First impressions count: it’s well known that people judge you mainly by your appearance, not by how you sound, or even what you say, so it pays to get it right.
A sharp black suit, a crisp white shirt and shiny court shoes are fine if you are a city lawyer, but my fellow creatives feel that’s too over the top for them. The general consensus is that they want to look smart but casual. Is that appropriate for networking and business meetings? How can you show your prospects that you’re full of great ideas and still look like you mean business? I visited an image consultant to find out.
Tests (by Professor Karen Fine at Hertfordshire University) have shown that a woman in a dress or skirt appears to be far more trustworthy than one in trousers, so get your legs out, ladies. The length will depend on your body shape and personal style, but should be about knee length. Choose a strong colour which will give you authority (teal, burgundy, charcoal, olive green). Navy is fine if you have bright accessories or soften it with design features like a georgette frilled hem or lace details. Avoid black as you’ll look too conformist.
Arms should be fully covered on first meeting, even in warm weather, so keep your jacket on until you are settled. It doesn’t have to be a formal hip-length jacket with sharp lines and lapels; it can be Chanel-style or even a structured cardigan. This, like your bag, should be an investment buy.
Here’s an opportunity to show a bit of personality. Bags should be structured (a grab or tote bag which is not floppy and stands up on its own when you put it down) and must be large in order to fit in our iPads and papers. Now’s the time to make a statement, so by all means go for the bright pink or turquoise one if that’s what you like. A smart leather holder will give a good impression when you’re handing out business cards.
Drop earrings and jingling jewellery can be distracting, so stick to simple clip-on or stud earrings, and make sure your necklace is single-stranded for the same reason.
Tests (by Proctor and Gamble) have shown that women who wear full make-up are perceived as being more trustworthy than those who don’t. Go for a natural look, with muted lipstick. Mascara should be worn only on the upper lashes – spiky lower lashes don’t look good. Perfume can set off memories for some – and these may not be good ones, so its use is not advised. A French manicure or clear varnish is recommended for nails.
Good news: it’s perfectly acceptable to wear boots. These can be knee boots or ankle boots, preferably with a mid-heel. Coloured tights are considered too informal, flesh-coloured tights are better.
For summer, my consultant advised court shoes – a pet hate of mine; I will opt for Mary Janes or T-bars which still look smart. Nude coloured shoes can look very chic (no peep-toes) and tights should still be worn.
I was surprised (and, I must admit, disappointed) that prospects could be so conservative, but I was told that if I follow the above guidelines, I’ll look professional and my creative streak should shine through. So, for me a trip to the shops is needed. I’ll try to forget the old adage ‘rules are meant to be broken’!