Like it or not, people form opinions about you based on the way you dress. First impressions are made in a fraction of a second, and they’re largely based on the way you look.
Ill-fitting or wrinkled pants, a cleavage-baring top, a grease-stained tie, or a sweater from two decades ago – no matter how comfortable it is – all say something about who you are. Whether or not your fashion statement is an accurate one doesn’t matter. If you choose to wear it, you choose to be judged on it.
This reality may not be fair, but it’s why being cognizant of your wardrobe is so crucial to your success as an administrative professional. If you want your colleagues and, more importantly, your executive to take you seriously, then you have to look the part.
This may sound like a tall order if you’re not fashion-inclined or you don’t have a personal stylist to consult on a daily basis. However, being a well-dressed professional doesn’t mean you need to look like you walked off a magazine photo shoot every day. It means making smart decisions about what you wear to work each day. And that doesn’t take professional help or love of fashion – it just takes some thought and planning!
Dressing the Part of a Professional
Your attire is part of your personal brand. This is the most important thing to remember as you get dressed for work each day. What you put on is a reflection of who you are and how you want to be viewed as a professional.
So, how do you properly express your brand packaging?
Clothes, accessories, and makeup are the key elements of your daily brand packaging, so focus on each one of these elements when you get ready each day. It’s also important to wear what feels good to you. However, this doesn’t mean you can walk into the office in a t-shirt and yoga pants – even if they’re black and look like dress pants.
Your company’s dress code can act as a baseline for your wardrobe decisions, but it’s not the level you should dress to. Think of it more like the ground floor minimum that the company doesn’t want you to sink below. For instance, if it says skirts and dresses cannot be shorter than two inches above the knees, you probably shouldn’t wear anything that falls above your knees. Regardless of the dress code language, female admins need to be especially careful about how much skin they show. Showing too much skin can give people the wrong impression about you, and it definitely doesn’t say “professional.”
Aside from respecting your company’s dress code and covering up a bit, your professional brand packaging is really a matter of personal preference. If you like to wear slacks instead of skirts or dresses, then that’s fine – provided that they’re clean, wrinkle-free, and fit appropriately. Conversely, if skirts and dresses are more your styles, then go that route. It’s completely your choice; just make sure your choices accurately represent you as a professional.
Throughout my career, I’ve worked in a variety of administrative environments with vastly different dress codes for each position. I even wore a police uniform when I was a dispatcher for a few years. In the manufacturing environment, I rarely wore a business suit, but I almost always wore casual slacks and nice tops with an occasional jacket. Jeans were reserved for warehouse inventory days. In most executive assistant positions, though, a professional business suit – skirt or pants – with a splash of color, high necklines, tasteful jewelry, and a nice leather bag created the brand packaging that accompanied my personal promise of providing “executive level administrative support.” Short pants or jeans were saved for evenings and weekends when I wasn’t actively representing my executive or company.
Figure out what you want your professional wardrobe to say about your personal brand, then only choose clothes, accessories, and makeup that confirm that message. Consider investing in yourself and your career by having an image consultant do an image consultation to help you identify the best styles for your body type, the optimal clothing colors for your skin tone, and coordinating accessories. Visit your local department store and have your make-up done professionally. Raise your personal awareness and invest in educating yourself, and you’ll be able to make simple improvements that make a big impact on the message your brand projects.
Another personal cue to listen for is if you ever ask yourself, “I wonder if this outfit is work-appropriate?” Chances are the answer is “no.” Or if you catch yourself apologizing to visitors, clients, or colleagues for what you’re wearing, then you’re probably wearing the wrong thing. If you’re not comfortable with your brand packaging – it’s the wrong packaging. If it pulls or hangs wrong, feels too short or tight, or it’s not a color you like – then don’t wear it. When you find the right packaging, you’ll know it. You’ll feel comfortable, fashionable, and attractive, which will make you feel competent, secure, and savvy.
The Perks of Dressing Like a Pro
Being selective about your work attire goes a long way in conveying who you are and your level of professionalism. However, the benefits of being a smart, professional dresser don’t stop there. These are just a few of the many other perks of dressing like a pro.
Increased respect. If you go to work each day looking like a professional, your colleagues are more likely to treat you like one. People have a greater level of respect for people who respect themselves and your attire is a reflection of that. One of the best examples I have of this came when I was working in an office for an employer in the manufacturing industry. Everyone wore jeans, but I mainly wore khakis and dress slacks. I was the only person in the office that the truck drivers didn’t curse in front of, and, if they did, they apologized for doing so. I never asked them not to swear. They just treated me differently because I dressed more professionally. Dress like you deserve respect and people will give it to you.
Boost in confidence. For admins who are a little unsure of themselves, dressing professionally can make a big impact on your confidence and the image you convey to your colleagues. I’m a huge fan of the “fake it till you make it” approach to situations and jobs where I’m not 100% confident. If you dress the part and do everything you can to appear confident in your role, then eventually you will be more comfortable in your position.
Improved credibility and trust. People are more likely to trust and believe someone who looks trustworthy and believable – and both these things hinge on what you wear. We put stock in what we see. Dress like someone who belongs next to an executive and people will believe that you do.
Your wardrobe and appearance make a world of difference in people’s opinions of you as a professional. Don’t let a wardrobe malfunction or misstep jeopardize your career or brand image; take time to dress the part of a professional each and every day by making smart choices about what you wear. Your colleagues, clients, executives, and the world at large will believe you’re a true professional – and you will, too.
This article first appeared in Executive Support Magazine, a global training publication and must read for any administrative professional. You can get a 30% discount when you subscribe through us. Visit the website at www.executivesupportmagazine.