Are you hurting your business image?Pulling together an appropriate business wardrobe can be a real challenge, particularly if you’re short on funds or wardrobe advice.  Get it right and the “sky’s the limit.”  Get it wrong, and you could find doors closed or your career stalled.

Business wear sets the tone of your business interactions, and it has to do it quickly and at a glance.  If you say you’re an accountant and you dress like one in a business suit and pumps, you’ll be accepted as such.  But if you say you’re an accountant and you dress like a punk rocker, your credibility instantly becomes suspect  — just as if you say you’re a punk rocker but dress like an accountant.  People like the packaging to fit the contents, and if it’s out of synch, they’ll have trouble getting past it enough to do business with you.

Now that example’s obvious.  But there are other ways that women undermine their credibility with their business wear, and it can be so subtle that they don’t even know it’s a problem.  Here are 5 ways women hurt their business image:

1. Being Fashionable Instead of Business Like

EVERY industry has a dress code, whether it’s written or not.  While some fields are very casual and some are very formal, there’s an unwritten rule that if you’re not in a creative industry and you put fashion before business, you’re considered a shallow light weight.  Just ask a few science, math, legal, or engineering fashionistas how they’ve been treated on the job.

When dressing for work, consider the requirements of the industry dress code FIRST, adding fashionable elements in small degrees if allowed.  Otherwise, wear your work costume to work, and be the head-turning fashion lover after hours.

2. Showing Too Much Skin

Too much skinThe more clothing you wear, the more formal the situation.  That’s why you wear long dresses and tuxes to galas and tank tops and flip flops to the beach.  Work attire falls somewhere in between.  To be taken seriously, keep upper arms covered, cleavage out of sight, and skirt hems around knee length.  Yes, that’s a bit conservative in this day and age, but it keeps wandering eyes off your body parts and focus on the business at hand.

3. Old Hairstyle

Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting correlation between hair style and skill level:  if the hair style is out-of-date, so is the skill set.  It’s weird, but it makes sense.  If you don’t change your hairstyle every few years, chances are good you’re not bothering to keep your skills up to date either.  Update both and make more money.

4. Distracting Elements

Gossip girlI once sat through a college lecture given by a “prominent female scientist” with makeup so clownish, I thought it was a joke and laughed out loud when she took the podium.  Another time I was in a long, tense meeting with a woman who jangled her charm bracelet so much she got yelled at by the boss in front of everyone.  Still another time I was in on a six-figure contract presentation where the potential vendor used his pricey Montblanc pen as a pointer so much, he annoyed a board member and promptly lost the sale.

ALWAYS consider your audience when putting together your ensemble.  You want your clothing and accessories to establish your credibility and quickly fade into the background, not annoy or offend those around you.

5. Poor Posture

How you dress, carry, and present yourself speaks VOLUMES about your self esteem.  If you costume yourself appropriately but walk around like a troglodyte, you’re not fooling anyone — you don’t believe in yourself.  Stand up straight, suck in your gut, and face the world head on.  You’ll be amazed by how a little confidence in yourself can instill confidence in others.

Business Wear MagicSo take a little extra time before you head out the door for work each morning to ensure that your business attire matches your business goals.  If what you’re wearing will distract from business or cause someone to question your credibility, change it.  Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression; make sure it’s a good one.Need some more help putting together a business attire wardrobe?  Business Wear Magic can help.



    32 replies to "5 Ways Women Hurt Their Business Image"

    • TheWorkingWardrobe

      Absolutely wonderful write-up! So many women struggle with trying to appear professional without losing their personal style. If you want to make a visual statement at work, you can do so but you have to make sure it’s within the office dress code – some suggestions could be one statement accessory (mind you, just one!) like a chunky necklace or belt, or a colorful blouse or camisole under your cardigan or suit jacket. Bottom line, if you stand in front of the mirror and pretend you are your boss or a client looking back at you, think about what they would think of your outfit instead of yourself. That may help to give you some guidelines before leaving for work.

    • Annabelle C. Kressman

      I am curious to know from readers how they feel about the bare leg look for working women??

      Annabelle C. Kressman –

      • Karen

        Just not professional.

      • k blackburn


      • Kathleen

        I totally agree with Karen, and I live in Oklahoma, where it can be uncomfortably hot several months of the year. I ALWAYS wear stockings!

      • Jeanne Grunert

        I don’t like the bare leg look at all. To me, it looks unfinished. And few women (myself included) have beautiful legs. Although panty hose are troublesome, I still wear them except on the very hottest of days.

