How to dress: The power of a great outfit

Dressing beautifully, whether you are male or female, won’t make you a better leader, but it will make you feel more confident and may even change the perception people have of you.  

Stylist Jackie O’Fee, of Signature Style, sums up the importance of how we dress with a quote she has seen: “Never underestimate the power of a great outfit on a bad day.”  

In her Parnell-based business, Jackie has been working for the past 17 years helping both men and women dress and present themselves to make the most of who they are and their natural attributes. She offers full makeover programmes which include colour analysis, style analysis, an audit of your wardrobe; make-up lessons, hair makeover and a shopping service.  

Cathy Parker is the publisher of Adrenalin Publishing (which owns Management magazine). She has owned the business for 25 years, started with two magazines and now publishes 11 titles. 

She’s starting to take on governance roles in other organisations and feels it’s time her wardrobe and look stepped up a notch. She’s currently the chair of the Audit Bureau of Circulation; sits on the board of the Magazine Publishers Association; is an advisory board member of SuperDiverse Women and a trustee of the Rainbow NZ Charitable Trust. She recently attended an Institute of Directors’ Company Directors Course and addressed a packed house at the Global Women New Zealand Summit on International Women’s Day.  

Management asked Jackie to help Cathy find the style of dress and overall look that she wanted as she becomes serious about moving into more governance roles and taking on the responsibility associated with that. 

Jackie says her style sessions are a very intimate process for the clients. She’s talking to them about their shape, and their measurements, what suits them and what might improve the way they look and, she says, people are emotionally attached to their clothes and often their current image.  

Part of the very impressive (and fun) process sees Jackie visit the client’s home to go through their wardrobe to help them decide what goes and what stays. She also takes them shopping to find the perfect outfits for their style and shape.  

Many of her clientele are going through a change of roles in their business life, as is Cathy, and Jackie has had male clients sent to her by their board as stepping up to a CEO level means they are doing business at a different level.  

The first step in the process is a colour analysis working out the colours that work for each person. As Jackie says in her promotional material “Knowing what colours make your eyes sparkle and your skin glow is priceless.” 

And for someone who hadn’t seen the process before – it really is quite remarkable what one colour palette can do that another does not. The process involves holding a huge palette of colours against Cathy to see what suits her skin and her eyes. She is a big fan of red and wears a lot of black but Jackie felt that Cathy’s colours predominantly are a cool undertone, but light and soft.  

She notes too that as we get older softer colours are kinder and when building a wardrobe Cathy could use navy or charcoal with softer colours. Cathy wasn’t a pastel fan, but admits the colours that did stand out are softer than what she tends to wear. 

Once the palette is finalised, Jackie undertakes Cathy’s make-up – using a brush for foundation and a loose mineral powder on top. She also uses soft eyeshadow colours and a brow powder to softly define the brows. 

Jackie’s own make-up is, as you’d expect, flawless. It’s really part of the job description as her clients expect her to look fantastic. She spends 20 minutes each morning applying her make-up for the day, and while most of us won’t spend that much time, Jackie says she finds many clients have never really learnt how to do their make-up. It’s often in their workplace that they notice other women are more sophisticated in their make-up choices and want to learn how to apply it more skillfully. 

To find out what garments will work best for Cathy, Jackie measures her height, looks at the width of shoulders, her bust, waist, hips and thighs and then the length from the shoulders to waist, hip and legs. 

Jackie says while it’s usually thought a pear shape is the most common shape for New Zealand women, in actuality the most common figure is one that is straight up and down (as Cathy is) and so, says Jackie, it must be the clothes she wears that create the shape. 

Suggestions for Cathy include soft styles, shaped jackets, prints with a curvy line, flat topped pants, tops with darts, and layering with longer layers beneath shorter ones. Nothing too boxy or square and nothing that stops at the waist, no sleeves that stop at the waist either. 

If you are fairly straight through the waist that means avoid gathers and choose a dress rather than skirt. Her tip: “when a garment has shape on the hanger it will have shape on you.” 

Part of the makeover process is creating a personalised booklet using information Jackie wrote 17 years ago. Called My Style Analysis, it shows each client their own frame shape and face shape. It goes into great detail outlining what different neck lines suit them, the sleeve types to wear, jacket shapes that flatter, trouser type that will suit their frame, and the lengths and style of skirt that will be most flattering. 

The next step is a thorough audit of Cathy’s wardrobe. What suits her shape, what’s dated, or is looking a little too worn for executive dressing. Jackie points  out that we have an emotional response to our clothes and it can be hard to get rid of old favourites. 

Cathy is looking for a mix of styles – smart casual when out with friends and a more corporate look, although she says she is not keen on the power suit. She is also looking for very smart trousers she can wear to executive events. 

So, to the wardrobe. Cathy has a very full wardrobe, she leans heavily towards red and as a tactile person her garments need to have a soft feel. 

Cathy is “quite matchy” in her choices in her current wardrobe, with many clothes similar to each other. Jackie is looking to find things that mix and match for Cathy and points out that 12 items that mix and match can give someone 35 different outfits. And if you travel for work, 12 items is easy to pack. This capsule wardrobe consists of two jackets, two skirts, two trousers, a dress and five tops that match every bottom garment. 

if you wear items that are dated, you look dated,  and Jackie points out that at board level they are looking for someone who is progressive. Attention to detail is important and if your clothes are dated, you can also be aged by what you are wearing.  

One way to ensure you don’t look dated is to remember that if you can’t find it in the shops – it means it’s out of style. Even if you are not going to buy – go shopping and look at the age of the shoppers in the different stores. 

Back in the wardrobe, Jackie’s eagle eye spots garments that have faded in places or are looking a bit tired. In all Cathy manages to recycle, relegate or discard about 30 different pieces of clothing from her wardrobe and also start to wear some of her clothes differently, layered together. She has also become more open about what is a summer garment and what’s for cooler weather and how she can wear some garments, differently. Short boots instead on long boots with a dress for instance. 

Jackie says Cathy doesn’t need as many clothes as she has and she’ll work to come up with 12 new pieces for those 35 outfits on their shopping expedition. She’ll also be looking for softer colours and a modern look. 

Cathy also wants more jackets but says comfort is important too. She likes the feel of things that stretch but Jackie says looking smarter sometimes means you might have to sacrifice a wee bit of comfort.  

So if you are a tad more mature, how young should you go in your fashion choices? 

“As you age you don’t want to look ridiculous by looking like a fashion victim, but instead take elements of things and interpret them to work for you. It’s about making sure you are still current.” 

She sees dressing more smartly as an investment in you and who you are. “We are so busy we are one of the last things we invest in.” Many of her clients are time poor and tend to wear the same style every day. 

Even for the observer the whole process is fun (my own wardrobe is in a sad state I decide when I look at it with new eyes) and it’s uplifting too. Jackie is sensitive and tactful, so garments are thrown easily without any feeling of being judged. 

In our October issue we’ll follow the rest of the process which will see Cathy go to the M11 Studio in Newmarket, where Jackie’s own hair stylist Trish Matthews will find a hair style that suits Cathy and she is happy with. Then we’ll head off to several different clothing stores where Jackie will have pre-selected a range of clothes for Cathy to try on. And then it’s back to Jackie’s studio for the final reveal (as they say on reality TV).  

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