Story by: Dr. Charlene Lawson
Seven Steps to Cultivating Your Professional Style
Did you get dressed this morning? Yes, of course you did. After brushing your teeth, it’s typically the first decision we make every morning. Have you considered that it’s also the most important? What we’re wearing is the first thing people notice about us. Our outfit sets the tone for the day. It affects our confidence, attitude, and performance. It also sends a message to the world about who we are and what we want.
Do you dress with intention, or do you wake up to a closet full of clothes and feel like you have nothing to wear every morning?
Getting dressed every day should not stress you out. If you’re not happy with the clothes in your wardrobe, chances are it’s because they’re not aligned with your personal style, body shape, lifestyle and how you feel internally.
I’ve met so many brilliant and accomplished women who weren’t comfortable expressing their true personal style in the workplace. They were worried about standing out in male-dominated fields, felt they were simply too busy to dress well or believed fashion might somehow detract from their hard work.
Well ladies, here’s the deal. You don’t need to sacrifice style for success or authenticity for ambition. You can be powerful, feminine and stylish, all while staying true to yourself. At the end of the day, when we look good, we feel great. And when we feel great, it works magic for our confidence and performance, in all aspects of our lives.
Here are 7 steps to help you cultivate a professional style, boost your confidence and get dressed exactly how you want to be addressed:
- Develop a healthy self-image
A woman’s image reflects a perspective to the world concerning how she sees herself. When we look in the mirror, we tend to focus on weight gain, pimples, gray hairs, back fat and crow’s feet. It can be a demoralizing experience. But the truth is that the mirror reflects our feelings about ourselves. Your self-perception and self-esteem influence your spirit and if you don’t like yourself everything about you will show it including your clothes. We all have flaws, but we will never improve our lives or self-confidence by solely focusing on them. Starting now, begin to identify positive attributes about yourself. And get in front of a mirror and re-affirm yourself every day. Self-confidence is the foundation of style.
- Get to know your body shape
There’s a perception that stylish equals skinny. This is so not true. Style comes in all sizes, but guess what, it’s not even about your size, it’s about knowing your shape and how to make clothes work for you NOT against you. So, while you’re standing in the mirror reaffirming your greatness, get to know your body. There are 5 body shapes for women (you may be a hybrid of two): hourglass, inverted triangle, rectangle, pear and apple. The goal is to balance your body. For example, if you have a pear shape, you’re smaller on the top and bigger on the bottom. In order to balance your shape, you should add embellishment and volume to the top and avoid volume and bold colors that draw attention to the bottom and potentially make you look larger.
- Define your personal style
Stop taking your taste for granted or assuming it as a fact of who you are. Challenge yourself to understand why you are drawn to certain cuts, colors and garments. When things make you feel good ask why, and conversely, pay attention to why you do not like something. Identify a celebrity whose style resonates with you and dig deeper to understand why. Create a private Pinterest board and populate it with pins that you love. Identify patterns on your board such as similar colors, prints and vibes (e.g., glam, minimalist, preppy, casual, sophisticated, edgy, etc.)
Write down 3-4 adjectives to describe your personal style keeping in mind the message you want to convey to others.
- Align your personal style with your professional image
Think about your office culture, is it business casual, business professional or a business formal environment? Next, consider your personal style and if it naturally aligns with your office culture. For example, if you’re working in a business professional environment and you’re obsessed with leopard print and neon colors, you may find it difficult to balance your personal and professional style. The trick here is to adhere to the office culture and add your own subtle twist. Instead of wearing a head to toe leopard suit, try a sleek black suit, with a leopard print blouse, belt or pump. If you’re a business owner, consider what’s appropriate for your industry and know your target audience. Studies show that people are more inclined to do business with people who are dressed like them.
- Set a wardrobe standard
Your wardrobe standard is the result you expect from your appearance. This could be respect, recognition, power, influence, the choice is yours. Consider your role in the company, the company values and branding. Write down your wardrobe standard and place it in your closet to remind yourself of how you need to present your visual self before leaving the house each morning.
- Detox your closet
Determine if your current wardrobe is aligned with steps 1-5. If you’re struggling to get dressed on a regular basis it’s probably not. Remove everything from the closet (this sounds painful but trust me it’s worth it) and only allow garments back into the closet that boost your confidence, flatter your shape, reflects your personal style and embody your wardrobe standard. Get rid of anything you have not worn in over 2 years, including pieces that are too small, too big, damaged or outdated.
- Shop S.M.A.R.T
Consider your lifestyle and identify key items missing from your closet. If you spend 80% of your week in a corporate space but your closet is missing basic work essentials such as black slacks, fitted blazers and blouses, then it’s time to go shopping with intention.
Stay in control. Shop the store; don’t let the store shop you. It is completely ok to leave a store empty-handed if you don’t see anything that you love.
Make a most-wanted list. Your clothes speak for you, so make sure you identify the items you wear the most and why. Having a most-wanted list reinforces that any new clothes reflect who you are.
Avoid buying something just because it’s on sale. If you would not have paid full price for it, you don’t really like it that much.
Read the reviews when shopping online and take into account what customers are saying before you buy.
Take some of your own items to help you finish or match a hard to wear piece. Bring a pair of heels or a belt to give you a better idea of a complete look.
Most of these steps take effort, not money. So put in the effort, be your own priority, and commit to developing a professional style that is authentic and reflective of how truly amazing you really are.
Bonus: Style tips for what to wear to a professional conference
- Wear comfortable shoes
- Add a pop of color to stand out in a sea of navy and grey
- If you’re speaking, opt for a sheath dress with sleeves or tailored suit
- Carry a lightweight, preferably a shoulder bag to free your hands
- Dress in layers. Always bring a wrap or blazer to complement your look in case it’s cold inside
- Scope out photos from the previous year to see what people are wearing
- Dress exactly how you want to be addressed and remembered
Dr. Charlene Lawson
Certified Personal Stylist
Founder of Style Chemistry Consulting