One of the biggest shifts in workplace culture over the past ten years has been how we dress in the office.
While two-piece suits, pencil skirts and high heels were once the norm for corporate attire – with ‘casual’ or ‘dress down’ Fridays available to try something different – women now have significantly more options for expressing ourselves on a daily basis.
Image Consultants founder and personal branding expert Janette Ishiyama can still remember the moment, while shopping for her corporate clients, that she realized just how many labels had stopped making traditional suits for women.
The shift came from a lack of demand, with large employers like PwC, Virgin, Deloitte and others replacing their traditional dress guidelines with taglines like, ‘Bring your whole self to work’, ‘ or ‘bring your best self to work’. Given many of us work flexibly, juggle multiple roles and responsibilities and are trying to find better balance by ‘blending’ work and life, it makes sense to move away from uncomfortable, restrictive and uncreative ways of dressing.
“Part of bringing such individuality to work involves professionally ditching the suit to instead dress in separates,” says Janette, noting the wide range of shirts, sk
irts, dresses, pants and other items we now have available. “Indeed, dressing in separates has become the new ‘power dressing’, as long as you know how to do it well.”
Janette says her entrepreneurial clients relish the opportunity to embrace this form of dressing, particularly to use it to showcase their personality and unique brand.
Her corporate clients, on the hand, find the shift a little more challenging – with the suit no longer presenting a simple, choice-free, daily option.
But Janette urges all of us to see this new way of dressing as an opportunity for women. “In the past, for women to wield power in what was historically a man’s world, she had to pretty much dress like a man,” Janette says. “This is no longer the case and we’re free to present a new image of what leadership looks like.”
She points to examples like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, former Yahoo boss Marissa Mayer and Vogue editor Anna Wintour as women who’ve adopted their own “leadership look” based on wearing vibrant shift dresses and heels. “While these women’s styles vary, the focus is the same,” says Janette. “Their clothes fit perfectly. They wear high quality fabrics, and pay simple attention to accessories and grooming.”
Below, Janette shares the rules to remember when creating your own “leadership look”, without putting on a suit.
Be authentic. If you don’t look confident in what you’re wearing it will show immediately. Find your own style and develop a personal brand that speaks to your values. What are you trying to say in life, business and fashion?
Know the answers to the following questions: What works for my shape, what’s my dressing style personality and which colours work for me? Without these answers, you’ll be walking through retail outlets aimlessly and getting frustrated. For example, if you have a feminine style, then dresses and skirts will be great for you. If you are more sporty in style, then signature ankle grazers and denim should be your choice. Need more inspiration? Click here and see my Pinterest board where I have collated different power styles utilising separates.
Find your signature style: Anna Wintour always wears a high placed necklace and you never see her in pants. Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who wrote the book Read My Pins, strategically used jewellery during her time in Bill Clinton’s cabinet. She says it was part of her personal diplomatic arsenal!
For some of my clients, they like to use their glasses as their focal accessory as does, Jenna Lyons (creative director for J Crew)
Consider these attributes when determining how you plan to demonstrate ‘Power’?
Colour: Dark colours convey strength such as black, navy, dark charcoal and deep burgundy
Print: The more angular the print the more powerful you will look.
Fit: Is what you’re wearing loose and floaty or tailored and structured? The more structure, the more powerful you look.
Fabric: The smoother the fabric the more tailored and professional you will look. The more textured the piece, the less formal you look.
Purchase your big ticket pieces in neutral colours so they go the distance.
Be consistent. They say you need to hear the same message seven times before it hits home. The same can be said with our Image. Consistency is key. We need to demonstrate our brand over and over again.
Irrespective of your style, you will always be able to look ‘Powerful’ and ‘Professional’ when wearing separates if you follow this process.
If you’d like to learn more about how to create a style and personal brand that has impact and influence, click here and register to the #1 Styling + Branding Event for Professional Women.