Dressed for success

by By Michelle Chin (mchin@sph.com.sg)
published on 21 June 2016

Leave a lasting and positive impression not only with the calibre of your work, but by projecting a polished image. Your dressing affects how others perceive you, and it may even influence the way you think.

According to the research paper “The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing” published last year by researchers from Columbia University, University of Iowa and California State University, Northridge, wearing formal clothing can help you think more like a leader. 

Studies conducted by the researchers showed that wearing more formal clothing is associated with increased abstract thinking involving broader, holistic and long term goals, instead of concrete thinking which is more subordinate, narrow and concerned with little details.

The study also showed that formal dressing is linked to perceptions of felt power and added social distance which in turn is linked to increased abstract thinking.

Ms Elaine Heng, a certified image consultant, make-up artist and trainer who conducts image management courses, shares pointers on how to look well-dressed and impeccable in corporate formal wear.

1. Power dress

Styles of corporate dressing can vary among different sectors. What is considered suitable in creative industries may not be as appropriate in other office cultures. Among the many styles of corporate wear, power dressing is a style some choose to adopt.

Ms Heng said: “Power dressing is a fashion style that gives the impression of authority in a business or professional setting. This style of dressing makes people look good and feel great, but most importantly, it translates into confidence.

The trick is to stand out from the crowd and look current without letting people think that you spend hours to get ready, so that clients perceive that you can get things done quickly and up to speed and par.”

Power dressing does not equate to being overdressed or breaking the bank to look more polished.

Ms Heng pointed out that power dressing need not be overly formal or high maintenance. For instance, she recommended that junior executives should go easy on the designer labels. You could focus more on bespoke couture or even mass market pieces that are flattering to achieve a professional image.

2. Be well put together

How does one come across as sleek and polished without looking dated or as if they are trying too hard?

Ms Heng recommended avoiding jackets with big shoulder paddings, coloured jackets in black or boring plain hues, big hair, thick makeup and covered toe shoes with chunky heels.

Instead, go for jackets or blazers with softer shoulder paddings. Be experimental and opt for a pop of colour instead of the usual black jacket and white top inside. 

She said: “The jacket should be well-fitted or tailored to fit your body shape. Try luxe fabrics like silk that imparts classiness.”

Tailoring and altering will help as putting on well-fitted clothing makes one feel more comfortable and at ease.

3. Accessories and shoes do matter

The right accessories can add a touch of memorability to your image. 

Match your apparel with suitable accessories such as tasteful jewellery, belts that complement your outfit or a watch with steel or leather watch straps. 

Ms Heng said: “Covered toe shoes with slim heels project femininity and professionalism. You could choose one with a pointed toe design for added style.”

For men, wear dress shoes which are clean and polished. If the heels are badly worn off, get the heels replaced or a new pair of shoes.

4. Look more poised with make-up

Ms Heng said: “Avoid overly loud colours for your nail polish. Choose colours that are more subtle – nude, pink or a French manicure."

Go fuss-free make-up that is sensible and fits into your routine. An overly elaborate cosmetics ritual may not be practical for daily wear.

Ms Heng said: “Go with light make-up to project a professional look. You do not always need to put on overly meticulous make-up.” 

5. Tips for men

Ms Heng said to go easy on hairstyling products and avoid hair products that give your hair an oily appearance. Ensure that your nails are short and nicely trimmed.

Avoid materials that wrinkle easily such as linen. Skip polyester shirts as these are usually too warm to wear.

You could occasionally wear a patterned tie instead of always donning plain coloured ones.

Invest in a presentable looking pen for taking notes during meetings or signing contracts.