You want to be taken seriously at work and for others to know that you are in charge. Yet, you have been noticing that it’s not working. Have you thought about what you’re wearing? I am reminded of a story of an old client of mine who told me that she was known for being a bit aggressive at work, so much so that others called her the bulldog because she was so tenacious. Impressive, for sure. Yet, when I asked her if she felt her image reflected the level of power, intelligence and experience she had, she got a big fat F. What she came to realize through talking to me was her aggressive style was an overcompensation for the fact that how she presented herself was not effectively sending the right message to others.
If you are looking to create a powerful style at work, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Powerful Style: How to Dress like a Lady Boss
Tip #1- Develop strong shoulders
Even if your workplace doesn’t require suits, having some blazers to wear with your business casual looks will make a huge difference in creating a powerful style. The shoulder line is much stronger than a soft cardigan. You don’t have to wear a jacket or blazer everyday, but on days where you need to lead a team, make a presentation or just want people to know you are in charge, wearing a jacket can make a much stronger impression.
In the outfit above, I styled this blue Reiss dress with a white blazer from Theory and finished the outfit with a pair of nude pumps from Corso Como, a colorful necklace from Banana Republic and work tote from meli melo.
Tip #2- Neatness Counts
Remember when you were in school and the teachers would tell you that neatness counts? Well it still counts and makes a huge difference in being taken seriously at work. It should go without saying that grooming is important even when you aren’t the boss. But, beyond that, create a powerful style by being conscientious about tailoring, proper hemming, the sleeves of your jackets being the right length (this makes a HUGE difference), your bag being clean, keeping your shoes and bag scuff free, etc.
If neatness just isn’t your thing, be prepared. Carry a Tide Stick in your bag at all times, get tailoring done at the store so you don’t bring pieces home and then neglect to get them altered, work dry cleaning and mending into your schedule and don’t be afraid to get up in that shoe shine chair for a quick buff. Speaking of buff, powerful style does include well groomed fingernails.
#3- Pair high end items with less expensive ones
They say to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Sounds great. But what if you don’t have the budget to buy clothing for the job you want? Try this trick: Even my wealthiest clients have a price range of clothing. Some of what they own is very expensive and some of it comes from fast fashion chains. The key to looking more expensive than you can currently afford is to combine different price points, or as I like to call it “cross dress.” The best place to start with this is through your accessories, like a good pair of shoes, a nice handbag, a good watch or a piece of jewelry. By pairing these expensive pieces with your less expensive ones, your look gets elevated. Additionally, you can get more wear from your accessories on a regular basis. This means the investment will be of more value to you.
Take the outfit above. I styled a pair of J. Crew skinny pants with a Banana Republic blazer and black tank top. All of these pieces come from mid-range stores that aren’t budget busters. However, the shoes and bag are pricier. I used a pair of Jimmy Choo flats and Philip Lim bag. The outfit is finished with a less expensive Ann Taylor necklace.
When choosing expensive investment accessories, be sure to choose styles you know you will be able to wear often.
Tip #4- Feel like the boss
In my online course Why Dress for Success Doesn’t Work, one of the key points I make is that in order to dress successfully, you have to feel successful in what you wear. You can choose all the “right” things but if they don’t make you feel like the boss you won’t necessarily convey this message. This is why I gave up wearing skirt suits entirely (which you can hear more about in my course). You also have to remember that powerful style to one person is not powerful to another. This is why you can’t copy the style of another person and get the same results or just read a magazine article or books and expect to get it.
What I look for in my clients is a change in body language. When a client feels great in what they are wearing they walk, stand and even talk differently. You want to take a cue from how you react in what you are wearing to know if you feel like the boss or not.
Tip #5- Step outside the norm
My favorite quote about style is “Being stylish means standing out yet fitting in at the same time.” I think this is so appropriate for workplace attire and creating a powerful style because you always want to stand out for the right reasons at work. This means to find a style that fits within the parameters of what’s appropriate. This varies for each individual.
One way to do this is to take what is considered appropriate to wear to work and tweak it slightly. I did this with a client of mine recently. I put her in a classic sheath dress and blazer jacket. Instead of being a corporate navy blue, the dress was really colorful and over it she wore a white jacket. As I explained to her, the pieces we used weren’t all that different than what any woman would wear to the office. Yet, what set her apart was the color combination which was still appropriate but allowed her to stand out for the right reasons.
There isn’t a lot of variety when it comes to work clothing, so when creating a powerful style the goal instead is to play with how you combine these pieces to make them look different. In the outfit above, all the pieces are pretty basic. You have pencil skirt, tank blouse and cardigan. If these pieces were just white and black they would be fine but not all that memorable, and you would also likely blend right in with all the entry level people. Yet, by playing with color and pattern a whole new look is created. In the outfit above, I used this Ikat print skirt from J. Crew, a pink tank from Reiss, navy cardigan from Ted Baker and strappy sandals in green from Nine West. For jewelry, I used this seaglass necklace from Bauble Bar and, for the bag, the same meli melo bag used in the first look.
Keep in mind, there is no one size fits all solution to creating a powerful style at work. Every workplace is different. However, you should be able to take at least one tip from the tips above and apply it to create a look that is appropriate and let’s everyone know you are in charge.
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As a “lady boss”, I recognize some changes that I should make in my own wardrobe, based on your advice. Your advice is always spot on. Thanks to you, I have added a green handbag and a metallic bag to my wardrobe. I have been thrilled with how well they work with all sorts of outfits. Thanks!
I think Lady Boss is my new favorite word. 😉 I really appreciate the supportive comments, Christine, and am thrilled to hear that my posts resonate. Try yellow next, you’ll be blown away by how much it works with.
Beautiful advice, Bridgette! I’ll be emailing in the next few weeks for more time with you soon as I prepare to speak (in person for a change!) to larger corporate audiences. Your Lady Boss approach will be essential in establishing credibility and then maintaining interest (intellectually and visually).
How exciting! I have been getting notifications that you have been updating your board so it will be great to catch up!! Congrats on the upcoming speaking gigs.
As I’m approaching my 30th birthday, I have discovered the pleasure in having a smaller, well-fitted, mix-and-match wardrobe as opposed to collecting as many fast-fashion “on sale” items that I can possible afford. I am the heaviest in weight I have ever been, but am LOVING getting dressed in the morning due to my cohesive wardrobe. Thanks for all your tips! I totally related to the tip about starting with expensive accessories if on a budget to upgrade the entire look; just bought my first “big girl” purse (a teal leather Tignanello on QVC) and am thrilled by how it instantly elevates all my outfits (and my mood!). I LOVE your work Bridgette, and find myself squealing inside with delight when I see a new email from you in my inbox 🙂
Christine, you are just too sweet. Sometimes it just feels nice to have your work validated. I really appreciate the kind words and am so happy this post resonated with you! You have lady boss in your future for sure! Rock it!
Tignanello is my ALL TIME favorite! (So is Bridgette.)
I’m loving it! Such a classy bag. And 50% off, PLUS interest-free monthly payments from QVC, couldn’t resist 🙂
Thanks for the tip Emily! I had no idea QVC existed let alone carries these 🙂
Great article and ideas. Thank you !