Clothes may not make the woman, but they can definitely make or break her career. In corporate Ireland, business attire isn't just preferred, it's expected, and an impeccable style of dress is a must for women who are just entering the workforce and for senior-level executives alike.
It doesn't matter who you are, where you live, or what you do, the wrong outfit can send the wrong message, and the wrong message can block you from ascending the corporate ladder. But stylish dressers shouldn't fret; business attire doesn't necessarily mean boring attire. Frances Jones, of Image Matters, shares her secrets on the new rules for corporate dressing.
Georgina Heffernan: What are the dos and don'ts of corporate fashion?
Frances Jones: For both women and men, it's about dressing the part. People make judgments all the time on how you present yourself. For women in business, they should always avoid showing too much skin - too much cleavage, sleeveless tops and hemlines too short. For men, it’s all about looking as if they have made an effort with their appearance. For instance, a quality shirt and suit and a tie that’s suitable for the business environment he works in. Both men and women should go for the best quality they can afford.
Since the recession hit - are people taking their professional image more seriously?
Yes! Now, more than ever before, people are looking at how they can make the most of every advantage and, of course, how you dress says so much about you. For instance, anyone going for interview needs to ensure that they have paid great attention to every aspect of their personal presentation. I am not saying that a great appearance is going to get them the job, but a poor appearance could certainly lose them the chance to really impress. Similarly, if you are going for promotion or fronting a business, you need to ensure that you always put in the effort to look your professional best.
What advice would you give to men or women who want to update their working wardrobe - on a budget?
Nowadays everyone is on a budget and everyone wants a bargain. For women, it’s all about making smart shopping decisions. Spend the most money on the clothes you wear most. It’s all down to cost per wear! I often say to women, 'go back shopping in your own wardrobe!' If they haven’t done a weed out of their wardrobe in a while, chances are that they are garments there that have never been worn, if ever! Accessories are a great way to update a wardrobe - shoes or jewellery in a colour they have never worn before. Shopping online is a great way to check out deals. Having said that, you need to be sure of fit, fabric etc., and always check out returns policy. Only shop online if you vigilant about returning clothes that are not suitable. For men, a tie is a good way of updating a suited look. Or a new shirt in a different colour. Always easier for the men!
As a professional image consultant, you are meet business people everyday. What's the most common mistake people make with their working wardrobes?
So often I meet clients with these fabulous credentials and CV's but their appearance is not doing them any justice. The most common mistake for women is not paying attention to detail. It’s making sure that the personal grooming is immaculate. For women it’s paying attention to hair- style and make-up. It’s all about dressing appropriately for the environment that they are working in. For men, it’s about ensuring that the suit is immaculate and the overall look is impressive.
What are the unspoken fashion rules for men?
A real no-no for men is scruffy shoes. So often, you will see a guy in a beautiful suit but when you look at his shoes, they can leave a lot to be desired. Polished, heeled and soled. Always!
Is it possible to maintain a professional look and flaunt the latest fashion trends?
Yes, although I think it very much depends on the business environment you're working in. It is so much easier for people who work in advertising, or PR, or in the media to have fun with fashion and the latest trends. However, I don’t think people need to be a slave to fashion. Always better, particularly in a more traditional environment, to avoid going too much with the latest must-have. Better to think about your messaging and your career and spend your money on supplementing the 'gaps' in your wardrobe!
What's your advice for job interviews? Is it still best to go for a conservative look?
Yes, probably best to play it a bit safe, but of it does depend on the type of job you are going for. Attention to detail and great grooming are crucial. First impressions really count - more than ever when jobs are at a premium. Research the organisation and check out the dress code in advance if possible. Always wear a jacket no matter who you are or what the job! Better to overdo it than underdo it!