During an event with Ann Taylor and Marie Claire, features editor Lea Goldman explained how influential executive presence can be. Executive presence is made up of three key factors: communication, gravitas, and appearance.
According to Goldman, 60 percent of your executive presence is based on appearance. With Goldman’s tips and a couple of our own ideas, we came up with a list of fashion choices that should never be made in the office.
Ashley Olsen was recently in the news for going to work with long, wet hair. First of all, this is a great way to catch a cold. But more importantly, not taking the time to dry your hair shows that you don’t care enough about your appearance. As Susannah Gonzalez of NaturallyCurly.com points out, “The bottom line is that wet hair is viewed by many as unprofessional because several people equate wet hair with unfinished hair. Going into work with wet hair might give off the impression that you are not ready for work or that you didn’t have time in the morning to dry your hair. Employers, therefore, might assume that you put little effort into getting ready for work. However, most agreed that it is perfectly acceptable to go out with wet hair if you’re going to class (if you’re a student) or if you’re simply running errands.”
Too Much Cleavage
“The single biggest mistake women make [in work attire] is dressing too sexy,” said Goldman. According to a survey that dragons’ Den entrepreneur Peter Jones commissioned, women who show too much cleavage at work might unintentionally damage their careers. The study of 3000 managers showed that nearly half of the bosses would’ve bypassed promoting a woman if she had frequently worn low-cut shirts to gain notice.
As Lauren Conrad, a fashion expert, says “never show more than one inch of cleavage or wear a skirt that skims your bum. For most offices, skirts that hit more than three or four inches above the knee are considered inappropriate. (If you want to wear shorter skirts, or even dress shorts, pair them with opaque tights to temper the higher hemline.) Also, no tank tops unless you have something layered over it to cover your shoulders.”
In addition, this applies to any area of skin that is overexposed. Perhaps you don’t have cleavage, but you believe that exposing your breastbone will work in the office. Even with professional black-tie events taking place outside of the office, you need to be mindful. Kat Griffin, the founder of Corporette, told me that, “When shopping for your dress, think ‘classic beauty,’ not sexy. To this end, avoid skin in unexpected places (see left—the keyhole above the empire waist is trouble). No sideboob, no underboob, and no dresses with the low-low back.”
Visible Lingerie/Panty Line
The VPL, or visible panty line, is one of many fashion mishaps people frequently make.
However, this does not mean that you should go to work without a bra or underwear even if you really don’t need a bra or just don’t like to wear one.
Goldman said that, no matter what your features are, you need to wear makeup.
“Not wearing makeup to work says you don’t take it seriously,” she said. The trick is to look like you’re not wearing makeup. A study found that wearing makeup at work can actually help you appear more confident, but the line between confident and looking like all you do is put on makeup is a very thin one. Researchers say it “may have to do with the negative stereotypes associated with an ‘overly groomed’ woman in the workplace.” Sparkles should never come into your place of work.
High, High Heels
“Context is everything [in the office]. If you’re wearing the highest pair of heels in your office, then you’re wearing the wrong shoes,” said Goldman. If you work in an industry like fashion, wearing three-inch heels may be the norm. If you work in accounting, a kitten heel may be all you need.
Poorly Fitting Clothing
Wearing clothing that is too tight or too loose can be a detriment to your professional image. Fortunately, finding a good tailor is an easy solution.
Dressing Too Casually
Who doesn’t love Casual Fridays? It’s the one day of the week when you can ditch the suit and wear whatever you want! It can be difficult for women to found the right balance of casual and powerful clothing.
“Casual Fridays were designed by men, for men,” said Goldman. According to Christina Binkley of The Wall Street Journal, women can’t convey as much power as men when they dress casually. It seems that dressing casually, in certain industries, maybe even trickier than dressing professionally. But unfortunately, your outfit is the first thing people see when they meet you, and that can send very strong messages. Binkley writes:
“Clearly, clothes and accessories are powerful symbols in the workplace. They’re seen before our words are heard in a board meeting, and they’re remembered long after, like perfume that hangs in a room.
“Collars on a shirt or jacket convey authority. Flat shoes can suggest a girlish lack of authority; if you wear them, choose flats with some hardware and avoid the ballet look. As for stockings, the debate rages on, but if your primary audience is over 50, they may feel more comfortable with them.”
What fashion disasters have you learned from and how do you avoid them? Share your stories with us in the comments!