Six ways to enhance your personal style

Dress code as seen at a London Club in the Soh...

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Your personal style significantly influences perceptions that people have of you. Moreover, it rolls up into being your brand or personal image. Often perceptions that people have of you are very one-sided and heavily affected by one negative or positive characteristic which is the so-called “halo effect”, which is one of the biases that people have when forming perceptions of others.

You can definitely influence how people perceive you. You need to adjust your personal style to build your brand the same way as Coca Cola and amazon.com builds theirs. You can be anything you want to be and make people think anything you would like them to.

You just need to consciously manage your brand. It must be of the highest caliber, consistent and credible. You can call it your personal style, your personal image or personal brand. It does not matter. Everyone has one and you need to control your own.

Below are six ideas which can significantly help you build your personal style and, hence, your brand.

1 – Over invest during the first 6 months


You probably noticed when you join a new company or when you start a degree in university, a perception about who you are and what you are capable of develops and is usually based on what you do over the very first few months. Therefore, if you give everything you have over those first 6 months, you will lay a great foundation upon which to build your success.

2 – Appearance counts


Numerous studies have indicated that people prefer attractive and neat people. The way you dress, the way you walk and the way you communicate are all part of your personal style and contributes to the way people see you.

3 – Dress a level higher than the majority


You need to always dress for your next job. If you are a business analyst in a consulting firm, dress as a consultant or even a senior consultant or a manager. Even if more senior people in the work place are dressed very casually, but the overall dress code is business casual, you should be dressed just a level higher than the majority of your colleagues and superiors.

This generally will show that you take your job and career seriously, that you are here to do business and you intend to go far in life. This sends a message that you come to work not to socialize and make friends but to bring great value to the company and the customers. This will make you stand out.

Of course, there are exceptions. Some companies specifically stay away from a professional dress code. A good example is Google, employees of which follow a very casual dress code. But in most cases, this guideline will make you stand out and get noticed. Of course, your other actions, such as the quality of your work are also ingredients of your personal style and should support your overall message of excellence.

THERE IS ONE IMPORTANT WORD OF CAUTION. Dressing well must make you feel better internally and present a confident and positive message. Never ever confuse dressing better to acting better than your co-workers. Your professional dressing will generate attention, so it is very important you go out of your way to indicate that this is your preferred dressing style only and you DO NOT think you are better than your co-workers. Show this in your actions and be sincere about it. If you dress well but act better than your co-workers then you will harm your reputation.

4 – Reputation


Your personal style should be aligned with helping you to build a reputation of credibility, competence and reliability. Your superiors need to know that if there are trouble and they need someone reliable and competent, they should go to you.

5 – Always keep your word


Staying true to your word must be an important part of your personal style. Take on only what you can handle and feel free to renegotiate deadlines, where necessary and where possible. Your personal style must clearly show that you are someone who takes requests and promises seriously.

Your attitude should be one that if you promised to do something – you will do everything in your power to ensure that it gets done, one way or another. For example, if you promised to deliver a certain document by the deadline, and an unexpected and more important assignment came up, you need to do everything you can to find someone to do the first deliverable for you, and be accountable for its quality.

After you find such a person, you need to approach your superior and confirm with them if they feel comfortable with the other person taking responsibility for the deliverable that you were assigned to do.

If you have done everything you could to find someone and there is just nobody available, than you can approach your superior and describe the situation. He or she may then make a decision on how best to proceed.

The bottom line is, you need to be proactive, reliable and feel ultimately accountable for any work you promise to do. Keeping your word must be seen by others as an important ingredient of your personal style. It is also important to be consistent in your personal style across different parts of your life, which includes your personal style in your relationships outside of work.

6 – Under promise and over deliver


This simple technique can help you greatly in establishing an image of competence and excellence. Furthermore, this technique is useful in any area of your life: in your studies, in your career and in your personal life. By following this simple rule, you will consistently exceed people’s expectations and will, therefore, have the reputation of someone who always exceeds expectations.

