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Putting your best foot - and face and fashion - forward for business
Posted By Victoria WoW September 25th, 2013
Long before Vancouver was voted North America's worst dressed city, attributed directly to the population's overwhelming addiction to yoga pants, Victoria had a rather unflattering fashion reputation of our own. Possibly rooted in our earth-conscious city's "granola" vibe, Victorians continue to be characterized by our tendency to underdress for all occasions (As the adage goes: Victoria's winter footwear? Socks with Birkenstocks).
For those of us who own businesses in the wedding industry, many of us spend the majority of our work days in creative activities: arranging flowers, creating seating arrangements, photo-shopping, sewing, baking, cooking, applying make-up. Not to mention all the physical activity we find ourselves contributing to - unpacking boxes, moving furniture, hanging décor, unloading trucks, climbing ladders, and more. Dressing in business attire to do what we do is does not only seem unnecessary, it is simply not practical.
So when it comes to fashion priorities, Victoria's bridal business owners experience a double whammy. Our city's casual approach to fashion (there seems to be a collective fear of being overdressed!) plus our industry's leanings towards creative endeavours can sometimes leave us unsure of how to put our best foot forward when it comes to meeting with clients or attending business functions.
For many of us October represents a little reprieve from the hectic summer wedding season. This means the time is perfect to shift the focus back to ourselves. After all we do to create the most stylish wedding events, we deserve it!
Women of Weddings is shifting our focus this fall on tools to help us be even better at what we do. In September we explored some ideas to sharpen our customer service skills. In October we are dedicating our time to learn how to make the best first impressions - on our customers and our colleagues.
WoW interviewed a panel of style and business experts to learn more about why appearances matter when it comes to business. Deb Alcadhino is a networking strategist and business builder, and the founder of Westshore Women's Business Network. Sharon Rai is a professional make-up and hair stylist, and the founding member of Victoria Women of Weddings. Anita Voorsluys is the Spa Sales Manager for the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Empress, and an original member of WoW.
Here is what they said about:
Putting your best foot - and face and fashion - forward for business.
You are your brand.
Deb Alcadhino summarized this concept to a "t": The basic need of a business to gain and retain clients is fueled by the level of interaction you have with new business possibilities. Therefore everyone you meet should be considered a potential new client. Like it or not, your potential new client or your audience, judges you instantly by your personal appearance and makes judgements affecting your credibility. The old adage “You have one chance to make a first impression” still rings true, whether you are meeting a single client or a room full of people. If you want to continue to feed your client funnel, present yourself in the best possible way every time you step out your front door. First impressions are lasting impressions. It takes 10x longer to change someone’s first impression of you than it does to make the right impression the first time. Your personal branding and the branding of your company are represented by your personal appearance.
Anita adds: "Your appearance is one of the most important ways you can make strong first impression. Upon meeting someone, they will make 11 major decisions about you within 7 seconds of meeting them. Are they trustworthy, do I like them, are they smart, do they know what they're talking about, etc.....ALL based solely on how you look. So you want to ensure that you are giving the absolute BEST impression that you can. Because as they say: you never get a second chance to make a first impression."
What not to wear.
Fashion is consistently wrought with seemingly contradictory definitions of what is "in" and what is "out", what defines "casual Fridays", the must-have wardrobe basics. But when it comes to defining what not to wear to a business function, our panel was in agreement:
- Cover up the girls - excessive cleavage is a definite faux pas
- Short skirts - just above the knee is about as short as you want to go.
- Anything too casual or sporty: ripped or faded jeans, leggings (worn as pants), t-shirts, running shoes, hoodies, athletic wear.
- Anything too tight or too big - choose clothing that fits your body just right, and feels comfortable
- Keep your underwear under there: nothing too sheer, keep bra straps and underwear hidden, designate the spaghetti straps for a dinner date.
- Clothing that is ripped, faded, or missing noticeable elements
- Scuffed, overly worn shoes
- Heavy fragrances- perfumes, even scented lotions
Deb summed it up well: "Cleavage and short skirts will not garner you the credibility and respect. You will get noticed, but for the wrong reasons. If you want to be taken seriously, respected and build a solid personal brand, watch your hemline and buttons!"
