The Power of Dressing

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression—and there’s nothing casual about that.

What you wear speaks volumes about your character and credibility. The way you dress shows respect for your workplace and reflects your career goals. After all, dressing sloppily can make you appear unprofessional in the eyes of clients and employees.

Imagine you are suffering from some serious health ailment and go to a clinic with a prominent board displaying the doctor’s name followed by a string of impressive qualifications. You enter anxious, but with the hope of getting quick relief. Then suddenly, you come across the doctor sitting there dressed in colorful Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt, with some bizarre tattoos running right up his arms! I am sure such a scenario would not inspire you much.

Similarly, would you trust a bank soliciting your hard earned money if one of its long-haired representatives approached you dressed in a pair of ragged jeans and dirty sneakers? I dare not.

Welcome to the world of power dressing.

In today’s world, the way we dress is all about looking the part and projecting the right image. Just as the glow of our skin reflects the state of our health, it is our outward appearance that projects the “right” image – professional, confident, and assertive.

Studies show that people form an impression about each other within the first seven seconds that they meet, including making a general assessment of their financial and professional successes. Simply put, today we live in an age of appearances. And looking smart and professional is no longer an option, it is a necessity.

James Ammeen, president of the US-based Men’s Apparel Alliance, says, “You’re in a tough market, so if you want people to trust you, invest with you, you’d better look like a pretty serious person.” In fact, we have to look the leader and exude the success that we want to achieve even before we achieve them.

Rest assured power dressing is all about exuding authority and confidence amidst all the stakeholders, whether they are employees, business associates, or customers.

Man Power

Like the way all leadership training programs emphasize the importance of goal setting and focus on achieving the same, every morning think of how your day is going to be, and what do you want to achieve that day. Now decide how you are going to appear to ensure that the day’s objectives are met and accordingly choose your clothing for the day. This simple exercise will not only bring focus on day to day objectives but also make you appear and behave accordingly.

You don’t need to wear pinstripes or dark suits all the time in the name of power dressing. But power dressing so very importantly does include good grooming and appropriate accessories, such as properly matched shoes, socks, belts, etc.

  • The cornerstone of power dressing is the suit. It’s the suit that commands respect and makes you look – and feel – like a million dollars. Narrow lapels, impeccable tailoring, and a flattering drape all combine to give you an elegant look.
  • Basic black leather shoes are a must for any power dresser. Pair them with dress socks in a bold color, matching your pocket square or tie to your socks. But remember, white socks are a complete no-no.
  • French cuff dress shirts when paired with a power suit, add a dramatic yet refined finish to an already upscale ensemble.
  • For the elegantly polished look, opt for cuff links with a tasteful yet classic design.
  • The wrong bag can completely ruin an otherwise incredible look. A back pack is a complete no-no. Whereas, a briefcase or portfolio bag makes you look like you take your job seriously.

Women Power

Leadership roles have always called for men to be dressed in dark, dull suits, but power dressing came into focus when women started rising up in the corporate ladder, and Mrs. Margret Thatcher became the embodiment of the same. She cast he mold for how, even today, female politicians, or first ladies dress; conservative, powerful (yet feminine) but most importantly, consistent, to establish stability and anchoring.

  • Dress to be taken seriously, but maintain your femininity; you want people listening to what you are saying and not looking at what you are wearing.
  • Mrs. Thatcher recognized the power of power dressing. Her attire was designed to say, ‘I speak, you listen.”
  • Hillary Clinton’s power dress is a long Nehru jacket with pants, mostly in black, a vivid shirt underneath and bold jewelry.
  • Comfortable, low-heeled shoes are a must for walking long distances across punishing floors
  • Wear minimal make up in conservative tones.
  • A smart leather portfolio bag or purse in a dark, rich colour, classic style adds a punch to the way you look.
  • Coming to work in shorts and sandals or “revealing” clothing is not appropriate for the workplace.

What makes your attire suitable for a role is dictated not just by the style or design details but most importantly, the color of the clothes. Colors speak about our mental make-up by eliciting very specific attributes that they stand for, evoking a sense of serenity, power, authority, youthfulness, trustworthiness, etc. by the wearer. But it’s not all about dark dull colors, it’s also about adding bold colors to reflect your personality, your creativity and drawing attention to the right places. Ties and scarves play an important role in this aspect, as they shift focus upwards and draw attention to the face.

Pin stripes, navy suits and black Nehru jackets are not the end of it, even though they rank high in corporate and leadership roles. Climatic considerations are very important when it comes to a country like India, or warm humid tropical places. Light weight fabrics in lighter, duller colors can do the job, as much as their darker heavy-weight counterparts.

Think of our own corporate leaders such as Asim Premji, Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej, Indra Noori, or the Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan, or for that matter, Sonia Gandhi in the political arena. They all exude power and strength in the way they appear in public life – appropriate, authoritative, formal, and leaders. There can be no doubt about their success.

Dressing appropriately for an occasion is an art, which through proper guidance and understanding can be acquired to suit your roles and goals. Trained image consultants work with leaders, world over, to assist them in acquiring this life skill to create the “power” look and the right “image”.

A piece of advice here: Looking a million bucks has no meaning if you don’t act the part. Power dressing is also about your demeanor and walking the talk. However, chances are that if you feel good about your appearance, you’ll feel a lot more confident…and that’s half the battle won. Always remember, you are as successful as you look, act, and think you are.

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