I was reading an article the other day about formal attire, and how the idea of the formal ‘power suit’ is fading away. I am by no means any sort of stylist, but it got me thinking. What does it mean to you to dress for success?

Personally, I don’t mind a suit that much, and have a stereotypical ‘dress with matching jacket’ in my wardrobe for when the occasion arises. However, it’s not really me. In a way, putting it on almost seems like I’m dressing for the occasion… but not necessarily for success.

The idea of a suit says formal. Possibly authoritative. Maybe words like serious and business-like spring to mind. These are things that we all need to portray sometimes whether, for example, that be at a job interview or at a pitch for investment.. That’s fair enough, but does dressing for success mean you should hide your personality aswell? If you would wear bright colours on a ‘normal day’, why should you hide that side of yourself when it comes to needing to be more formal?

When I was visiting schools for my daughter a couple of years ago, one Headmistress really struck me in this regard. She needed to present herself to the prospective parents who had assembled that morning in three ways:

  1. A strong leader – someone who was fully in control of her school; leading her staff and students towards excellence.
  2. A knowledgeable and approachable teacher – a highly experienced educator in whose hands our children’s education would be safe.
  3. A more caring individual, who would look after our little cherubs in our absence and make sure the start of their educational journey was both fun and nurturing.

To achieve success, she needed to deliver on each of these things in equal measure. She could have arrived that morning in a ‘power suit’, and delivered easily on 1 and 2. To deliver on 3, certainly as a first impression, would have been more difficult.

So what did she do?

Well, she emerged from her office in the blackest, most formal shift dress – thus nailing points one and two. But with a huge smile on her face, which hinted at 3.

But what was the icing on the power suit cake? The hot pink heels on her feet.

You might be wondering whether we chose the school for our daughter…. Well, we didn’t for various reasons. But that Headmistress was still Number One in our book.

So what does this tell us about dressing for success?

1. Dress for your industry.

In choosing what ‘formal’ means for you, you need to consider your industry and what is (and isn’t) considered acceptable, but also the industry of the person or people you’re meeting. For example, you are far more likely to bring the suit out of your wardrobe for a meeting with a potential investor than you would if you were meeting a brand designer. Likewise creatives are far less likely to be formal in their attire than a lawyer.

2. Dress for the impression you want to give.

Are you going for relaxed and approachable? Or serious and authoritative? Or more challengingly, are you aiming for the space between the two? Either way, it’s important to think about the impression you want to give when you walk in the room. And the mental image that stays behind after you leave.

3. Dress for yourself

This point really brings me full circle, back to the question about what dressing for success means to you. When I have to put my suit on, yes I do feel formal. I feel professional and knowledgeable. But – and here’s the sticking point – I don’t feel like me. And if I don’t feel like me, then am I really being successful? Maybe I’ll get the job or win the contract, but in doing so, have I lost the essence of myself?

What does that mean for me?

Well, when I really want to dress for success, I don’t put my suit on (unless I have to). If I’m meeting a collaborator or one of our team, usually you’ll find me in jeans! But when I’m going to one of our Board meetings, or visiting a more formal client, I will where a jersey dress, or trousers and a top with ballet pumps or flat boots in winter. And that works for me. I feel formal enough, without stifling my personality. And as for the shoes – I go straight from these meetings to the school run – so comfort and practical needs must!

But what about you? How do you dress for success? I’d love to hear!

And don’t forget – if you’re interested in hearing more about how style is a key part of personal branding, check out module 3 on our programme!