As Arlene Low arrives for her client meeting she gives herself a quick glance over. She smoothes her long, flowing hair and quickly assesses her clothing. Today she has opted for her favourite short skirt and a cute, cleavage-enhancing top. The temperature is soaring so she has left her jacket at home. It’s too hot for pumps, too, so her bare feet are encased in the sexy sandals that pick up the candy-apple gloss on her newly pedicured toes.
Arlene isn’t real, but her fashion faux pas are all too common in boardrooms, business conferences and seminars across the country. They’re even more common in the summer, when attitudes toward dress are more relaxed. But the truth is that, the way you look-whatever the season-plays a crucial role in how you are perceived. Here’s how to create a visual presence that says you mean business.
“Colleagues, suppliers and clients can all make certain assumptions about us based on the way we present ourselves,” says Monique Rudder, president of Toronto-based Vida Imaage Consulting. Overtly sexy or overly casual clothing, for example, may suggest your mind is anywhere but work, she says, while outdated hairstyles, make-up or clothing may imply that you’re not on top of current trends and that your business ideas are anything but creative.
The bottom line in any business situation, says Rudder is to keep your look fresh, professional and workplace appropriate. Even business-casual means wearing a jacket, says Rudder. “And sleeveless tops, mules and flip-flops are never appropriate, even in summer.”
Rudder advises her clients to look at a well-maintained wardrobe and good grooming as a business investment. Reassess all of your clothing and accessories every couple of years. Make sure your wardrobe says “today”. Check the fit and condition of garments regularly, and repair them if needed. “Buy the best quality you can afford-the style and construction will last longer.”
Your hair and make-up should be current and subtle. Regular trims and maintenance is vital if you colour your hair, says Rudder. If you opt for long hair, pull it back in a low ponytail or keep it well off your face. Save your bare faced look for home; most women need at least some make-up to present a polished look. Finally, Rudder suggests you save the bright or offbeat colours for weekends. French manicures look terrific for the first few days, but the white tips tend to require more maintenance than most of us have time for.
© 2005 Kara Kuryllowicz