“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” – Mark Twain
Mark Twain forgot to mention accessories, from glasses to belt and even your coat, can make you appear to be a winner, a leader, a standout – or else someone who’s stuck in decades old items. Your suit may seem fine to you, but the HR manager across from you is wondering why you are wearing something so outdated or ill-fitting.
And while professionalism is crucial for job interviews and networking events, it does not mean boring. “Show a little personality. It’s about having you come alive,” said Jayne Mattson, senior vice president of Keystone Associates, who helps people explore career options and transitions.
If you’re unsure which pieces work for you and convey professionalism, ask a friend to shop with you – and choose one who has a good eye and a professional job. Or, head to Nordstrom or a fashion blog or magazine to see what suits your personality and the industry in which you want to work, Mattson said. Or, create a list of items that will dress up and update your job hunt in 2013 and send it out to Aunt Helen or your brothers right away.
Here’s some more advice on dress for success, whether you’re headed to a job interview or an important networking event:
1. Go Fashionable. “We’re in more of a fashionista period,” said Mattson, who is proud of her fashionable taste. So you don’t want your jewelry or your shoes to shout ‘purchased in 1999.’ More chunky jewelry looks stylish, so it’s great to choose a bigger earring or necklace. Watches are in vogue again, so wearing one with a smidgen of sparkle is fine. Just don’t go too far on the jewelry or watch; in an interview, you want the focus to be on you and what you’re saying, not how amazing or unusual your accessories are, she said.
2. Add Color. “Color in your wardrobe is one way for you to stand out,” said Mattson. She recalled a recent Keystone event, where most of the 100 people in the audience were job seekers. “I saw all dark colors,” blacks and grays, with no one showing the verve of a red or blue shirt or blouse. A splash of color would have made the wearer much more visible.
3. Go for New Glasses. Since they sit right on your face, the right frames can make you seem clever and contemporary – or the opposite. If yours are outdated, replace them, and this goes for men as well as women, she said.
4. Pick a Pen. “Buy your interview or your job seeker pen,” the Keystone executive suggests. That way during the interview, when you jot down some notes, you won’t be brandishing a chewed up Bic or worse, writing with one that promotes whirlpool spas. It doesn’t have to be silver plated or super expensive, but it should look and feel good.
5. Add a Belt or a Broach. Maybe you will choose a vintage piece of jewelry, or a bold colored portfolio to show off your work, suggests Margaret Lilly, owner of Lilly’s Closet, a Washington, D.C. personal stylist. Allow the accessories to “play with color” and add a bit of style to a classic tweed or black suit. But in my Washington Post article she also warned: “Definitely less is more,” so don’t add too much.
6. Consider the Coat. This is an important piece in cool or cold-weather regions, at chamber mixers and networking events, where you may meet several people walking in or waiting in line for the parking valet. Mattson tells of one client who liked to wear an old wrinkled raincoat, what she thought of as his “Columbo coat” after the television detective. Finally she told him: “Get rid of it; it ages you by years.”
You don’t have to buy your accessories at a high-priced boutique or wear designer lapel shirts and ties. But you do want to look polished, professional and smart. And, as Mattson and other say: Avoid anything that says “I’m outdated.”