“I want to be comfortable, but I still want to appear like a leader,” my client told
me during our weekly Zoom coaching session, “I need your advice.”
Despite being the CEO of a large organization, my client is a female in a largely
male dominated sector. She was determined to hit that leadership balance I keep
talking about between credibility and warmth.
So, she emailed me a series of photos of various outfits. I guided her through a
series of questions designed to help her develop a more strategic eye to quickly
determine how the cut, fabric and colour of any dress or separate set combine to
create an impression.
Every day, each of us makes choices that impact the way we are perceived by
others. I divide the range of our choices into three main categories: Appearance,
Behaviour and Communications. Now, as more of us are beginning to emerge
from behind our webcams and make the occasional socially distanced, yet, in-
person business meeting, it’s time for a quick refresher on that all-important first
aspect of making an impression, your appearance.
I know what you’re thinking. We should judge each other on what’s on the inside,
not the outside. I agree. But according to the Association for Psychological
Science, attractive people are treated more favorably in nearly every area of life,
from dating to employment to criminal trials.
Attaining a professional business appearance is not the same as entering a beauty
contest, obviously, but, for women and men, it is about making an effort to take
control of the things you can, to put your best image forward.
1) Curate your clothing
Men, your suit jacket should fit your properly. Jackets sleeves should let about a ¼
to ½ an inch of the shirt peek from underneath. Not much more or less. Cut off
any manufacturer label on the sleeve and don’t forget to snip the threads on the
vents of your jacket if it has vents.
Trousers, assuming you plan to put on trousers again someday and not continue
wearing a jacket with pajama pants in video calls forever, should properly fit for
as well. Considering length, whether you go for no break, light break or medium
break, the point is you should understand and take ownership for the message
each style says about you.
Ladies, let’s face it, we’re judged more harshly than our male counterparts when
it comes to business attire.
As First Lady Melania Trump approached the podium in the newly remodeled
White House rose garden this past Tuesday to give her Republican Convention
address, commentators couldn’t help but remark on her military-style, olive green
“Dressed for battle,” stated Vanity Fair.
“Dictator cosplay,” snarked New York Magazine.
Make no mistake your clothing speaks for you.
2) Put on a little make up
Whether web-cam, or in-person, achieving a polished look might also require a
little serum to smooth fly-away hair, a dash of concealer to cover dark circles or
blemishes, or a bit of powder to reduce forehead or chin shine that can shimmer
and distract from your on screen message. Again, for both women and men.
“It’s about simple products used in a simple way to give confidence,” Danny Gray,
CEO of War Paint for Men told me by phone. The London-based founder of the
first men’s makeup brand to have a counter in a high street retail store, Danny
founded the line to break the stigma associated with professional men choosing
to wear makeup.
“Thirty-two percent of our customer base is over 50. I don’t care if you’re 7 or 70
years old, confidence is always a thing,” stated Danny.
He first discovered confidence through a cover-up stick he borrowed from his
sister as a teen.
“I was 15 years old and I got spots like most young men do and it really affected
me. I turned to my sister and she gave me a concealer. I couldn’t believe the
power of products and what they could do.”
In our largely conservative business world, we are still living in a time where
natural looking makeup is key.
For men, it should look like you’ve not applied anything. For women, your
foundation should match your skin-tone and don’t forget to smoothly blend
across your jawline into your neckline. If you opt for a brighter lip colour, it’s a
safe bet to go for more natural eye makeup and if you do love a smokey eye,
please save those enormous lash-extensions and HD eyebrows for the weekend if
clubs ever open again.
Makeup application can be daunting. I’ve always enjoyed painting as a hobby and
perhaps by extension, the art of makeup. Back in the day, the gals at CNN’s
makeup department would even hand me a small brush to perfect my lipliner
myself. But it’s not everyone’s forte.
It’s important to remember that our business interactions are not solely
dependent on our appearance. But the more we learn, the more we can take
charge and feel confident.