What to wear.
Depending on what time of day (and time of year) the function is, choose your outfit appropriately. Anita suggests "Know the type of event you are going. If in doubt, ask if there is a dress code, and plan to dress for success. Is it an evening cocktail mixer, or lunch time networking or a breakfast meeting?"
Generally speaking, you can't go wrong by building an outfit from these business casual building blocks:
- Sheath dresses are universally flattering. Layer a blouse underneath, or a jacket or cardigan over top.
- Wrap dresses are also a figure-flattering cut for every body.
- Straight-leg trousers- solids, pinstripes, muted or neutral colours, even dark denim
- Pencil skirts that fall just above or below the knee
- A-line skirts in conservative fabrics
- Blouses - short or long-sleeve, button-down or pullover, sleeveless works in warmer months (but as mentioned, nothing too skimpy)
- Tailored knitwear
- Tunic tops
Over top of your tops
For functions that fall around the holiday season, especially evening events, you can venture into a little more cocktail wear, but still err on the side of conservative. When it comes to following trends, Anita adds: "Don't go too heavy on trendy items. Choose one trend and incorporate it into your business attire via a scarf, jewelry, shoes or a blouse...but definitely not all four! When in doubt it's always best to go more conservative."
If the shoe fits…
At most networking functions you will spend at large portion of the time standing and mingling. Choose footwear you know you will be comfortable in. Take a moment to check for scuffs and wear and tear, especially the heels.
- Close-toed shoes are most appropriate, but there are certain exceptions.
- Boots are always an option, but make sure they suit the part - no outdoor boots.
- Heels are not always necessary. Skirts and dresses often suit ballet-style flats.
- More comfortable heel options include ones with a strap across the instep (Mary-Janes) or t-strap
- Other options include kitten heels, wedge heels, pumps.
The details matter.
Deb says: "Plan ahead! Know your audience. Plan your attire to your audience. Take the extra time to get dressed and groomed for the event, people will notice! Worse yet, they will certainly notice if your clothes are wrinkled, your shoes are scuffed, your nail polish is flaking or your perfume is too strong. Pay attention to the small details."
And speaking of details, Sharon shared these tips for looking your best:
- Fingernails should be groomed, especially if you use your hands to talk. Remove any chipping nail polish before the event.
- Hair styles should be neat and conservative; a great cut can go a long way.
- With makeup, keep it simple. Even out your skin tone with a little foundation or tinted moisturizer. Mascara will make your eyes look more awake, even if you don’t wear any other eye make-up. Bring a little colour to the cheeks with bronzer or blush, and add a subtle lip color. Try to avoid shimmer, especially during the day.
Sharon finishes with: "As many say, wearing no makeup at all is almost as bad as wearing too much makeup. Makeup should enhance your appearance, and you must feel comfortable and amazing - remember it should not be distracting. When you take care of your personal appearance, you show your potential clients that you pay attention to detail."
You're never fully dressed without…
Making a great first impression is more than just dressing the part, as Anita points out:
"When getting ready for any networking event, always be sure to give yourself enough time to get ready. Is your outfit clean and wrinkle free? Do you have pockets to have your business cards readily available and to put the business cards you are receiving? Are there specific people you are looking to meet? Do you have a 30 second introduction about yourself and your business prepared?
A lot of non-verbal signals help to make a stellar first impression as well. A smile goes a long way as does direct eye contact and great posture. Also, have someone assess your hand shake - it speaks volumes about you. You want to exude confidence but make yourself approachable."
Learn more about making a stellar first impression at our next WoW Event:
WoW Presents :: A Night of Firsts
Tuesday October 8th
5:30-7:30pm | Informal Networking begins at 5pm
Ambrosia Conference & Event Centre
638 Fisgard Street, Victoria BC V8W 1R6
This event will be Women of Weddings first evening event, and we are delighted to feature Deb Alcadhino as our Spotlight Speaker. She will be sharing her tips on how to make the most of networking to create a lasting first impression. Read more about Deb Alcadhino.