Being a personal stylist with a concentration on workplace image and style, I have spent the past 18 years helping women craft and establish their image when they were either ready to level up or have found themselves without an image to reflect their newfound up-leveled position. I can recall clearly the first client where this was the primary focus. My client was a bright, ambitious lawyer going for a partner position at her law firm. Smartly, she understood the impact taking her image seriously would have in not only how she would be perceived by others but, more importantly, how she would perceive herself. My client wound up making partner earlier than the norm and credited her image as one of the strong influencers in making that happen.
Since then, I have witnessed the phenomenon of how image impacts one’s success time and time again where it was the image component of the equation that helped them get a better position, a raise, or a new job. As a client of mine who is a CEO just said to me last week, “I took my image seriously when I started taking myself seriously,” and another client recently hired me when she decided to maximize her potential.
Leveling up your image and style isn’t about fashion or trends as much as it is about communication and messaging. In this case, fashion is truly the tool that is used to communicate just as branding is used by companies to build credibility, establish trust and identify their goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers. By that notion, we cannot dismiss the importance of image when leveling up.
However, leveling up your image isn’t just critical in your messaging to others, it’s critical in how our own self-perception. Everyone knows how differently we act when we know that there is a connection between who we are, what we want to say, and what we wear. You’re not human if you haven’t lived through at least one experience where you were caught off guard looking bad at a key moment. You likely noticed a change in your confidence or how you engaged in the situation. Not being mindful of the image in situations like this not only can cause you to cower but they can cause you to overcompensate. I worked with a client once who thought her aggressive nature at work was something to be proud of until she realized had her image been in line with her messaging, she wouldn’t have needed to overcompensate or work so hard to get her message across.
Looking to Level Up?
If you are looking to level up in your career but haven’t figured your image or workplace style into the equation, I implore you to consider it. Yes, you may move ahead without it and you may do just fine, but the difference in leveling up your image as you level up in your career can be the difference between a smooth ride and a harder one. Here are some things you can do to get the ball rolling.
#1- Get Clear on Your Message
The Nike swoosh and their tagline, “Just Do It” were clear and concise branding efforts to make clear the message the company wanted to say. You can’t create an image that successfully captures your message if you don’t know what your message is. What is it that you want to communicate at work? Do you want people to know you are powerful, competent, a team player, a leader? What do you wear that embodies these messages? We’ve all been there when we put something on and we notice a change in our gait, a change in how we stand, how powerfully we engage when we know what we are wearing is aligned. Once your image is aligned with your message, you embody that message and it becomes an authentic form of communication.
Don’t be afraid if you notice that the looks that accomplish this are limited. Be okay if the looks that comprise these powerful feelings are small. You may be someone who just never feels powerful in dresses or who feels on fire when they wear a strong blazer over a uniform look of a basic top and tailored pants.
#2- Get Ready to Invest
I am going to start with a disclaimer: Spending more on your clothing does not automatically equal success and in no way should you spend more than you can budget for. Case in point, years ago, a company hired me to help level up an employee’s image and somehow this employee got the impression at work that this meant she should go out immediately and buy an Akris Punto blazer for around $1,200 dollars. This was before I came into the picture and when I heard that someone made this recommendation, I cringed and felt terribly bad for this employee who had somehow gleaned this false information.
While this employee did have the budget for a jacket like this, there were so many steps that needed to be taken before she went out and just bought a pricey blazer. And even if she did have the budget for a jacket like this, it hadn’t been established if she even needed it. Throwing your hard-earned dollars at expensive clothing will not right the ship, but taking that doesn’t mean investing in clothing is a bad idea either. The keyword here is investing. Think of it more in those terms. You want to get a return on the clothing investments you make.
In this day and age, there are so many ways to up-level your image by investing in clothing that does not break the bank. I buy most of my designer clothing through consignment stores, like The Real Real or Poshmark and I have also found that when I buy better, even if it was at a deep discount, I care for the clothes better, buy less and wear more, and communicate differently when I know that I am wearing better. There is a psychological impact when we invest in ourselves, and that includes clothing.