      • Terry Ladner Martin

        NOT PROFESSIONAL! The same as a man wearing a suit, dress shoes and no socks? No class!

        • Shelly

          Pantyhose or tights are a must for me for any workplace setting or event. It’s simply too unprofessional not to.

      • Al

        I don’t wear them spring through fall and also wear open toed shoes as well which is another things many disagree with but NO ONE does in our setting. While I don’t work in an office that deals with students, I do work at a major university. They are far well known for summer laid backness with professors very often in shorts and t-shirts in the summer and in many academic offices people wear jeans day in and out to work. In the summer all offices take a step back from traditional business attire. We don’t dress like that in my office but I find that being professional is also following along as well in part. Being the only one wearing something like pantyhose when no one else where you work wears them can put you out of place and cause other issues professionally. Dressing more formally than your own boss can be a huge no-no.

    • Anita

      I have mixed feelings about this…I feel that a woman in a professional/leadership position should always wear them even if they are so sheer your legs almost look naked. I guess this would apply to any woman desiring to move ahead in her career. The shoes being worn and the length of the skirt make a big differenence in how noticable your bare legs are. I’d say it’s a given that if your gonna go bare legged you should keep your legs shaved.

    • susan

      I totally agree with you. I have a colleague who just wants to compete for attention but she does it in the wrong way. She wears very short skirt, shoes that fit for dancing, plunging neckline, mini tee-shirt that reveals her belly button, etc. I think she’s trying to flirt with the guys rather than work. And she’s 50 something and single…omg!

    • PKitty

      Here in Alberta the temps are well below zero and some women are still wearing bare legs with their dress clothes. It doesn’t just look bad it looks stupid!!

      • Shelly

        Went to San Francisco this week (45 F daytime high with winds and heavy fog – quite chilly) and walked thru the Financial District downtown during lunch hour and saw all kinds of ladies wearing skirts/dresses and heels with bare legs like they were going to a summer picnic at their aunty’s farm house in Kansas. Amazing and looked stupid, too.

    • Nancy

      I’ve noticed that actresses who portray detectives, hospital administrators, doctors and attorneys on tv have the lowest necklines. Good for ratings, but bad examples of proper dress for work.

    • Shelly

      I have a hard time taking seriously anyone with bare shoulders, plunging necklines with their cleavage hanging out or those who wear flip flops to a business office. How about thin, too-tight pants over a giggling mass of posterior cellulite? All oh-so unattractive! And these things have nothing to do with one’s ability to “afford” nice clothes.

    • cynthia

      We had a huge dust up over this very issue – appropriate work wear – in our office and it actually resulted in a young woman quitting and then suing the company.

      She had a great figure – including cleavage. She like to flaunt it with low cut blouses, spaghetti straps. Always bare legs. She looked like she was on her way to a club.

      Another one – who is no longer with the firm – thought her sleeveless tops were just fine with the large tattoo art up and down her arms showing. I mentioned that I didn’t think it was appropriate (I’m 56 and ‘that age’ I guess) and got some pretty toxic email that I was intolerant and didn’t get it about self expression. She was also about 50 lbs overweight.

      Then another – who is also gone – thought she was part of a rock band.

      It didn’t help that the boss – a woman. 50 years old – also dressed very quirky. One day it was an ankle length black lace gown with patent leather boots.

      This is a professional office – scientific consulting firm – that deals with the government. and huge real estate developers.

      Funny thing …me, the older fuddy duddy (although quite fashionable still ) is still there. LOL

    • Maria

      Totally agree with the comments re: pantyhose/stocking as a complete professional look. I wish younger women didn’t try to emulate the characters from Sex in the City as far as clothing goes (or lack thereof). It’s even more disturbing when 50+ women do the same thing. I too am from Alberta and wonder about those young ladies who wear bare legs in our frigid temps.

    • Nicki

      Sorry ladies, but I disagree about the hosery/bare leg issue. I think bare legs CAN be done tastefully, but is often a disaster. In those disaster instances, there is usually another part of the outfit that is unprofessional as well so the bare legs just makes matters worse. I’ve seen it done beautifully, but most of us just can’t pull it off. I do agree, however, that shaving is a must!

      • Susan

        I agree. I have seen it done well but it’s rare. The women are confident, athletic types with tanned legs, appropriate clothing, and especially sensible shoes, in a casual office environment only during the summer. In general, when women work in casual work places, their wardrobes don’t help them.

