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chapter 3
Your Appearance

The clothes you wear are a factor in how you are perceived by others, especially initially. You can say that this is unfair and superficial but it is a reality. This applies to the workplace, social situations and your general dealings with the public.
Today, there are few hard and fast “rules” that dictate your appearance clothes-wise. Increasingly, both men and women are seeking to express their own individual sense of fashion, flair and style. There are, however, considerable variances to what is regarded as acceptable attire between regions, countries and even different cities within some large countries.
The recommendations in this chapter about dressing for work are principally applicable to individuals who have office jobs. The same points are also relevant if you are having a meeting in an office setting, such as asking a bank manager for a loan.
Dressing for Work
Recognizing that most people can only afford to spend so much on their wardrobe, here are some points to keep in mind that apply to both women and men at the office and in the workplace:
  • As first impressions are often lasting impressions, pay particular attention to how you dress for your first day at a new job. You want to be taken seriously, so look as professional and smart as you can, regardless of where you work. In this case, it is usually best to start by erring on the side of slightly dressing up rather than dressing down.
  • In the case of business and office attire, there may be advantages to dressing for the position you want, not the position you have.
  • Every industry and company of any size typically has its own generally accepted office or work dress code. For “casual days” at the office or if casual attire is the standard for your workplace, you still have to maintain certain standards of looking smart and professional. No one should come to work with a sloppy or scruffy appearance. Casual office clothes, like more dressy attire, always need to be clean and properly pressed.
  • At more formal organizations, casual office attire usually means the men do not have to wear ties and suits but are required to wear dress pants and blazers or sports jackets while the women are expected to dress accordingly in somewhat less formal dresses, skirts or pants.
  • Recognize the difference between attire that is suitable for the office and work versus what you wear at home on the weekend and going out in the evening. For example, if a woman wants to be taken seriously, sheer blouses, stiletto heels, and low-rise pants with bare midriffs do not belong in the workplace. The same applies to outdoor and sporty attire, such as golf shirts, for men.
  • If you have a business meeting outside of your place of work, you usually should conform to the dress code of the people with whom you are meeting, especially if they are clients or customers.
  • For those who work in a non-office environment, your appearance and clothes are still important to your image as a professional worker. This means coming to work in clean, suitable clothing without any tears, rips or wild colors. If you look sloppy and disheveled, people will tend to assume that this is indicative of the quality of your work.
  • It is best to err on the side of formality for business, professional and social events rather than risk being regarded as someone who does not know better. Try to find out beforehand exactly how people are going to be dressed for an event.
Being in Style
However you dress, the challenge is to look like you are in style without trying mindlessly to follow the latest fashion fad. This is obviously much easier for men than women, whose clothes are more subject to changing fashions. It is a good idea to avoid extremes at either end of the fashion spectrum, especially when it comes to dressing for work. You do not want to stand out by wearing something that is radically fashion-forward nor do you want to look like you are conforming to everyday styles to the point of seeming to wear a uniform. Recognize also that some types of clothes will look good on you and others will not, regardless of who designed them.
The fashion industry, including style magazines, has an obvious vested interest in pushing for change in modes of dress as much as possible. Consequently, the newest fashion fads always generate a great deal of hype, regardless of how silly or unbecoming they may look. Fashion designers, in particular, extensively use celebrities to promote their latest “new looks”. Exercise some caution before you follow suit.
In a Wall Street Journal interview, Vogue Editor Anna Wintour rightly stated, “Fashion is for everybody.” To look great, Wintour recommended: “Buy just a few really good pieces. Wear them over and over instead of buying 100 iffy things. Be sure that you love them, that they look good on you, that they fit and they work with your life … Find your own style and stay with it. Find what looks best on you, your shape and your size, and feel confident wearing it.”
To help you implement Wintour’s advice, find a knowledgeable salesperson to guide you in selecting your clothes, accessories or shoes. This will help you avoid wasting money on poor choices that do not work out. Ask your associates and friends who you think dress smartly for their suggestions on salespeople who have impressed them in the past. If you have a good experience with a salesperson, ask for his or her name and always deal with that individual whenever you shop at that store.
Here are some recommendations regarding the styling and fabrics of your clothes:
  • For office and dressy social attire, you are always better off to select classic styling for your main pieces of clothing such as suits, jackets, dresses, skirts and pants. Avoid overly trendy or exaggerated styles that invariably go out of fashion and become dated within a short period of time. This does not mean, however, that you have to look boring.
  • Approach the selection and purchase of your main articles of dress clothing as making an investment. Be highly selective and go for the best quality of fabric, fit and tailoring you can afford. What you need in your wardrobe are a few classically styled, basic garments that will remain in fashion for a relatively long period of time, ones that are versatile for wearing to both professional and social events, as well as everyday at the office.
  • In selecting your basic dress garments, you are best off avoiding patterned clothing that will be difficult to coordinate with your accessories. Dark, solid-colored suits with a subtle vertical chalk-stripe in the fabric are attractive but ones with a pronounced checkered or window-pane pattern generally make you look heavier than you actually are.
  • For your principal suits, jackets, dresses, skirts and pants, avoid heavy fabrics and those that easily crease. Ideally, you want to be able to wear a garment in most months of the year and the less a piece has to be pressed or go to the dry cleaners, the longer it is going to last.
  • As a general rule, clothes made of 100% natural fabrics are best and clothes made of a blend of mainly natural with some synthetic fabrics are second-best. While some clothes made of 100% synthetic fibers are quite wearable, body odors tend to be more noticeable with them as they do not “breathe” as does a natural fabric or blend. They also do not last as long, especially if they are worn frequently. In addition, such garments have to be dry-cleaned if they become soiled.
  • Suits and other dress clothing are increasingly being made in lighter-weight blended and stretch fabrics that are “stain-resistant” and “crease-free” or “wrinkle-resistant”. These are becoming extremely practical for business wear, especially for those who travel a great deal.
  • This is a personal matter but I am not in favor of wearing any clothing that has a large logo on it. The same applies to one’s accessories, handbags and luggage. Who needs to be a billboard for a brand or designer unless you are being paid to do so?
Wear conservative, dark-colored clothes to a funeral. In the case of men, this means wearing a subdued dark-toned tie, preferably with a navy-blue or dark charcoal-grey suit and white shirt.

