Suits are the easiest way to convey authority at work. The structured shapes, sombre colour and smooth fabrics all give an air of strength and power. But if you don’t work in a suited environment and the dress code is relaxed business rather than conservative, how do you appear powerful without the armour of a suit?
Let’s take the elements of traditional corporate wear, and then relax them but in a way that doesn’t diminish your personal power.
Colour: keep pants, skirts and jackets in darker colours. Dark colours are stronger and more powerful. Think grey, navy, deep olive, chocolate, charcoal, deep burgundy and forest green. Keep you white jacket for evenings and weekends, not the office.
Colour Accents: keep brighter and lighter colours to one garment only. Wear a bright coloured top, belt, handbag or necklace to liven up your look and inject some personality. We remember coloured experiences more than neutral ones. Colour helps make you memorable, but you want to do it in good way, not the “oh there’s that weird purple woman” kind of way.
Think structure. A suit has structure. Collars and lapels convey professionalism (this is why the tradie’s uniform has become the polo shirt – the collar is more formal than a regular T-shirt). Wear a jacket, even if it’s made of a knit fabric, it will give you more authority.
Beware of patterns. Gaudy prints and patterns make a garment less formal. The larger the print, the less formal the pattern, think about the difference between a checked flannel shirt and a fine checked dress shirt. Keep your patterns smaller and more discreet for the office. Consider what they convey, a floral pattern says soft and nurturing while a stripe is straight and strong.
Fabrics are key: just like patterns have levels of formality, so do fabrics. The thicker or more bulky the fabric, the more casual and relaxed it is. Wear layers of finer, smoother fabrics to keep warm and renounce your authority.
When we unpack the elements of a suit using less formal pieces, it becomes quite simple to maintain a professional image without having to done a suit everyday.
As professional women image perception is a key part of how we’re treated in the workplace. If you appear and dress professionally, people will assume you are and treat you with the respect you deserve.
Authority without a suit outfit details.