Dressing For Visibility, Presence and Impact at Work

The feminist, Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In highlights the importance for women of making ourselves seen and heard in the workplace. Being ‘seen’ at work is as much about dressing significantly as it is about appearing in the right places. While there are no prizes for adopting inappropriate, attention seeking styles of dressing, choosing to present yourself very well for your work environment will be as important a factor in making  or breaking  your career as your capability .

In percentage terms, studies have shown that in the first four minutes of meeting someone, 55% of our impact is down to how we look and our body language; 38% is about voice and tone and an underwhelming 7% is down to content! If we get this wrong, apparently it takes 21 further interactions before we can undo the damage, if indeed we get the chance.

I know of an excellent young teacher who has chosen to work as a supply teacher. In spite of being rejected by supply agencies time and again based on her outlandish way of dressing at interviews, she is not prepared to ‘play the game’ and tone down her ‘punk’ image because she feels this is part of her identity and that she should be accepted for her abilities rather than her appearance. Holding to these values is self defeating in the career arena. It is usually possible, with knowhow, to retain character and identity and still tow- the -line when you understand the need for an element of compromise and adaptability, saving the iconic look for outside of work.


In a City type environment such as law or banking where the dress code is formal and dark, identity and femininity can still be retained by using interesting textures and tailoring in dark suits. Similarly, boredom and predictability can be relieved by wearing brighter, face flattering colours next to the face in interesting accessories, shirts and tops. This creates a sort of cameo effect around the face, drawing attention to the main source of your message. I worked with one woman who only ever wore all black to work in an environment that called for an interesting, smart casual style of dressing. Her look was safe but very un-stimulating for people who worked with her day in, day out.


Just as many a promotion has been passed over because our desk is cluttered and chaotic, lack of attention to the details of good dressing and grooming will send out similar messages.  So here are my  top tips to ensure you maximise your presence, visibility and impact at work:

  • Know your colours. This is the FOUNDATION to looking well, lively and awake, especially when you are feeling tired, low or have put on weight. These are the colours that make you look good in front of the mirror, even on bad hair days and without make up!
  • Make an effort with make- up. Even when pushed for time, the ten minutes you spend on creating a subtle, day time make up look will give you a polished edge at work, as will spending time on keeping your hair clean and neat. Never be so rushed in the morning that you don’t allow time for these necessities.
  • Once you have created a fuss free working capsule wardrobe you can easily select the outfits  you want to wear at the start of the week for the whole week ahead. Don’t add to the daily stress by leaving this choice to the last minute.
  • Know the styles that flatter and balance out your body line, scale and proportions. Finding this out with a professional Style Consultant will pay dividends and save a fortune on wasted ‘Sale bargains’ that gather dust in your wardrobe.
  • Make sure you keep shoes, handbags and accessories current, and in good shape. A lovely outfit can be ruined with a shabby pair of boots or shoes. Use boot and shoe trees to keep them in good shape and clean them weekly.
  • ALWAYS stand in front of a full length mirror before you leave the house to see what others see!
  • Know the ‘right way’ to dress for the ethos of your environment and industry. Dress for the position you want rather than the job you have right now!

As women, there are multiple challenges facing us at home and in the work place and, in particular,  when attempting to break through the glass ceiling.  We can do much to overcome prejudice and stereotyping by taking complete responsibility for ensuring we achieve the appropriate image all the time, regardless of shape, size or age.

If you need professional style advice to maximise your impact and visibility, please feel free to contact me for friendly and helpful advice on any aspects of personal presentation.


  1. Fantastic blogpost! Some really great tips

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