Dressing for success

01 March 2005 by
Dressing for success

The way you dress at work is more important than you might realise.

A study carried out by Professor Albert Mehrabian at Stanford University in the USA found that the impression you create in business is 55% down to appearance, 38% to voice and 7% to the words spoken.

So we can assume that most of us need to spend more time on our appearance at work.

You need to look professional to both your work colleagues and your customers.

Potential clients of hotels, pubs and restaurants will take one look at the staff and decide whether they want to become a customer.

Similarly, an interviewer will take one look at what you're wearing and make all sorts of decisions about your personality and competence.

It takes just two minutes for the interviewer to decide whether you're suitable for the job. You need to feel as confident as possible and your appearance can be your greatest help. If it's above criticism, your words will be listened to without distraction.

Often people spend time and effort getting their CV to look brilliant, but fail to make the same effort with themselves.

Believe it or not, a good appearance can also help get you a better salary. A survey by a hair and beauty product manufacturer showed "before" and "after" photos of the same job candidates to companies and asked them to suggest starting salaries. In the "before" photos, candidates had a mediocre appearance; in the "after" photos, a crisp, effective business look. The "afters" received starting salaries that were 22% higher.

The essentials

Here are basics you need to adhere to:

  • excellent grooming
  • well-cut, clean hair
  • good clothes maintenance
  • well-cared-for shoes
  • well-fitting clothes
  • discreet, up-to-date make-up

Common mistakes

Watch out for these fashion no-nos:

  • silly ties and socks
  • worn out, shapeless tee shirts
  • showing too much flesh
  • skirts that are too short
  • overbearing perfume or aftershave
  • white socks or shoes with a dark suit
  • dirty, torn clothes
  • too much jewellery
  • too many patterns
  • dandruff
  • labels sticking out


Your clothes need to say "confident, organised and authoritative".

Wear the best quality clothes you can afford. Pay attention to accessories. Take care when choosing items such as a belt, a watch, a bag or briefcase, ties, scarves and jewellery.

For an interview, if in doubt, dress more formally rather than more casually. Suit jackets always carry authority.

Don't think that if you wear a uniform, you don't need to bother about appearance.

If you work in a kitchen, it's all too easy to get your whites dirty. It's tempting to think that keeping clean doesn't matter if you are slaving away in the kitchen out of sight of the guests, but remember that making a good impression on your work colleagues is just as important.

Try to remove stains immediately and, if necessary, change into a fresh uniform. Be aware of cooking smells lingering on your clothes too.

It's easy to spot who's looking smart and who's not when people are wearing the same uniform. Make sure you stand out for the right reason.


Wearing different colours can affect how people see you. Red has connotations of boldness, while navy blue can look conservative and black elegant.

Try not to stick to the same colours: this can make you seem boring. Too much black, in particular, can make a person look funereal. But at the same time, don't wear too many colours at once.

Women should be aware of make-up colours: natural colours are best. Remember to re-apply lipstick after eating, if necessary, and watch out that your make-up doesn't run in a hot kitchen.

Men who wear suits normally choose dark colours such as navy, grey and black. Other colours are introduced through their choice of shirt and tie. Make sure the colours you have chosen don't clash.

Steps you can take

It's hard to realise that your shoes look too old or your trousers have faded if you wear them on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes you need someone to point it out for you.

It's worthwhile getting your friends and family to look over your wardrobe and help you decide what does and doesn't suit you. Ask them to be honest. If you ask several people, you're more likely to get some useful feedback.

Consider having your colours and image analysed by a professional to get objective advice about what makes you look good.

An image consultant will look at your skin tone and work out whether warm tones or cool tones suit you best.

A warm or yellow-based skin tone means that colours with a lot of yellow pigment in them suit the wearer. Colours include:

  • coral pink
  • flame red
  • mustard
  • olive green
  • chestnut brown
  • warm grey
  • cream
  • light peach
  • petrol navy

A cool or blue-based skin tone is suited to colours with blue pigment. Colours include:

  • shocking pink
  • cherry red
  • lemon
  • jade green
  • burgundy
  • bluey grey
  • white
  • ice pink
  • navy blue

An image consultant will also advise on patterns, fabrics, flattering shirt collars or jacket lapels, hairstyles and where to shop.

Making the effort to look good does mean that you'll probably need to spend some money. But remember: it's better to buy one good-quality item than several low-quality items just because you feel you're getting a good deal. Check out the sales, too, for some good bargains.

In the long run, it should be worth spending time, money and effort. You'll earn more respect from your colleagues and customers, and if you're lucky, you might earn more money too.

With thanks to Fiona Ingham, senior image consultant, House of Colour.

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