right outfit can quickly transform one's emotions from feeling insecure and unsure to feeling powerful and confident. The one thing that everyone must know is that appearance or dress is one of the easiest things to control.

Why do you think how someone dresses matter? How can it be a game changer?
Dress impacts the way that others perceive us and our capabilities. When all else is equal, the person who is better dressed will get the job or land the promotion. Studies have proven this time and time again. When it comes to the job search, you can't change where you worked, or where you went to school. However, you can change how others view you, based on how you look and how you sound. Therefore, dress can be a game changer in both professional and personal matters.

What makes you and your book different from the countless other image books?
My book is different for several reasons. First, I take a holistic look at image from a 360-degree perspective. I cover the visual aspect, communication style, business etiquette, and the online presence. Most books typically will cover only one of these areas. Second, I decided to write a book that a professional, as well as a stay-at-home mother can read and enjoy. I believe there's something in the book for everyone. It's not intended to be a step-by-step how-to book, but rather it is designed to challenge people to think strategically about their image, the value of it, its efficacy, and its impact. Finally, I am a professional who has walked in the shoes of other managers and leaders. In my 15 years as a consultant, I've worked within at least 50 domestic and global companies, have lived abroad, consulted across industries, and worked with leaders at all levels of organizations.

For more information and tips for living fearlessly check out my book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days.

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