Dress for Success: Tips for Your Professional Image

You have about three seconds to make a first impression, and much of that image is formed by your personal appearance. If you are dressed too casual, or your hair isn’t neatly combed, it can cost you an interview or an appointment with someone important to your career. So, what are ways that you can be appearance-conscious while still maintaining your distinct style and unfettered approach to life and work?

1) Buy a few basics. Most successful wardrobes center around a few classic pieces. For women, it may translate into brown or black slacks, a navy blazer and a versatile sweater that can be dressed up or down. For men, it may be a pair of khaki pants, a dark blue blazer, two tailored suits (one for warm weather; the other for cold), and a sweater that can be mixed and matched with button down shirts. It is better to invest in a few expensive pieces of clothing than to have many clothes which cost less but show a lack of fashion sense.

2) Accessorize. Well-chosen accessories send a positive message about your attention to detail. Carry a good leather (or leather-look) briefcase or purse, and use a stylish pen. Women can alternate jewelry, scarves and belts to update the look of a basic outfit. Men can wear different ties, belts, and shoes to recast their wardrobe. These items can also help your clothes look season-appropriate without adding a lot of extra expense.

3) Get advice. If you are not sure where to start, go to a department store and ask for one of their personal shoppers to help you. These people are skilled at knowing the styles of clothes that flatter various body types and which colors complement skin tones. Be aware that they will always give you more options than you need or can afford to buy. Select a few of their best core pieces. And as a general rule, stay away from fabrics that easily wrinkle.

4) Dress for the job you want. Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Unless you work for a place where there is virtually no dress code, you will want to convey a professional image for whatever job you want. The more others see you “dress the part,”—and the more your results back that up—the more likely you’ll be considered for a job with increased responsibility.

5) Be competent. Project enthusiasm and do quality work that reinforces your professional image. Image without quality is meaningless, which is where the term “stuffed shirt” came from. While it’s more important to be a high-quality employee than a well-dressed employee; it’s ideal to be both.

Good luck!

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