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Is Your Image Helping You Get Ahead?

How to update your workplace wardrobe – and why you should

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How’s that? you may ask. Shouldn’t my job performance and successes be the most important factors in determining a promotion or raise? Well, of course, both are critical, but don’t underestimate the power of presenting your best self in the workplace. Is your image helping you get ahead?


Fashion Is Important

We’re not talking about investing in the latest fashion fads here—not at all, but visual messages are important, and as Aristotle—that’s right, wise old Aristotle— once said, “The aim of art (read “fashion”) is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”

According to Lori Bumgarner, image consultant and owner of paNASH Style, the reason a woman should keep her look updated is because it “sends the message that she stays abreast of the latest trends in her industry, which keeps her marketable and seen as an asset to the company and its future.” All things being equal at a job interview, the person who appears more organized and current in their appearance may be the one to get the raise or promotion.

Lauren Solomon, Image Consultant, and author of several books including Image Matters: First Steps on the Journey to Your Best Self, believes it is critical for a woman to update her look. Solomon says, “By association the brain automatically assumes that what it sees is what it gets. By letting your “look” slack off or become out-of-date, you broadcast silently that your information and your skills are out-of-date as well. It is most definitely a career changer.”

In regards to “slacking off” on your “look,” Solomon adds, “Women are notorious for not keeping our look completely current and cutting edge. We give to everyone else before we give to ourselves. We forget that we are earning our living and supporting our families and ourselves.” She continues saying, “The same holds true for being in the same position for any length of time. We get complacent…comfortable. We forget that we are re-selling ourselves amidst ever-growing competition every day, no matter how glowing our evaluations may be.”

Cleaning Out the Old

If you’re like many, even most, women—who often use just 20% of their wardrobe—you grab one of your “go-to” outfits towards the front of your closet when you dress for work. The rest of your closet needs some consideration, as well.

Megan Fox, Silicon Valley Career Coach & Recruiter with Work Life Careers says, “The best first start is to pull anything from your wardrobe that isn’t flattering, doesn’t fit, or does not match the image of your ideal position. Sell it on consignment or eBay for your new wardrobe budget, or donate it to charity. Decluttering allows you quicker and easier access to assemble your outfits.”

Bringing in the New

If you don’t find any hidden treasures in the back of your closet, you may need to go shopping. So how should you go about updating your wardrobe? Solomon suggests that you “use solid colors as the core of any wardrobe,” and she recommends that you “put your best colors closest to your face to amp up your energy and your natural colors. Then, add in the bling and accessories like the candles on the cake. They add a touch of shimmer and shine, making things just a bit brighter than they are on their own.”

Solomon suggests when purchasing, “Always invest in the items you want to last you the longest—jackets, dresses, slacks, skirts, outerwear—these are the core items of any professional wardrobe. They are your workhorses. Invest in them wisely and they will give you years of service and pleasure.”

If you want to be more creative with your wardrobe and break from tradition, Bumgarner suggests avoiding “cookie-cutter” looks by adding interest with unique yet professional outfits. She offers suggestions on updating your look on her Pinterest board, Alternative Job Interview Attire. Bumgarner says as a woman you “can be taken seriously while still allowing your personality to shine through in your look.”

Ali Levine, Celebrity Wardrobe Stylist of Ali Levine Design believes “’Confidence is your best accessory’. If you need to update your look but don’t have the budget for an entire wardrobe focus on ties, belts and jewelry. Accessories are the key to dialing up a look and changing your appearance. It’s important to pay attention to the details.”

When creating a new look don’t neglect your hair and makeup. If you’re still rocking the same style you did five years ago it’s probably time for a change. Remember your hair is one of the few things you wear everyday so make sure it enhances your appearance.

Financing Your New Look

On a budget and not sure how to update your wardrobe without spending money you don’t have? Don’t get caught up in quantity, as Mary Baier, author of Clueless: A Guide to Modern and Professional Office Etiquette, says, “It is not so much how many clothes you have—it is how you accessorize.”

Sandy Dumont, Image Consultant, Coach and CEO of The Image Architect, notes that “TJ Maxx is a great place to shop. They have good prices, and some of them have a designer nook. Everything is discounted. They also carry wonderful jewelry, handbags, etc. Marshalls (same owner) is also good, but not quite as high fashion as TJ Maxx. Steinmart is another good place, and prices are discounted. An online retailer that always has a “sale” page is Halsbrook.com … even then; it’s pricey, best for picking up that one fabulous piece on sale.” If you’d rather avoid the mall, Levine says there are many great places to shop online such as Amazon, Piperlime, My Habit, and 6pm.com

“Check out upscale consignment shops,” Dumont suggests. “There you can get acquainted with top brands and train your eye to recognize quality fabrics and styles. It’s not what you spend—it’s the impact you make. Impact is made with great colors, styles, and statement accessories.”

Pulling It All Together

Now that you have some new pieces, how do you incorporate them into your existing wardrobe to create a new professional look? Fox recommends that you “get your stylish friends involved, and ask for their feedback on different looks.” Dumont suggests putting outfits and accessories together and then photographing them so you have new and exciting ideas for ‘old’ pieces.” Place the photos where you can easily see them each morning to eliminate having to think about what you’re going to wear that day. Think about the time you’ll save.

Another idea is to prepare your wardrobe choices for the week, put them on hangers, and just grab the next outfit in line each day. So simple and it helps you avoid making hasty or poor choices, or panicking about what to wear.

Dumont summarizes, “When you make image changes that are powerful, people treat you differently. Then you change profoundly on the inside. Sociologists have seen that when you look good, people assume that you are good; and that when it comes to promotions, the person who looks the part will be given preference over others.”

Here’s a mantra from Baeir, “If you want to move up the ladder, you want to move up the attire. Even if management does not care, you are always being viewed by clients who might be a future employer. It shows you care about yourself and for the job and future.”

Here’s to presenting the image of what we already know about ourselves: that we’ve got the talent, skills, and confidence to move to our next career goal.

About Claudia Reynolds, MA

Claudia Reynolds, M.A., has a background in media and creative ventures having spent eleven years as a television weather anchor and, nearly simultaneously, fifteen years as a singer. Public speaking, writing, and thinking outside the box are Claudia’s strong suits, and her entrepreneurial nature has brought her experience with branding, marketing, and trademarks. She has operated her own small business and works as a freelance writer, video producer, and researcher.


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