Is it time for a style change?

If you’ve held onto a certain look for many years believing it makes you stand out and that it is your ‘signature’, you may be unaware of the need to change it.
By Jackie O’Fee.

Lady Gaga’s meat dress, Marilyn Manson’s goth make-up, Sia hiding her face – the entertainment industry is full of celebrities and their gimmicks. What about you? What’s your workplace trademark?

Over the years I have worked with many individuals who had worn things a certain way for a number of years because they had taken it as their trademark and in their own way, gained notoriety for it. There was the man who loved to wear Hawaiian shirts to work (he worked in IT), and he liked being known as “mad shirt man” among his colleagues and clients. 

Another, a woman in her mid to late 50s with fluorescent pink stripes in her hair that she had had since her post-punk era ‘80s London youth, and a quirky ‘bought in thrift shop’ sense of style. 

She owned her own business and it was struggling. Although an unlikely candidate to spend time with a stylist, she came to see if I could overhaul her image – and in so doing, help revive her flagging business.

She explained that she would pitch for high-end work, but wasn’t getting the jobs. People were no longer trusting her to get the job done and so most of her time was now taken up with odd jobs to keep the money coming in and cover her costs. 

Another industry, another woman. She was in sales, mid-thirties, very attractive and beautifully dressed, but she felt people weren’t taking her seriously. 

Although she would get the appointments, she wasn’t getting the sales. She had seen me speak at her work conference and decided to get in touch. This woman favoured a more flirtatious style of dress, more akin to a summer party than a business meeting. She loved her pretty shoes, and prettier (often low-cut) dresses.

Totally gorgeous, I imagine she was used to being on the receiving end of lots of attention in whatever circumstance she found herself.

The problem here is that sometimes your ‘schtick’ can interfere with your credibility. There’s a quote that’s most often attributed to Coco Chanel that reads, “When a woman is well groomed, you notice the woman.” 

Now I’m not only talking to women in this article, but that sentiment applies here. If the most memorable thing about you is your crazy shirts or penchant for wearing bow ties you need to ask if that is really serving you? 

You may imagine you are standing out among your peers but are you actually being put in a box? If clients are referring you to friends with the caveat “ignore the way he dresses”, is that truly a good thing? 

Part of my role is to be honest with my clients, not to just tell them “you look great”, but in fact to sometimes say “what you are wearing is undermining who you want to be”.

 Often, we’ve held on to a look for too long. It’s become almost a safety net or suit of armour for us. While I’d never advocate leaving your personality at the door and becoming a clone of everyone else that you work with, I am a great believer in keeping who you are congruent with how you want to be perceived in a professional sense. 

For all of us, change can be frightening. If you’ve held onto a certain look for many years believing it makes you stand out and that it is your “signature”, you may be unaware of the need to change it. 

Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself, “Is this still working for me?” If you aren’t certain you are being objective, perhaps ask a colleague or friend’s opinion, but as we like to tell others what they want to hear, you may need to give them permission to be truly honest with you. Most importantly though is to be prepared to be honest with yourself. Maybe it’s time to ditch the gimmick and make a change? 

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Jackie O’Fee is the owner of personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations. signaturestyle.co.nz

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