Does this jacket make me look smart? Do these shoes make me look powerful? I have always been a firm believer in dressing for the position you wish to have or in this hyper-competitive market, to keep.
Before Jesse Garza and I started Visual Therapy nearly two decades ago, I was in banking and always tried to dress slightly above my station. At first, I did this because I was young and I felt that I needed to look more mature but as time went on I was promoted very quickly. I worked very hard but realized that the way I dressed gave me an additional sense of confidence and changed the way I moved through the day. I believe that when there are two equally qualified candidates up for a position, the one who looks the part may land the job.
These days, dressing for work has become more laid back in certain professions and the younger generations have been able to hang up their ties until that rare, important meeting. Clients in their fifties have told me that it is much more difficult for them to dress casually. They claim to actually miss putting on a suit, knowing they are dressed appropriately and feeling the power of the power suit. Believe me, I love being comfortable as much as the next guy but sometimes the feeling of 'extra armor' can lead to a different kind of comfort.
We worked with a woman several years ago who was a best-selling author about to embark on a media tour. Before working with us, she explained that she considered herself an intellectual and thought that she didn't need all the 'props' of clothes or fashion since she had her smarts.
After we put together a couple of interviewing 'uniforms' for her she called us to say how amazing she felt and that it boosted her confidence on camera. She liked it so much that she wore one of the looks to a meeting and explained that when she walked into the meeting, her job was half finished. She said that she was immediately treated differently and that before she opened her mouth to speak, she had their attention.
When in doubt, take it up a notch. If you work in an environment that is 'business casual' consider wearing a jacket, no tie and a great pair of shoes. Pants and shirts that are too loose or baggy tend to look a little too relaxed for a professional environment. Fabrications can make a difference with your appearance too -- try wool gabardine pants instead of cotton, they tend to wrinkle less and hold their shape. Many dry cleaners or tailors can add darts to the back of your shirts creating more of a custom looking fit and a slimmer line.
If you are in a traditional business work environment requiring you to wear a suit and tie, investing in a solid navy and a solid charcoal suit will give you the most mileage. It isn't about having a closetful of suits, but a few tailored, well-fitting suits.
You don't have to spend a lot of money, but do have it tailored and be sure that you buy the correct size to begin with. Your shoulder should fit exactly under the shoulder pad and your arms should just slightly touch the outer arm of the jacket. The waist of the jacket should fit close to the body, not to tight, but not too loose.
Pants should always be pressed with a clean crease and shouldn't be laundered every time they are worn. Inexpensive updates can be as simple as taking a few of your favorite suits to a tailor for alterations. Be sure to switch up your shirt and tie combinations regularly so you don't get stuck in a rut or a couple of new shirts and ties can make your suit feel new.
No matter how smart, talented and efficient we are, the world is becoming faster-paced and attention spans are ever decreasing. Let your style do some of the work and use it as just one more tool to enhance your message and boost your confidence.