Scents for Men and Women
  • Select a perfume, after-shave lotion or cologne with a scent that best suits you, ideally one that is not commonly used by your friends and associates. Make it your “signature” perfume or after-shave lotion.
  • Utilize the advice of a knowledgeable salesperson or friend to help you find the scent that works best for you.
  • Keep in mind that the primary note of a scent does not occur with the initial application but after the scent has been applied and “mixed” with the wearer’s own body chemistry.
  • You want the scent of your after-shave lotion, cologne or perfume to be subtle, not overpowering. If someone can smell it more than two feet away, you have put too much on.
  • Since after-shave lotions, colognes and perfumes contain chemicals that may trigger negative physical reactions on the part of some sensitive individuals, you generally should not wear them at work, in meetings or traveling. In addition, never wear any scented products in a job interview.

Footwear and Accessories
The styling and quality of your footwear and accessories are a critical part of your appearance. Consider these suggestions:
  • Purchasing non-casual footwear is the second category of apparel where you should take an investment approach. Purchase the best quality of dress shoes you can afford, especially to wear everyday at the office and for professional and social events. The better the quality of shoes, the longer they will last.
  • You are best off to select dress shoes that have classic, simple styling. Also, the color of your dress shoes has to coordinate with the color of the rest of the clothes you are wearing. Whenever you purchase dress shoes, ask to be given cloth shoe bags that you can use to pack your shoes in when you’re traveling. They are usually available at most shoe departments and stores.
  • It is essential that your shoes fit well and are comfortable. More money has been wasted purchasing poorly fitting footwear than any other article of clothing. This is why it makes sense to shop for shoes at the end of the day when your feet are usually slightly swollen from walking around.
  • For most people, one foot is larger than the other so select the footwear size that fits your largest foot. Also pay particular attention to how the widest part of your foot fits the widest part of your shoe. Do not assume that an uncomfortable-fitting shoe will stretch into being a comfortable fit.
  • The most important piece of jewelry for some individuals is a watch, especially if it is worn often. In this case, the styling of the watch and its band should enable you to wear your watch most of the time. Black, dark brown and oxblood-colored leather straps and simple metal chain bands are the most versatile.
  • If your type of work involves carrying documents, papers and other work-related items to meetings and outside of your office, select a simply styled, dark-brown or black leather attaché case or soft briefcases for this purpose. Alternatively, women can use a soft, shopper-style leather bag with longish straps as a briefcase, again in dark-brown or black. If you do so, rather than just dump all your stuff in the bag, keep specific items in separate zippered cases to make it easier to find what you need. Cases for carrying your laptop computer should also be of a subdued color and look businesslike.
What to Avoid
To make the right impression, avoid the following:
  • For women at work or attending professional events, wearing revealing clothing that shows cleavage and too much bare skin. The same applies to skirts that are too short and clothes that are transparent.
  • Chewing gum when you are working in an office, holding a position that involves dealing face-to-face with customers and the public, or attending either a social event or business meeting.
  • Grooming yourself in public, including when you are at a restaurant. No one wants to watch you combing your hair, using a toothpick or putting on makeup, including lipstick. Do these things in private at home or in a bathroom.
  • Filing, cleaning, biting or polishing your nails in public or at the office. Again, wait until you are in a bathroom or at home to do so.
  • For women, using too much makeup. You want others to notice the natural you, not your makeup. Follow the “less is more” rule for makeup, especially at work.
For more information on clothes and fashion sense, see Building a Wardrobe — Women, Building a Wardrobe — Men and Taking Care of Your Clothes on the Other Stuff To Know section of our website at


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