by Meghan Keneally
American culture places a premium on appearance, and it is as true in the boardroom as it is on the runways at Fashion Week and the red carpets of Hollywood. Before walking into an important business meeting, you must think about how your look will affect the first impression that you give to clients and potential employers. You want to project confidence, power, and intelligence.
While your résumé will reveal your work experience, your level of professionalism and respect will be transmitted immediately by your appearance. Don’t panic: even though that sounds scary and might send some rushing to the nearest boutique, the truth of the matter is that we define what message we are going to give even before we decide what to wear. Start the day by thinking of what you want to show: that you are confident, smart, and personable. Your attitude and body language will shine through any outfit that you wear, so it is best to act confident and self aware no matter the label on your business blazer.
The clothes are secondary to your self-image, but they are a visual representation of the message that you are trying to project and they should mirror the confidence and professionalism seen in your attitude. Think about what you want your clothes say about you: do you want them to say that you are flashy and sexy or that you are a serious professional with the capability to handle tough situations in a respectable manner. That may sound like more of a message than the average gray suit can give, but don’t limit yourself.
When selecting an outfit, choose one that is sleek but serious. For women, heels are fine but their height should correlate with the skirt—don’t wear anything too high with anything too short. Skirts should never be higher than the top of your knee and your heels should never be higher than three inches. Never show cleavage. At the same time, choose an outfit that you are comfortable in, and make sure that your clothes don’t detract from the main event: you and your thoughts. At work, you want to showcase your business prowess; you don’t want a loud flower print to distract colleagues from listening to what you’re saying. Whether it’s an expensive watch for a man or a low-cut blouse for a woman, your accessories and clothing should not be a distraction, taking the focus away from you and your credentials.
All of this detailed focus on the minutiae of your appearance for a first impression may seem trivial when the real focus should be on your skills and ideas, but we live in a very judgmental society. Like it or not, we are often critiqued based on our looks so it is important to think carefully about both the physical and psychological image that we project when walking into a business meeting.