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The above ideas are really important and rarely implemented. If you will adapt it to enhance your personal style, this alone will set you apart from the crowd.

Dress Code for Professional Women

A pair of circular-head court shoes / pumps in...

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Let’s briefly forget about business casual and business professional and do a little test. I want you to do this exercise the next time you go out of the office and see people sitting outside on their lunch break. Try to guess what type of person they are.

  • Who looks reliable?
  • Who appears super-focused on their careers?
  • Who looks like a loner?
  • Who looks like the prima-donna?
  • Who looks like the popular person?
  • Who looks like management material?

ou do not know these people so how can you arrive at an opinion? You may have overheard some of them speaking but that will apply for just a few. Your opinion was based on the following:

  • You looked at their dressing (business casual, business professional or something else)
  • You looked at their posture, stance and behaviour
  • You looked at their facial expressions
  • And you took all these things and compared them against your own perceptions

That’s pretty much how humans work. How many times have you said to yourself “This person does not look serious or reliable? I should stay away from them.

This is why your dressing is such a powerful indicator. Your dressing and posture quickly and effectively create an impression of you.

Business Casual or Business Professional?


Let’s start with women and some observations about how women should dress. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Again, this is a comparison between wanting to dress business casual or business professional and how to do it. It is meant to highlight some principles for professional dressing.

Your dressing is part of the brand of the company. Some companies expect all the employees to dress in a certain way. Like IBM did for many years. So while you need to be comfortable, remember not to damage the brand equity of the business. If your firm insists on business professional (suits), then wear a comfortable suit. Don’t come to work in sandals and jeans.

Even when there are options for dressing it is always wise to dress business professional. If it is acceptable, wear a full suit. If full suits are not worn, then wear just the suit skirt/pants and a professional shirt. Remember in the test earlier, you need to meet people’s expectations of a reliable and professional person. This should not change between seasons.

Open shoes have become popular is some offices. Women have started wearing open shoes with their suits etc. This is probably not a good idea and conveys a casual image. Dress appropriately and wear covered shoes. Building a business casual look with your shoes can damage an otherwise good outfit.

Business professional is always recommended when it comes to necklines (not too deep) and skirt-lengths (on or slightly below the knee)

Your handbag is not an accessory. Some days it may be fine to take a small handbag to work but as a professional, your handbag should be functional. It is there to carry out a job and you should make sure it is designed for this. Stay away from flashy handbags that draw attention away from you as a professional.

Your mobile phone, Blackberry or iPhone is also not an accessory. Again it is wise to stay away from jewel encrusted phones, Hello Kitty ringtones and bright colours. If you are not sure, choose a style which conveys a neutral image.

Bright or body fitting tops under your suit jacket are not recommended. However a bright pink neck scarf on a white shirt may work.

Boots are generally not advised. I cannot think of a single situation where this will work accept possibly in harsh winters. If you must wear boots, wear something stylish but neutral. No fir trimmings, bells or pictures on your boots.

Everything you own should be seen as an extension of your dressing. These include pens, notebooks, accessories etc. They all need to be conservative and professional.

High heels are fine provided they are elegant, professional, and not shiny and have covered toes.

Fitted suits are just as good as off-the-rack suits. It is really your choice. If you go the fitted-suit route ensure they look sleek, elegant and not too sexy. You need to balance professionalism with your personal preference.

Casual Fridays are unusual days. It says to me that for 4 days of the week we are struggling to adjust to a culture we do not like, and to make up for the four days, we can wear anything we would like on a Friday. If you accept a company and its values for what they are, and do not see this as just a “job to pay the bills”, then the idea of casual Fridays make no sense. If you are forced to dress down on Fridays, then wear the most conservative clothing you can.

While you are an extension of your company and its brand you can look elegant, stylish and beautiful. Essentially you can vary your cut, colours, texture etc to achieve different looks which are all business professional.

In general, you need to dress for the image you want to project and career you want to have. When you select your clothing in the morning keep this front and centre in your thinking.