When Miraque Hicks graduated from college two years ago, she immediately began her career and knew she’d be successful. After all, Hicks was a hard worker and she was ambitious–two important qualities to possess as a young woman entering the workforce. Hicks’ diligence and ambition were key aspects of her personal brand–she knew that in order to be successful, she’d have to network, find a mentor and work well with others.
What troubled her most? Making the transition from jeans and sneakers to building an office wardrobe that would match her career goals and the skills she was learning everyday.
“It was hard at first to find clothes that made me feel like me but were still business appropriate,” she said. “It was a real culture shock.” In time, Hicks learned how to build a wardrobe that spoke to her personal style and did not cost too much money. Today, she works in a less traditional corporate setting yet she still refuses to dress too casually.
“People form impressions based on the way you look,” Hicks said. “It’s all about perception. I don’t want anyone to presume that I work in any other department but the one I work in.”
Building a professional wardrobe is a vital aspect to cultivating a personal brand. But what does this professional wardrobe look like? How is it helping women to develop their personal, professional brand? A survey conducted by London-based Bute Coaching in 2011 found that 45 percent of people don’t even think about their personal brand and its relationship to building a successful career. That’s a startling statistic as many women need to constantly think about the image they are projecting as they attempt to climb the corporate ladder, move up the ranks in educational settings or become artistic directors in creative spaces.
Washington D.C.- based career coach Patrice Washington agrees. “You should always be thinking of your long-term goals,” Washington said. “Always show up dressed and ready so if someone says ‘I can’t make this meeting, can you go for me?’ The benefit of always standing out is that you always get the opportunity. And filling in for the right people at the right time can change your life.”
And for women–whether they are just beginning their careers or are seasoned professionals–having a signature professional brand does include being cognizant of appropriate work attire.
Building Your Professional Brand While Starting Your Career
Several months ago grade school teacher Patrice Brown, found herself in the middle of an internet controversy. The young woman had a great figure but were bodycon dresses and skin-tight jeans appropriate for the classroom? While many believed that Brown’s wardrobe was fine for the workplace, others argued that she was not setting a good example for young people through her attire. What is reasonable and accepted for your social interactions can create questions about professional maturity with another audience.
“Don’t just think about your audience,” says Washington. “Consider them but consider others. You could have long-term aspirations and you don’t even know who is connected to someone who could move you along.” In other words, keep it trendy and sophisticated, but leave the bodycon dresses for the club.
If you show up wearing super high heels and super short skirts, it’s guaranteed that you’ll raise eyebrows and even get a few side eyes from coworkers. Yes, you might turn a few heads, but you probably also won’t be the first up for promotion. What’s worse is you might not even be taken seriously for the work that you’re able to produce.
“No blazers over bodycon dresses,” says Washington. “That look only fools an amateur. They’ll know if your dress is from Rainbow or Ann Taylor.” Instead, young professionals should focus on purchasing stylish pieces that will accentuate their personal style while also show their growing professionalism.
“Pay attention to what you can and cannot wear to work,” says Gwen Hodrick of Dallas-based Ask Coach Gwen. “Purchase staple pieces but you don’t have to look like you’re wearing a uniform everyday.” Most importantly, when developing a wardrobe, young professional women should remember “your professional brand will last throughout your career,” says Hodrick. Even if you move away from an industry, there will be an imprint on who you once were so put a lot of thought into what you are doing.”
Maintaining or Expanding Your Brand as a Seasoned Professional
If you’ve been working for some time and have begun to establish your professional brand, it’s important to maintain your appearance, Washington warns. “Always show up like it’s your first day,” she says. “The beauty of the seasoned professional is being at the pulse of a new trend. Stay in touch with the current trends.”Leave your mom’s Kasper suits and Talbot’s pants on the store hanger. Instead, Washington advises women to dress for their age. “Weave in polished pieces,” she says. “Remember: I am not my grandmother. I am not a millennial. But I am fashion forward and I will be taken seriously.”
The Little Black Dress is the ultimate wardrobe staple if you are looking to use fashion to help build or maintain your professional brand. It pairs easily with a colorful pair of pumps, a blazer, or cardigan. On the other hand, you can easily use add a silver or gold-toned statement necklace to add some style to the dress. Don’t be afraid to add a pop of color to your wardrobe. Wearing color shows that a seasoned professional woman has light, advises Washington.
Finally, remember, whether you are starting your career or well established, you’ve got to be think about the messages that you send to others. “When women let their guard down, people will be ready to take whatever power they possess away,” says Hodrick. “Being a minority woman, we’ve got to work even harder in leadership roles.”