NEW YORK (MainStreet) Whether you're striving for a promotion, a pay raise or just more respect around the office, take a good, hard look at yourself in the mirror. What you wear and the way you present yourself at work could be affecting your career. "Most people don't realize that their outfit is conveying something on an unconscious level to other people and that they can be more effective at work and more successful if they dress a certain way," says William Cane, president of Manhattan Makeovers, an image consulting company in Yonkers, N.Y. We're not just talking about funky shirts and wacky tattoos here sometimes seemingly innocuous pieces can actually send the wrong message to co-workers and bosses. To help put you on the road to success, we asked several fashion and career experts to provide their top style secrets for the workplace. Read on to get the scoop.
For most professional positions, the key is to wear clothing that helps you blend in with the company culture, so conduct a little detective work before you start a new job to find what the other employees are wearing. "Swing by the office where you are going to work and watch, from across the street or your car, how people dress as they come into the building," says Richie Frieman, an etiquette writer known as Modern Manners Guy. Frieman suggests taking note of things such as whether the employees wear suits and ties or business casual clothing and whether they carry messenger bags or briefcases. "If you can't do this, visit the company website and Facebook page to see what office life really looks like," Frieman says.
Our experts tell us that the colors you wear have the ability to influence how your co-workers and managers view you, so be sure to choose colors wisely. For instance, when it comes to selecting a suit, Cane says that you should generally avoid those that are black. "Black is quite severe and can look a bit funereal," says Cane. However, Cane adds that the severity of black can actually work to the advantage of certain employees. "It can be especially effective for a woman who doesn't have enough authority or who is short and needs to enhance her ability to command respect on the job," he explains. Elaine Wiart, an image consultant and fashion blogger, says that for traditional careers such as accounting, banking, finance, law and politics, neutral colors such as navy, gray, beige and brown will send the message that you are trustworthy, loyal, responsible and reliable. Conversely, "Red for these types of professions should be used carefully, because it will often give the client the impression that you will be aggressive with his portfolio," Wiart says. Of course, if you're in a more creative or unconventional career such as fashion design, acting, music or photography, you can often be more experimental with colors. "In those careers the message to be conveyed is that you are innovative, imaginative, original and unique," Wiart says. "A range of colors are accepted, including dark tones such as black, espresso and indigo, and unusual colors such as mustard, pumpkin, clove, avocado and eggplant."
If your appearance makes you intimidating to customers or clients such as if you're very tall there are simple ways to make yourself seem more approachable. "You can lighten your look by taking off your jacket or wearing pastel colors," says Cane. "These will help decrease the intimidating factor you have."
It turns out that the old belief that glasses make you look more sophisticated is often true, our experts tell us. Glasses are also a good choice for very attractive people who want to appear less attractive in order to be taken more seriously in the office, Cane says. Of course, if you have good eyesight and don't actually require glasses to improve your vision, you can simply buy frames with nonprescription lenses. Not sure what type of lens to buy? "Here's the rule that we use with our clients: if your face is round or roundish, wear contrasting square or rectangular frames," says Cane. "If your face is more square-ish, we suggest roundish or oval frames."
Some offices offer a relaxed dress code that allows employees to wear jeans every day or once a week. While this may seem like a great opportunity to showcase your individuality, proceed with caution. "For women, jeans should fit at the waist but be loose around the hips or you might give off sexual signals," says Cane. He also suggests that women choose plain blue, black or even white jeans over faded or bleached denim. "Dark blue, for instance, conveys more authority, while stonewashed jeans look like you're going to the beach," Cane says. Men should also be wary of tight jeans. "Avoid pants that hug the legs too tightly and that are too light in color," Cane advises. "Men should wear dark blue or black jeans." And stay away from jeans with rips or holes in them. "They'll give off a too-casual and not business-ready feel," says Lindsay Weiner, founder and owner of Style Me ASAP, an online stylist-on-call subscription service.
While a well-tailored look can make you look sharp and professional, wearing ill-fitting clothes can make you look sloppy and unprofessional. "Generally for men, the biggest offenses include wearing pants or jackets that are too short or too long," says David A. McKnight, an image and lifestyle consultant and author of the book The Zen of Executive Presence. "For women, the biggest offenses include wearing skirts or pants that are too tight or blouses that are too low or too tight." Of course, you should feel comfortable in whatever you wear in order to project a confident, self-assured image. "If you're uncomfortable in your clothes, it will show," says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing service with locations worldwide.
Clothing isn't the only thing that co-workers notice they will also be checking out your shoes and accessories, too. "Women primarily look at shoes and jewelry when evaluating other women," says Alexandra Levit, author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can't Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. "I recommend investing in three good pairs of dress shoes and a few pieces of simple but high-quality gold jewelry pieces. If you're afraid your commute will kill your feet, wear sneakers on the way to work and change before stepping into your office building." When it comes to men, our experts say they should keep their shoes shined and take out any visible piercings while on the job (though exceptions are sometimes made for the creative fields).
While you may be tempted to freshen up each morning before work with your favorite perfume or cologne, it's best to keep these scents to a minimum or forgo using them altogether. "The first thing a potential client or your employees notice about you should not be an odor," says Charley Polachi, managing partner at Polachi Access Executive Search in Framingham, Mass. "Instead, let your creativity shine." That bottle of Armani cologne or Juicy Couture perfume might also irritate peoples' allergies, and you certainly don't want to make your boss sneeze when he or she comes near you. "Many people are sensitive to perfumes and colognes, so err on the conservative side," says Hosking. --Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet