Most people are attached to their sense of image and style, as we are being fed daily by magazines and TV shows, how fashion and style are expressions of individuality. However, being too attached to what is deemed your individual style, will lead you to using your image ineffectively to build your business.
Whether you agree with it or not, people judge others by how they look. Therefore, personal image may be used to create trust at first sight. So it must be well thought out with much care.
I have given image seminars where I see people in conservative industries such as finance wearing tops revealing their cleavage, even though they are in a suit. I have seen a career coach wearing an outfit that is more suitable for an artist. Their images are not congruent with their professions.
Your image is not just about you. It’s about how people relate to the image. Your personal image is comprised not only of dressing and grooming, but also your body language and words. That being said, people do judge others based on how they groom and dress.
So how can we all make the best use of clothing and grooming for the good of our businesses?
First, consider the message of colours. The more conservative or formal your industry is, the more neutral the colour of your outfit should be. Neutral colours are black, grey, white, beige, and brown. Blue is also considered a “neutral” colour in this sense, because it conveys trust. Banking, law, accounting, and insurance belong to this category of conservative.
On the other hand, the more creative your industry is, the more colour options you have. If you are an artist, you may wear just about any colour. For professional designers and consultants, however, you may wear pops of colours but in strategic places, for example, in your tops, in the small details of a suit, or in accessories such as glasses.
Second, consider the style of your outfit. The more conservative or formal the occasion is, the more formal the outfit should be. In a formal industry where you meet your customers in the office, a conservatively styled suit is most appropriate. This means suit jacket that covers the buttocks. Suit skirts at knee level. Suit pants are straight legged, not outrageously flared at the bottom. Professional designers and consultants are between conservative and creative, so pick a suit that is of a trendier cut – suit jackets may have more details and colours, They could be above the buttocks, or longer. The suit pants may also have details and textures. For the creative ones, a suit is not necessary in most days. However, T-shirt and flip flops are mostly unacceptable, unless you are going to the beach! Do put in some effort to convey professionally what you do.
Third, let’s look at grooming. For conservative industries, keep your hair and make up neat and neutral. It doesn’t mean not to style the hair or not putting on make up. Hairstyle should be chic and sleek (if your hair can handle it). Nothing outrageous. A chic bob, for example, is a good option. Do remember putting on make up, however, but leave out the sparkles and bold colours. People need to see you, not focused on the extremities of your dressing and grooming. For those who are in between conservative and creative, you may have slightly more outrageous hairdos – just don’t dye it in any colours of the rainbow. Your make up may be bolder, but be sure it is sophisticated, not cheap. For those creative ones, do whatever you wish, but use your common sense to keep everything neat and clean looking, even if your hair is green.
Last but not least, what about personal style? I can just feel some readers having this question in their minds – do they have to give up individuality and take up what is appropriate? I can almost hear some women who are in law or finance, saying that they love purple and pink, and refuse to give them up. So what can they do about it? This is where you must use creativity and common sense – for those who refuse to live without pink, maybe a soft pink blush or lipstick, very soft pink nail polish, or a very light icy pink shirt would do! If you feel that there are elements that are absolutely you, think of a way to weave these elements (maybe not all of them at once) into the outfit, making your image acceptable to the industry, yet reflecting your personal taste and preference.
Noelle Wong sees and unveils beauty in people. She is the owner of iN-IMAGE! Inc. , a personal image consulting company in Toronto that offers one-on-one consultations and workshops to help people increase their personal presence. For more information, visit her website at http://www.in-image.com.