Accessories That Work At Work

Not long ago, I was in a meeting with a young, professionally-dressed woman who had long pink fingernails and a heavy charm bracelet.  I don’t remember her name or what she wore, but I do remember the nails and the bracelet.  How could I not?  They captured my attention the instant I sat down and held it from then on out.

Whenever she spoke, often gesturing wildly with her hands, my thoughts strayed from her words to her hands.  Could she type with those nails?  How much time and money did she spend on them?  And that bracelet! The constant jingling began to drive me nuts.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one.  After a while, the leader of the group, a no-nonsense man in his fifties, demanded that she “…take that @$%^ thing off” so he could hear himself think.  Embarrassed, she unfastened the bracelet and put it on her notepad, then sat there dejectedly for the rest of the meeting, quietly playing with the charms.

It was a sobering reminder of just how easily a wrong choice can tip a situation.  Before the outburst, she’d participated fully in the discussion.  Afterwards, she sat quietly, her feelings obviously hurt.  All because of that darn bracelet.

Now while it was an awkward incident, at least she had someone tell there was a problem.  Most people don’t get that chance.  They go about their business, turning off prospects right and left, then wonder what went wrong when they lose promotions, accounts, or leadership opportunities.
Don’t let that happen to you.  Instead, think carefully about the accessories you wear so that you send the appropriate message every time you sit down to conduct business.  Here are some guidelines to consider:


Your hairstyle should be current and nicely maintained, particularly if you’re in a high-paying and/or highly visible position (elected official, speaker, television personality).  Regular hair color, precision cuts, and professional blowouts can really hammer the budget, so be sure to consider that when choosing the right style for you.  Don’t let anyone talk you into high maintenance if your lifestyle or budget can’t handle it.


Makeup styles, like clothing styles, change seasonally, so keeping up with trends will make you look current and well-groomed.  All thumbs when it comes to makeup application?  Try just highlighting your best feature, like beautiful skin, great eyes, supple lips, or high cheekbones and don’t stress about the rest.


Fingernails should be of even length and nicely maintained.  Avoid overly-long styles, particularly if you routinely handle food, touch patients, or use a keyboard or adding machine in your line of work, and keep the colors business-like:  clear, neutral, or red. 


Jewelry should complement your ensemble, never detract from it.  Keep pieces in the same mood as your clothing and scale them to your body size.  Avoid cutesy, gaudy, and noisy pieces, like that young woman in the story above. 


Handbags should also be in the same mood as your clothing, preferably of high quality and well maintained.  If you stick with a handful of colors in your business wardrobe, one neutral-colored bag should suffice.  Carry a lot of business papers to and from work?  Use a briefcase or business-like tote to carry papers and tuck a small handbag inside.  Don’t carry two bags; you don’t want that pack mule look.


Hosiery creates a barrier and sets a formal tone and as such, is still required in many traditional businesses around the world.  Opt for flesh colored (or sheer black if you’re wearing dark colors) for everyday use; keep the heavily opaque, patterned, or colored pieces for weekends (unless you work in a creative industry, like fashion).  Wearing no hosiery is fashionable right now, but it’s also informal; wear hosiery if you want formality.


Closed-toe shoes are formal and offer protection in the workplace.  Open-toe shoes are casual, flirtatious, and fun.  While closed-toe shoes can work well in many industries, open-toe shoes are limited in their practicality (safety, weather, etc.).  Opt for what makes sense in your situation.

Accessories are often considered the “icing on the cake” when dressing, but in reality, they can make or break your look.  As with business attire, the “ABC’s of Business Dress” extend to accessories as well:  make them APPROPRIATE to your industry and line of work, use them to set BOUNDARIES with proper coverage, and be CONSISTENT with them to set the tone for your business wear.  It’s a simple recipe for success.

Need more help in finding and using the right accessories for you? Download a copy of ACCESSORY MAGIC:

to learn how to use accessories to define your style and stretch your budget.

Accessory Magic


Comments are closed.