#3- Get Help
This isn’t a plea to get you to hire me so I am going to be clear while trying not to sound like a commercial. If you are leveling up your image, you have to at least consider getting professional help, preferably with an image and style professional who works primarily with people who specialize in this type of work. An editorial stylist, for example, does not know the ins and outs of workplace styling. Most of my clients are brilliant and impressive, solution-driven women who understand that their goals are rarely achieved without help. The common thing I see most often in those who hire me is they are ambitious, smart, exceptional women who have achieved a great deal yet find that their image is where they falter. It’s almost comical to think about. These women have achieved so much and it’s their image that trips them up. Yet, because they are smart, they realize they don’t have to go it alone.
People will encourage you to go to a personal shopper or to buy a clothing subscription service but never in a million years will services like these come close to matching what a professional can do for you. None of these services will offer the depth that a professional that you pay for will. I’m not wholly opposed to working with a store personal shopper or a clothing subscription service if you feel very clear in the image they want to establish and how to do it, but in situations where this isn’t the case, it isn’t enough. And even still, I’d recommend a professional woman check in with their personal stylist to get feedback on those purchases. So even if it is for a small consult with an expert, like myself, who can unearth and establish your image, consider working hiring someone who is willing to dig a bit with you.
#4- Mix High-End with Low-End
One clever trick to elevate your image at work is to mix your investment pieces with your low-end ones. I don’t care how big a budget a client has, I have a hard time encouraging a client to spend a great deal on certain things. A cheap suit is a lot easier to spot than an inexpensive top that will likely get soiled quickly. Nobody needs to spend $500 on a tank top for under a suit. Plus, when you pair high-end with low-end, the lower end pieces get elevated and look more expensive. It’s a trick I have been doing for years and even one that my good friend Dan Lawson, costume designer of shows like The Good Wife and The Good Fight, also uses. A good rule of thumb is, the closer it sits to your body (not including underwear, although you should be investing in good bras), the less you can spend. You don’t need to cast-off your less expensive pieces and this trick works well as you are building your wardrobe up with better. Know the right areas to put your hard-earned money.
#5- Get Creative
Get creative within the parameters of what is acceptable in your workplace. My clients range from a Disney Imagineer to corporate C-Suite clients and, obviously, the strategies are greatly different in what I put on each of them. So you have to be mindful of what creative means for you. However, in all cases, what you want to avoid is looking like what I call an Acceptably Dressed Nobody. Fashion nightmares never call me. In fact, most of my clients could probably go the rest of their lives never making a change to their image and be just fine. The problem in all my clients’ cases was that there was usually nothing memorable about them either. I could swap their heads for someone else’s and they would never know the difference. Image work is highly nuanced and it’s all about small tweaks and clothing pairings that put a new spin on what they were already doing.
While small, these tweaks make a significant impact in helping a client craft their message more powerfully while also building confidence. It helps to create a more seamless connection between who the client is and how they express it. Creativity in wardrobe choices shows a level of intelligence and out-of-the-box thinking that is typically praised in workplace environments.
#6- Go the Extra Mile
Just like a workplace notices when a person comes in early and stays late or who is always prepared with their work, a workplace will also notice when a person goes the extra mile with their image and appearance. It shows an attention to detail and even an ability to manage themselves well. Imagine how differently you look at a colleague who is unkempt or slapdash in their appearance. It’s likely that how you perceive their image is how you perceive they do other things too. Give yourself a challenge, try dressing one notch above the dress code at your workplace and see what happens. Be cognizant of looking polished and refined, even if you work in a workplace that allows for business-casual attire.
#7- Become a workplace “brand ambassador” while staying true to yourself
By brand ambassador, I mean in terms of representing where you work. Every employee is a representation of the whole of the workplace, even if it is a small roll. So it is important that your image is reflective of the values, mission, and required dress code standards set. However, within that, there is plenty of wiggle room to find your truth in that and cultivate an image and style that is also reflective of you. That is what you want to aim for, to fit in and stand out at the same time.
Ready to Level Up Your Image?
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