Your career is important to you, as is getting ahead and being successful at what you do. When you are going for that promotion or new job you need to be firing at all cylinders, and this includes your style and image. You already know that image is important as are first impressions. Read this study on first impressions to really get how important it is. So it should come as no surprise that the majority of clients I work with are high level executive women.
While many of these clients who come to me look fine in what they are wearing, they also understand that it’s the smallest of details that really make a difference. What they learn is that how they are perceived in the workplace is not only important but in how they perceive themselves and, therefore, approach their jobs, interact with others and exude confidence. If you’re someone who is looking to get ahead at work, take note of these five ways that your style could be sabotaging your career and how to easily fix them.
Five Ways Your Style Could Be Sabotaging Your Career
#1- You dress inappropriately for the workplace
This first one is obvious. There is no room for inappropriate dress at work. You should just avoid it at all costs. Undoubtedly, every workplace is different, so it is important to be clear on your workplace guidelines and follow them. Sure, rules are often made to be broken, however, if you want to get ahead, being one of the rule breakers isn’t a smart idea. You may not agree with these guidelines, or find them to be a pain, but this isn’t about you and what you prefer. If you don’t like the fact that open-toed shoes aren’t allowed, find another job.
When a particular clothing item is in question, test it out. Try sitting in a skirt before you buy it or wear it to work. Does it ride up too much? Is the slit too high? When you put on a top, try bending over to make sure that it doesn’t reveal too much and make sure that cute little wrap dress has enough wrap to not be too revealing. Use your own judgment and follow your company’s guidelines to know which of these tips are smart to follow.
#2- You dress like an acceptably dressed nobody
As the saying goes, “being stylish means to fit in yet stand out at the same time.” This should be your mantra at work. You don’t want to stand out so much that your clothing overshadows you, but you also don’t want to blend in to the point that you look like just another acceptably dressed nobody. I have mentioned before that clients who call me aren’t fashion nightmares. The majority of my clients are women who feel like just another face in the crowd. How can anyone stand out if they just blend?
The key is to look to your accessories as simple ways to elevate your work basics and to appropriately shine. Keep in mind, a little goes a long way. You can do something as simple as what I am doing in the outfits above. On the left, the BOSS suit (link to pants and link to jacket) that has been styled with a pair of black Calvin Klein pumps and a white tank from Theory is perfect for work. However, it’s also lacking anything special. It’s just a basic look that isn’t going to be all that memorable. On the right, I simply changed out the shoes for a this tan pair from Diane VonFurstenberg and added a simple, but interesting, necklace from Stella & Dot to give the outfit the slight update it needs to look a little more impressive. You don’t have to make these updates hard, just try to avoid accessorizing your outfits in ways that everyone else at work will. For more tips on how to update your work basics, check out this post.
#3- Your clothes don’t fit right
While waiting in line for my morning caffeine fix, I spotted this woman standing in front of me. As I eyed her clothing choices, I really loved the way she feminized these pinstripe pants (I know it is hard to see the pinstripe) with this sleeveless top. In addition to this, she was wearing a pair of ballet flats that had details that further added some beautiful feminine touches. What completely killed her outfit, however, was the fit. It was awful. She had visible bra straps, her shirt needed to be tucked in because the her pants, that are the wrong size for her, were too relaxed and wide-legged for an unutucked shirt, plus, her pants was also too long for the shoes she was wearing. If all these things were modified to fit her better her outfit would be excellent. It killed me to see such lovely clothing choices ruined simply because of poor fit. What a shame.
Badly fitting clothing is one of the biggest killers of good outfits. Do you know how often I see this? If your pants need a hem, get them hemmed, look at the proportions of the pieces you are wearing and, jeez, if you are going to buy a top that needs a specific bra, either buy the bra or don’t buy the shirt. Also, expect that your tailored pieces will likely need some fine tuning. Don’t let your style sabotage your career by ignoring these simple details that will make all the difference.
In addition to proper fit, also look at fabrication. For example, you can avoid looking like a wrinkled mess at work by doing a simple wrinkle test. Grab a hunk of the fabric of your clothing in your fist, hold it for at least ten seconds, and release it. Your own body heat will heat up the fabric. If the fabric is wrinkled after you release it from your fist this is what your whole outfit will look like after day at work. if you want to know if that stretchy fabric will bag out by day’s end, do the stretch test. Take a part of the fabric of the clothing, stretch it and then release it. If the fabric doesn’t bounce back into shape the stretch has poor recovery and it is likely that you will look all stretched out at work.
#4- Too bold
Unless you have high contrast coloring, you want to be careful of very bold color combinations and prints, like found in this dress by J. Crew that has been simply accessorized with a pair of navy slingbacks and simple stud earrings. While the outfit may be perfectly professional and understated, if your coloring isn’t strong enough to carry this level of contrast you are going to have to overcompensate for the amount of attention it is taking away from you.
When it comes to work style, the key goal is to always have the attention be on you, not what you are wearing. You want your clothing to be supportive, not a distraction. When clothing creates a distraction you have to work harder to be seen and heard. This is most important when you are speaking to a group, interfacing with clients or interviewing. Avoid the bold color combinations unless you have the coloring to pull it off. Why work harder than you have to simply because you choose the wrong color combination.
#5- You over-accessorized
You read my blog and have learned that accessorizing is key in the creation of a great outfit. This is good. However, too much accessorizing can work against you, not for you. Too many accessories can be just as bad as not enough.
Take, for example, the outfits above. The look, consisting of a pencil skirt from Reiss, novelty blouse from Modcloth and pretty tan pumps from Calvin Klein is over accessorized on the left with drop earrings from Nordstrom, a Kenneth Cole necklace and statement bracelet from Stella & Dot. To fix this, I just removed one piece of jewelry, the necklace, which you can see in the outfit on the right. The reason I chose to take away the necklace was because the top already has enough detailing across the neckline. However, generally speaking, I tend to choose either statement earrings or a statement necklace, never both. And, for what it’s worth, I’m not a fan of earrings and necklace sets, it’s just too matchy-matchy. Read some more of my tips, here, on how to look coordinated vs. matchy-matchy.
By just eliminating one piece of jewelry, the outfit now has more harmony. Don’t sabotage your career by loading up on too many distracting accessories.
One could argue that it’s a shame that what we wear has any bearing on how successful we are at work. However, our image is the strongest way we communicate to others. If it isn’t working for us, it is working against us and, as a result, the road to the top will unnecessarily become a much more arduous journey. Why make it harder than it needs to be when just some subtle an easy tweaks can make it much smoother sailing.
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Preach it! And thank you for the reminders 🙂
GEEZ, I hate it when I see women with visible bra straps. Not just the occasional slip of the shirt or strap but like the above when the bra is totally wrong for the shirt. I always wonder what they were thinking when they got dressed that morning.
Thanks Bridgette, really enjoyed this, especially with all the examples.
I have been reading up on personal contrast lately and would love to hear your views on colour contrast. I have high contrast coloring (dark hair & eyes, pale skin) so I can wear black & white near my face but as my skin is also quite florid/pink in places I need to add some colour to the outfit, eg green necklace to carry it off. I always wondered why I couldn’t wear an all neutral outfit, there has to be some colour in there somewhere.
(Hope you can humour my Australian spelling 🙂 )
Hi Alicia! Thanks for your comment. Yes, I am VERY familiar with color contrast. In fact, I was one of the first stylists to introduce this topic over 10 years ago. It’s actually an entire section of my book. You can also read a blog post I wrote about it here. https://bridgetteraes.com/2013/03/06/blackandwhitefashiontrend/
Thanks again for your great comment!