    • Betty

      I really think going to work without nylons or pantyhose is very distastful., and unshaven legs is a disgusting disaster!

    • S. Miller

      Let me tell you about the office! I work in an office of mostly women and “business attire” is all over the board. The ladies wear everything from shorts, tanks with flip flops to camo-pants and t-shirts. There are a couple of well-endowed gals who regularly show max cleavage and bare arms. Most are clerks. Some are managers. I work right next to and directly report to the CEO, so I feel I need to dress appropriately. My idea of “appropriate” is based on what I’ve learned in Wardrobe Magic. My boss also dresses professional – tailors slacks, polished shoes and shirts with cuff-links. My fashion goal the past two years has not been to get a raise or a promotion, but project an the confident, credible image (along with rock-solid skill set and job performance) that another firm would and could hire me away tomorrow. I want people to see me as a “got it together” kind of person; and “with me things are under control.” So even though I didn’t get a pay raise, per se, I went from working 40+ hours per week to working 25 to 30 hours per week – with NO decrease in salary or benefits! This has supported my ultimate goal of financially contributing to the family while having enough time to actually be an active mom and a wife. And I have my wardrobe (and the skills learned in Wardrobe Magic) to thank for it. BTW – I always wear hose, trouser socks or stockings and closed toe shoes to the office – without exception. Anyone can dress appropriately for one day, but to do it everyday with ease and a sense of style is what seems to really builds an image.

    • James

      My team members would be very glad to hear about these tips. We would have an up and coming seminar about good grooming tips I think there would be discussions on right business attire also. I have noticed a lot of business meetings and sales presentations that have gone wrong due to distractions from wrong fashion, grooming and accessories. Thanks for the informative post.
      You might want to know about the Mentor Club Contest, an opportunity to boost your business success.

    • S.K.

      Would it be appropriate to ever wear shorts to the office? (like cuffed trouser shorts slightly above the knee?) And would wearing tights underneath be alright?

      • LDH

        Only if you work in a more casual industry such as entertainment and even then I would be very careful with this look. If you are in management (or aspire to be) then this look is just not right.

    • Totally agree. Many people do not put in the effort or do not know how.

    • natasha

      The casualization of dress is Melbourne Australia is very prominent. Its a shame now many dress the same whether they are slopping around at home or in a professional office. It is regarded as being “laid back” here in Oz (which is regarded as a virtue).
      I personally do not agree as I love fashion and like to feel smartly dressed at work. To me bare legs with dresses are not a nice look except on a very hot day in a casual or night club setting. I feel it looks unfinished and just another step towards casualization everywhere

    • Margaret

      Wearing hose does dpened on what country you live in. I live in Australia and in the summer hose is not worn no matter how corporate the workplace. Despite this, skirts that come just above or below the knee are the best this and look the most professional. I have noticed the teenagers and early 20’s ladies don’t have much clue and wear very short skirts and stilt like shoes they can hardly walk in. They may also show lots of cleavage. The one’s who don’t do this are the ones who usually do better in their corprate career and this does spearet them from the office secretary who tends to dress in a revealing manner.

    • Jennifer

      1.Hose – I always wore a business suite, closed shoes and hose to work, All year round. i live in the tropics in Australia. with AC commn i see no reason to go without hose. I recieved many compliments for this little bit of effort. After a while I becam known for my good style.

    • Jennifer

      After 28 years in the public sector fightng hard for women to be respected. I was sitting in a meeting of all women and there was more clevage around the table then I had seen in years. Strangly it made me feel good, that women can reveal a little cleavage and not be judge as a tart. Equally I thnk too much clevage is inapprpriate in the work arena.
      I commented on the amount of flesh on displsy and one girl said “Ïf a man cannot keep his mind on work just because of a little clevage, then that is his problem.” interesting.

      • Diana

        It is interesting, it should be true, but alas, I think your girl is a little unrealistic. If you show men cleavage, that’s where they’ll look. It’s kind of like if Mr. Washboard Abs showed up to a meeting with his shirt open and his gym time on display and telling women not to be distracted. Easier said than done…

    • tropical chic

      Hose are completely impractical in a subtropical summer. The solution is to make everything else understated and elegant.

      Ladylike, business-serious solution: Natural fiber tailored suits with simple lines, designer slingback pumps with closed toe. The effect: people notice the tailored chic — the absence of hose becomes irrelevant.

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