How to Use Clothing to Establish Your Authority

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you thought you’d be taken seriously, but weren’t?  Like during a business meeting, in the classroom, at a community event, or in some other setting in which you were playing a prominent role?  You went in thinking you’d make an impact, but then received either a tepid reception or were outright ignored.  When all was said and done, you were left scratching your head, wondering what went wrong.

Sound familiar?

If so, you’re not alone.  I’ve seen men and woman both step in front of a group of people to teach, preach, demonstrate, or debate, only to be overlooked or dismissed.  And almost every time, it was because of what they were wearing.

Or rather, what they weren’t wearing:  authority pieces.

Authority pieces are clothing items that establish credibility and point to your aptitude and include key elements like collars, sleeves, and jackets in firm fabrics and neutral colors. Authority pieces lend substance, then instantly fade into the background to allow your audience to focus on your words or abilities. With them, you’re viewed as competent enough to command attention; without them, you’re not.  In fact, you may even be ridiculed or overlooked, depending on the situation.

Let’s take a look at some of these elements in detail:


Since collars go around the neck, collared shirts and tops are generally among the most modest of garments.  They cover up the torso, framing and forcing attention to the face.  Collars have long been part of the well mannered person’s wardrobe, and are still required today on private golf courses, on the polo field, and in traditional business settings.


The more skin you show, the less formal it becomes, and sleeves are no exception.  While killer biceps might earn you respect at the gym, they’ll pull attention away from your words (and perhaps draw envy) just about everywhere else.  If you keep your upper arms covered, you’ll have a better chance of keeping attention on your face.


Jackets have been a part of the effective business wardrobe for nearly five hundred years with good reason:  they command respect like no other garment.  Whether you wear a power suit every day or wouldn’t be caught dead in one, make sure your basic wardrobe includes one classically-styled jacket that you can put on any time you want to add gravitas, like meetings, presentations, semi-formal dinners, or even funerals.  Whether you wear it over an expensive skirt or a t-shirt and jeans, a jacket has impact.  Remember that.

Classic Skirt or Trousers

A basic A-line or pencil skirt in a neutral color that fits you properly can take you just about anywhere in the world you need to go, like a business meeting, a school board meeting, the ballet, or a bar mitzvah.  A pair of neutral-colored classically styled trousers will do the same thing.  They both offer simple silhouettes that cover appropriately and allow attention to return to the face.

Firm Fabrics

Firm fabrics like cotton, wool, ramie, and rayon lend substance to your apparel and to your silhouette.  Clothes that hold their shape without being too sheer or too fussy will help reinforce your no-nonsense agenda.

Neutral Tones

Navy, black, brown, red, gray, and tan tend to draw more favorable responses from audiences than most other colors.  Call them boring, call them uninspired, but they’re still tops in winning people over.  What?  You want to shock ’em with your hot pink suit?  You probably will, and they’ll talk about it for weeks to come.  But they probably won’t remember what you said.  So bear that in mind before you search high and low for a shocking pair of shoes to match.

If you want to be seen as an authority figure in your work, church, or community, you need to dress the part – especially if you don’t have a commanding voice or presence to help you reach your goal.  True, you may sometimes find yourself in impromptu leadership situations where you won’t have time to plan your apparel, but when you do have that luxury, make good use of it.

Choose simple, classic pieces that offer good coverage and force attention to your face so that others will heed your words.  It’s the easiest way to be taken seriously.

Want some other guidelines for how to use your clothing to ensure success?  Download a copy of Business Wear Magic
to see how easy dressing appropriately for business can be – whatever industry you happen to be in.

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