THE BLOG
05/08/2013 11:59 am ET | Updated Jul 08, 2013

Why I Dress to Impress Myself at Work

I like to think that we've come a long way since the days of Miss World being a cultural highlight of the year. And in many ways, we have. For starters, the politically (and in every other way) incorrect pageant is now webcast-only in its native Britain since it stopped showing on TV here in the 1980s, following a brief blip when Channel 5 gave it airtime.

Fast forward several decades from the birth of Miss World, and The First Women Awards in association with Lloyds Banking Group represents a huge, progressive milestone for women pioneering in their fields.

Yet elsewhere, the way in which society judges women seems to have ground to a halt in the 1960s. Within just a couple of weeks we've seen the results of Glamour magazine's '50 Best Dressed Women', FHM's '100 Sexiest Women' and People magazine's 'Most Beautiful Woman in the World' continuing to pigeonhole women as objects, bypassing their professional talents in the process.

Of course, how we present ourselves as women in our daily working lives has nothing to do with beauty pageants or red carpets. That said, appearance is a component of the professional toolkit. When you look smart, you feel smart. The power of personal impact is huge and how we present ourselves, whether male or female, is part of that.

To advance in our careers, ultimately we need to step in front of the work. Naturally the work has to be good, but as we become more senior this is the entry point, the assumption. It becomes much more about you and how you front it. People buy into people; how they deliver, convince, sell, perform. It's a package.

Looking smart and polished is part of that package. So it is surprising just how many hugely successful businesswomen are still reticent to admit they put effort into their appearance; "This old thing? I've had it ages..." Julia Hobsbawm, founder of global networking business Editorial Intelligence, former First Women Awards winner and a friend, confided in me that it took her until the age of 45 to feel "ok about dressing up."

Since when did female empowerment mean denying our femininity? The masculine shoulder pads that defined the 1980s working aesthetic in many ways smacked of women emulating men. As the eponymous Working Girl, Melanie Griffith took the step from stockbroker's secretary to executive only after trading her long curls for a bob and donning a sharp power suit.

Corporate life in the '80s was still essentially a man's world where women had to fight to climb the ladder. Once named the most powerful woman in advertising and the first female CEO at ad agency JWT, Charlotte Beers says that she carried a briefcase as her 'armoury' when she was starting out in her career! I don't do that, but I certainly think about how I look.

Women have long since hung up their Yves Saint Laurent power suits, yet the concept of power dressing -- using style to project an air of confidence and authority -- is still relevant.

Applying for my last job, I knew I was the only female among 20 candidates -- then in the last six. So, I accentuated the fact by being 'more female'. I had a blow dry and picked a smart dress over trousers. Was it a blow to feminism? No. Did it give me extra confidence to deliver? Yes. I make sure I look my best for every important meeting. And I do it for nobody but me.