Not long ago I happened to catch a network news interview in which two women were debating the economy.  One of the women was dressed similarly to the interviewer in an attractive business suit with current hair and makeup; the other was dressed in a bright pink t-shirt and floral overalls with a 1980’s hairstyle and no makeup. 

Can you guess which one got more airtime?

Yep, “the suit” got the spotlight – and Ms. Overalls wasn’t happy about it.  Actually, it was rather fascinating to watch.  Since both the reporter and the camera kept most of their attention on the woman in the suit, the woman in the floral overalls ended up shouting and making caustic remarks in order to draw attention to herself.  In both dress and manner she reminded me of a three-year-old throwing a temper tantrum, and I just rolled my eyes and shook my head as the segment drew to a close.  My husband looked at me, brow furrowed, and said, “Were we supposed to take her seriously?”

It’s hard to say.

The reporter had introduced her as “an expert” in her field at the start of the piece, but she didn’t look like an expert, particularly one well-versed in economic matters.  The reporter and news director must have thought the same thing, which is why the other woman ended up with most of the airtime.  Ms. Overalls not only made herself look foolish with her attire, she made the news program look foolish for having her on.  Not good.

The thing is, this sort of incident isn’t so unusual.  You see these kinds of dressing faux pas all the time, though usually not in front of so large an audience.  From boardrooms to classrooms, association meetings to PTA meetings, you get people showing up in inappropriate attire all the time who nonetheless expect to be treated as if they know it all.  But if they don’t even know how to dress appropriately … just how much can they REALLY know?

It’s the million-dollar question that has stalled or stopped many a career in its tracks.

Or, as Carolyn Kepcher, the former right-hand gal on Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” series once remarked when asked why she wore such ultra-conservative clothing on the show when the female apprentice wanna-bes opted for sexier pieces, “Somebody in the boardroom had to wear business attire.”


Unfortunately, it’s true.  “The Power Suit” is so named because it evokes a sense of power and makes those who wear it feel powerful.  No, it’s not appropriate for every work place or every situation, but there’s no denying the respect a classically-styled, well-fitting suit commands.

Much more than say, a pastel t-shirt and overalls.


Well, think of some qualities that describe a good leader.  Your list might include:

Good Communicator

Now think of clothing elements that communicate these same values:

Firm fabric
Straight lines
Strong cuts
Proper fit

Some of the clothes that spring to mind with these descriptions include:

Oxford Shirt
Polo Shirt
Straight-legged trousers
Pencil Skirt

The strong, decisive lines of structured clothing echo those qualities we seek in a leader – which is precisely why those who regularly command large groups of people (countries, big companies) often wear structured clothes.

So it would reason that if you’re seeking a leadership position, like shift foreman or top sales person at work, or liturgical reader or PTA president in your community, for example, you’ll reach your goals more quickly wearing clothes or clothing elements (collars, firm fabrics, dark colors) that echo your objectives.  Strong clothes echo your strong abilities and allow you to be taken more seriously.

So what kinds of clothes will DERAIL your leadership aspirations?  Juvenile styles or elements that say you’re more innocent than experienced, like:

Large Bows
Large Flowers
Cartoon Characters

These are great for little girls or when dealing with innocents, but not so good when competing for a leadership position. 

So what’s the bottom line here?

If you want to lead or be perceived as a leader, whether you’re trying to sway public opinion on national television or teach a group of three-year-olds how to clap to a beat, you need to dress like a leader.  Match your attire to the formality of the situation, of course, but also incorporate clothing elements that match the strong, firm, perception of the person in charge.

Yes, it takes a little thought initially, but once you see how effective it can be, you’ll find it’s well worth the effort.  At the very least, as the gal in the overalls learned in that interview I saw, it will keep you from being ignored.

Or, as a mentor of mine once said, “If you want to be recognized as the Queen Bee, don’t dress like you’re one of the workers.”

Try it for yourself and see.

Need some other tips on how to dress appropriately for different types of businesses?  Download a copy of BUSINESS WEAR MAGIC:

Need some guidelines for what to wear when?  Grab a copy of OCCASION MAGIC:


(c) 2006 Diana Pemberton-Sikes

Diana Pemberton-Sikes is a wardrobe and image consultant and author of “Wardrobe Magic,” an ebook that shows women how to transform their unruly closets into workable, wearable wardrobes. Visit her online at .

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