Some weeks back I was contacted by a lady called Caroline in the Galway Enterprise Board to see if I would be interested in giving a talk at one of their monthly WIN sessions. WIN is a not for profit organisation providing training, mentoring and networking services for the unemployed, entrepreneurs and small business owners in the West of Ireland. The brief was left quite open - Caroline explained that the general theme for the day was "Perception is Reality".
This for me is obviously an interesting topic considering the profession I'm in, but the challenge was to make it interesting for people whose interest was not primarily in fashion. As this is an area of fashion that affects each and every one of us, I decided to share with you a brief overview of my findings!
Research shows us that whether consciously or subconsciously, every time you meet somebody new they will make an evaluation of you within seven seconds based solely on how you present yourself. This may be a new colleague, a new business partner or a potential client. They will notice your clothing, your hairstyle, accessories, grooming, posture and how you carry yourself. All these different elements are pieced together to rightly or wrongly form a snapshot of who you are. From this, they may decide what characteristics define you, such as whether you are a person of status or authority, friendly or confrontational, creative or one-dimensional, organised or inefficient. This initial opinion they form based on their first impression of you can have a long term impact on any potential professional relationship you may develop.
When I was researching this topic I found that a lot of the information was quite outdated and conservative - recommending women to wear black suits or knee length woollen skirts to gain authority and respect in the work place! For many top women in business thankfully the suit has become a relic of a bygone era where we felt pressure to dress like men in order to gain parity in the workplace. We have obviously come a long way since this - women today like Michelle Obama, Emmanuelle Alt, Christine Lagarde to mention just a few, have revolutionised the way women dress for work. They rejected the thesis that women must conceal their femininity and minimise their individuality. Conversely, they use fashion to express their individuality and use it to their advantage by enhancing their overall effectiveness. Dressing for success it about understanding who you are and what you (or your brand/company) represents. For example, if you are working in a profession that is defined by authority and status you will dress differently from somebody who is attempting to epitomise qualities such as creativity and uniqueness. Naturally, some professions have expectations and unwritten rules that are more appropriate for working environments. But, even in the most conservative workplace, there is still room for everybody to express one's own individuality and signature style.
Dressing for success is not about being the most fashionable person in the room or wearing expensive clothes. Rather, it is far more about dressing appropriately and stylishly for the career you are in and representing the qualities and attributes that are aligned with the profession/company/brand you represent.
Here is a preview of some of the presentation: