Feel Good, Look Great in the Office

February 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

I don’t ever remember feeling comfortable in my John Lewis uniform.  It consisted of a scratchy polyester suit that was WAY too big for my small frame, a greying-white shapeless shirt and ‘comfy‘ flats reminiscent of a Clarks pair I wore to school back in the day.  It was £22 and I chose the option to pay for it over 12 months, out of my wages.  It felt as cheap as it was.  Boy, I must have looked a pretty picture.

I hated it mainly because I ended up looking the same as everyone else, which I gather by now you’ve realised is something I never endeavour to do.  I love to be different, and not to make a statement at all, I do it for myself.  In fact, if I’m bound by the constraints of a ‘uniform’ I don’t feel myself at all.  I used to relish each and every event of the John Lewis social calendar , of which there are so many it could be mistaken for a lifestyle rather than a job, but that’s another blog entirely.  At the office party I felt much more comfortable in ‘my own’ clothing (because of course the suit wasn’t quite mine yet, I was only a third of the way through the payments) – each and every personality shone through.  Image is important because it allows me to express myself creatively, but it’s also important if you want to get ahead, not only in business but in relationships too.  Office dressing doesn’t mean you have to leave your personal style at home, you just need to go about it in the right way.

Clever girls will call in the professionals to re-style them as a super brand.  Image consultants and personal stylists are reaping the rewards of the current economic climate as lawyers and bankers alike strive to hold onto their jobs and further careers in a what has become a more competitive environment.  Not only do applicants need better qualifications, intensified social skills and multiple other assets, but they need to look the part.  Now more than ever.  Image has become a powerful tool when it comes to gaining the competitive edge both at work and in the pursuit of Mr Right.  More often than not it’s possible to source the two in one location!  Office party anyone…

Calling on all employees – you have to wise-up to the fact that constantly redefining your image can edge you ahead of colleagues with similar qualifications and experience when it comes to interview and promotion opportunities!  And if you negate what you wear to work playing a part in how well you perform as shallow, the evidence is astonishing.  Research from a Work Foundation think tank reveals that women who wear make up can expect to earn 25 per cent more than those who don’t.  And 80 per cent of employers said appearance was one of the top three qualities they looked for when recruiting.  So I’ve put together a few tips, categorised by age, to get you through that all important job interview and in the right career direction…

16-25 In the early stages of a career it’s important to get noticed, but not for the wrong reasons – a skirt that’s too short or a low cut top will have female colleagues gossiping and your male counterparts gawking .  Navy has trustworthy connotations which perhaps explains why it’s often worn in banking environments (?) but avoid red because it can be seen as aggressive. You may not have a big budget at this stage in your career so H&M, Primark and TK Maxx are ideal shopping locations.  Raid your local charity shops for cufflinks to customise your shirts or even clip-on earrings which work just as well!  Look out for structured handbags in charity shops too as slouchy handbags can look sloppy and aren’t great for storing files and notebooks etc.. Keep accessories to a minimum and avoid anything ‘cheap’ looking such as a huge flower ring or sparkly headbands.  It is also advisable to stay away from jewellery that jangles (chandelier earrings or stacks of bangles) very annoying as you walk through the office, Opt for stud earrings or a single bracelet instead.  A doughnut ring worn high on your head looks neat and trendy and is more youthful than a low bun or French roll.

25-35 No doubt you’re settling into a promising career and are after a promotion by now.  You can have fun while expressing your personality and professionalism through what you wear.  A pencil skirt below the knee (remember no panty lines!), paired with round-toe stilettos show you mean business.  Zara has some great work-wear and is mid-price range.  Save a few pennies by taking over-worn heels to your local cobbler for a revamp or re-style an old shirt with cufflinks.  If your shirts don’t have button holes for cufflinks take them to the tailor who will add an extra button hole for a mere few pounds.  Most of what constitutes a polished image is in the details; scruff-free shoes, perfect tights, polished nails, neat hair.  Experiment with French rolls and sophisticated chignons sweeps and treat yourself to a French manicure every once in a while.

35-50 You are by this point at the peak of your career and may be stuck in a rut or worse in the 80s.  Lose the shoulder pads and power dressing for starters and it is oh-so important to avoid clingy fabrics, lace, spaghetti straps and short skirts.  Also best to be avoided are garish colours such as hot pink or animal print fabrics.  Lilacs, pinks and creams are best worn with black or grey suits and add a touch of femininity.  A grey or tweed printed suit from the likes of Hobbs, Jigsaw and John Lewis are great while a white shirt from Anne Fontaine is a great investment.  Whatever you do choose well made garments, free from obvious designer labels for the most professional look.  Now is also the time to invest in a good handbag with the sole purpose of serving you through Monday to Friday.  Choose a structured style (make sure it can stand alone because it will spend most of it’s life under your chair or desk), with internal compartments and big enough to fit an A4 sized folder.  Complete your new purchase with an emergency kit for last minute meetings and appointments (lipstick, floss, anti-shine papers, Vaseline and mints etc…).

50+ Now it becomes important to stand out and stay ahead of your game – you don’t want to fade into the background.  Ageism is rife in the office and in my opinion it needs to be stamped out!  Invest in well-cut tailored styles that fit you perfectly so you look and feel great.  Smart mid-length skirts look great with a cropped ¾ sleeve jacket (perfect for hot flushes too J) or perhaps a smart pair of trousers with a ruffle cardigan and silk scarf worn around your neck in a chic bow.  Chic is the look you’re striving for here.  You can experiment with soft hairstyles swept loosely off your face rather severe buns held in place with lashings of hairspray!

Even if you get the clothes right, it’s just as important to carry yourself well, smile walk tall!

Having trouble deciding what to wear to work each morning?  What are your personal office wear tips?  Let me know your thoughts…

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