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Perfectly Presented

General advice, Law November 4, 2008

Perfectly Presented

PERFECTLY PRESENTED — Why you should dress smart for success.

In these days when even multi-billionaires wear jeans and trainers, you’d think people would no longer judge a person by their appearance. But no, not a bit of it, for as a recent survey of over 3,200 office workers by Reed Employment demonstrates, 51 per cent of people still believe dressing smartly helps win promotions, while 87 per cent would always wear a suit to work.

According to Personal Branding guru Lesley Everett, they’d do well to make the effort because keeping up appearances is still vital to your success. She explains: ‘Many companies don’t want to go down the smart/casual root because it loses their corporate identity. I think companies should get on the right track of having an appropriate dress code and educating employees to understand what appropriate actually means. The key things to think about are who is the client or the audience today? What are their expectations? What is the situation or environment? And finally, what are my objectives?’

Lesley says these are really important guidelines, because if an interview is quite formal and your objective is to sell yourself in the shortest possible time, then a suit is always appropriate.

‘You must wear a jacket. That can be tough for graduates coming into their first interview because they don’t necessarily have a smart suit. However, there are plenty of shops that sell suits and jackets at reasonable prices. I totally believe people should be individual, but it is also about what you are trying to project of yourself in the corporate or business world. You have to make a prospective employer comfortable that you will be projecting their brand in the way they need it to be projected. You just need to put a bit more thought into it. Even if you are a casual person you can’t be that casual in a corporate environment.’


Borrowing a suit really isn’t appropriate because they won’t fit well and you end up looking as if you shouldn’t have bothered. She says one of the easiest ways to judge what is appropriate is to stand outside the building of a prospective employer at lunchtime and see how the people who work there are dressed. You don’t always have to go for black, grey or brown, but bear in mind dark shades always convey more authority, so if you are looking for work in a Law firm go for darker shades. Whatever you do, don’t wear trainers. Smart shoes are the order of the day and all shoes should be well looked after and polished.


‘You must wear tights or stockings in hot weather. Bare legs are one of the biggest ways of destroying professional credibility. The more flesh you show, the less credible you become.The same goes with strappy, open-toed sandals, just don’t wear them, wear shoes. Yes, you can wear boots with skirts, they are very fashionable now. Do watch the backs of your shoes because if you drive a lot they can get scuffed and it gives a very bad impression. Also, don’t wait until they are really worn down to get them reheeled. There’s nothing worse, no matter how much time and effort you put into the rest of your outfit. If your shoes are looking tired it will really let you down.

‘Don’t overdo it in terms of the number of accessories you wear. Don’t ever wear more than eight at any one time. One well-chosen, dramatic necklace, if that suits your style and personality, can be very effective.

‘It is very important to wear the right underwear. Do not wear a coloured bra under a white shirt – you can get away with it in the fashion world, but do not do it in the corporate world or for an interview, and make sure your buttons do not gape. That’s a complete no-no, it looks sloppy. Buy a size bigger.’


‘Men tend to get it more wrong than women. It’s not that they don’t care, but more because they genuinely don’t think about it. Good fit is a really important element; I say buy a moderately priced outfit but make sure it fits really well. It is well worth it to get alterations done so sleeve and trouser leg length are absolutely right. It’s also worth it to go for a size bigger and have it altered than squeezing into something that is too small. Accessorise with a well chosen, good quality tie, cufflinks, or shoes that can lift the outfit. Shoes don’t necessarily have to be the formal brogues or Oxford styles; Jeffrey West at M&S has got some great styles that are slightly unusual, yet still look smart and formal for younger guys. In a corporate environment having leather soles is really important. Non-leather soled shoes never go unnoticed and leather soles last forever, so don’t underestimate the impact they have’


It may sound like over-doing it, but having a wardrobe rehearsal before your interview can really help. Everthing should be cleaned and ironed and you should make sure you feel comfortable, as Lesley says: ‘Comfort is important because if you don’t feel comfortable with what you are wearing, you are never going to look that confident.’

Do think about coats, umbrellas and briefcases because they are all part of your personal brand. A good investment is a corporate coat – a Crombie for a man or a trenchcoat for women, and definitely do not wear your favourite anorak or puffa jacket! Think about what you are taking into the interview with you; do not arrive overloaded. If you have a big case with you, leave it at reception because clutter indicates an untidy mind. Finally, make a trip to the ladies or gents. Touch up your lipstick, look for spinach between your teeth, brush your hair, and make sure you don’t have shaving foam in your ears. ‘Sometimes talking about clothes seems very superficial but personal branding is so important: it’s about being yourself and the best you can be, and not letting your image get in the way of your true qualities.’

Lesley Everett is an internationally acclaimed professional keynote speaker on personal branding and perception management. Her clients include several FTSE 100 companies including Barclays Bank, Lehman Brothers, BT, GE and Tesco. She is the author of Drop Dead Brilliant – dazzle in the workplace with confidence and panache.

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