By Patty Soltis, Guest Columnist
As a professional, there are hours spent on presentations, months building relationships and years creating stellar reputations in the market as an expert.
On a much faster time scale, a first impression is made in seven seconds, and it takes seven times more to change that first impression, according to Harvard Study of Communications.
So how do you dress to make a great impression?
There are five important considerations to simplify this process and build your wardrobe to support professional goals: 1. Everyday Professional. 2. High Impact Meeting. 3. Day to Dinner. 4. Business Casual. 5. Weekend Wear.
After all, your image instantly becomes your brand.
For the everyday professional, this is the day to day look worn to work. Dressing casually is often confused with business casual. As a professional, it is essential to still present yourself as a leader in your office, business, and industry.
For the professional woman, there are a plethora of options from dresses to skirts to trousers, all of which should have a long sleeve or jacket option. Keep jewelry and accessories simple for the office. Ensure that the hem of the dress or skirt is a modest length and that the neckline is conservative; closed toe shoes are a must. For the professional man, a sports coat with a flat front pair of trousers accompanied by a tie is an excellent choice.
When its time to make an important presentation at a high impact meeting, a professional must step up the manner of dress to make that first impression one of competence, ability, and success. Both male and female professionals at important meetings need to wear a full-fledged suit. Your suit becomes an investment piece worn to seal the deal and open doors. The suit, dark in color, is somber in tone as it represents how serious the professional is about their business.
For females, wear minimal jewelry and nothing that moves or makes noise. Shoes should be a closed toe pump in excellent condition. For men, make sure that your suit fits. (Extra fabric not only adds additional weight, but it also looks untidy and disorderly.) Trousers should be flat front, no pleats, and a finished hem without a cuff that lightly grazes the top of the shoe. Shoes need to be shined, and a wingtip shoe is always appropriate. Neckwear should complement the choice of the white dress shirt with the length of the necktie at the belt.
Transitioning from the office to an after-work event can be tricky for both professional men and women. First, before leaving the office, a professional must ensure that they have their business cards in a spot that is easily attainable such as the breast pocket for a businessman or the outer pocket of a handbag for a businesswoman.
For a professional woman, the easiest mode to change the look is with the addition of red lipstick. Fortunately, this comes in a plentitude of shades and formulas to suit everyone. Bring a smaller handbag or clutch that will fit on the chair behind the small of the back and add a sparkly piece of jewelry. Softer fabrics and styles that flow make this transition as well. For the professional man, add a pocket square to complement the neckwear and dress shirt patterns and colors. Also, switch shoes from the seriousness of black to medium/darker shades of brown.
Business casual seems to be the most confusing way of dressing with the “rules” decidedly unclear. To clarify, “business casual” for the professional man means a woven shirt with a pair of trousers and a sports coat. The sports coat can be removed during the day, but having it will add the extra edge. Denim in dark shades is acceptable, but ensure that the top half of the ensemble is appropriate and perhaps add a casual necktie.
For the professional woman, there are many options from a dress to skirt, trousers to denim. Just as for the professional men, with denim, ensure that the top half of the outfit is appropriate adding a jacket or cardigan as the third piece. Dresses and skirts can range from slightly above the knee to the ankle as a maxi. Sleeves are necessary, even if it is a cap sleeve slightly over the shoulder. Always be prepared with a jacket as the day never goes as planned. Flip-flops and sneakers are not acceptable for business casual. Ever.
Since a professional is out and about on the weekend, potential and current business contacts are always within eyesight. Complete the branding of your success through the weekend. Shorts with a flat front and appropriate length to the knee, no shorter than the top of the knee. Distressed denim comes into play here and is appropriate as long as the distressing is limited to the knees. Denim should be in everyone’s wardrobe in a light, medium and dark color.
Leggings are an excellent option for the professional woman with a top that at minimum brushes the top of the leg. Sneakers can keep you running through the weekend but must be clean, in good shape with no holes or wear and tear. While the high heel sneaker is now passe, the wedge sneaker is an option for those who want some height. T-shirts have the same standard as sneakers — they need to be in wearable condition. Yoga pants are meant to be worn in the yoga studio, barre class or the gym — not on the street. It literally takes as much time to pull on a respectable pair of jeans and a top as it does gym wear.
The main rule to remember when choosing what to wear is the reflection it has on your brand and business. If you think about what the reaction would from your top client if you crossed paths, it becomes obvious what outfit works for you and not against you. The work of a professional should stand out, and the appearance should complement and reinforce this.
Patty Soltis is the CEO/Founder of STYLEdge®, an image consulting business that specializes with alpha business leaders to establish credibility to their audience without saying a word. A first impression is made far too quickly and has lasting effect. STYLEdge® ensures that this impression is one of power, competence and confidence.
Patty’s background in retail management for over 20 years, mostly as a vice president/general Manager for companies such as Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor and Marshall Fields developed her experience in business, retail and fashion. The training and education that she received has led to her success as an image consultant; this combines her business acumen with her lengthy knowledge of fashion, style and attire needed for success.
For the past three years, she has worked with business leaders and their organizations to understand image and how it reflects on their brand. The STYLEdge® clients will tell you with energy, enthusiasm and excitement how this has improved their performance and results.