In the corporate world is the way you look and dress important? While in the big picture of world changing events that seem to swamp leaders daily, it may seem a trivial point, but first impressions count and what you wear may even affect your psychological processes.
By Annie Gray.
As New Zealand leaders grapple daily with the barrage of change that must, and does, occupy their attention, the small matter of what people wear might seem trivial. And yes, in comparison with the march of AI; climate change; an aging workforce; and workplace health and safety, it probably is. But in our working life we judge, and are judged, by those we meet on a daily basis and that judgement is often made before we have uttered a word.
There are many studies around how quickly we make an assumption about someone, before we have even been introduced and it’s often our clothing we are judged on. But, it seems, our clothes don’t just reflect who we are; they can also alter our psychological processes. So much so that one study found that putting on a lab coat, like that which a doctor might wear, increased the attention to detail of the wearer.
Professional stylist Jackie O’Fee of Signature Style is undertaking a makeover for Adrenalin Publishing’s CEO, Cathy Parker, who wants to take her style of dress up a notch as she takes on more governance roles after 25 years leading a business. In our September issue Management followed along as Jackie took Cathy through a colour analysis, style analysis, an audit of her existing wardrobe and make up lessons.
The next step in the process is a visit to Jackie’s own hair stylist Trish Matthews of the very elegant M11 Studio in Newmarket which, Jackie says, styles for a number of local celebrities. Trish, who is part owner of the salon, is skilled at putting her clients at ease and working to ensure they leave looking naturally glamorous.
Cathy gets the full treatment and Trish and Jackie have decided short hair extensions will help the look Cathy is going for and help thicken her fine hair. Once the extensions are added and Trish has expertly styled it, Cathy loves the look of her fuller, slightly longer hair. She later says the extensions are a little uncomfortable to sleep on, but a few days later she’s convinced and decides she will keep them in and perhaps even return for more.
Then it is off to some Auckland boutiques – both mainstream and higher end, where Jackie knows they will have styles of clothing to suit Cathy. She has pre-selected a range of garments she has determined will work and they are waiting in the changing rooms.
On the whole the clients Jackie usually shops for are time-poor but they also include men and women who hate shopping and “don’t get the nuances of it. They don’t know how to put things together and are not good at visualising how something might look”.
And Jackie has a keen eye for what will work on Cathy’s tall, long-legged frame.
The three-hour trip is exhaustive as Cathy tries on what must have been about 40 items of clothing and then mixed and matched different tops with different trousers, jackets and skirts.
For Jackie it’s just what she does, but for an unseasoned shopper the wilt-factor was kicking in after a couple of hours as Cathy tries on stylish combinations of tops, skirts, dresses and trousers.It’s all somewhat reminiscent of Trinny and Susannah of television fame or the famous British stylist Gok Wan, who Jackie worked with when he undertook a New Zealand tour some years ago.
On average Jackie’s clients spend $3,500 to $4,500 and while Cathy doesn’t want to spend quite this much at present she is very taken with many of the items Jackie has chosen. She loves the long soft cardigans in grey and navy that flatter and drape; and a very smart shorter jacket that can be worn with the wrap around dresses that suit her shape. She also splurges on three blouses, one in a very soft pink with a tied neck that is far from her comfort zone but it looks so good she can’t resist. Jackie also finds navy and black slim fitting pants that work well with a very high heel and some fun ankle skimmer jeans for a smart-casual look.
All up Cathy purchased 11 garments and since the makeover she has also bought a skirt and another blouse to match those that Jackie had selected.
Once the purchases are secured, the next session sees a return to Jackie’s Parnell studio where Jackie also has some other garments waiting. These are higher end and lift Cathy’s purchases another notch when matched with the elegant flowing skirts and a beautiful silk trench coat.
Jackie says that working with Cathy was like her experiences with several other clients. So many of us stick to the principles of dressing we learned years before, forgetting to revisit them to ask if they’re still relevant for who we are now. She says Cathy’s wardrobe needed refreshing “but she had strong ideas as to what she liked to wear and like many of us, emotional attachments to garments that really were past their best. The trick is, taking those likes and recreating them to ensure that you look current.”
Cathy’s shape and stature dictated a lot of the choices made. “We wanted to soften and balance her shoulders and define a waist for her. Wrap dresses do that brilliantly, with the added advantage of being easy to wear for a busy workday and suitable to wear under a jacket. That said, my favourite pieces were the floral pants and long-line cardigan, as this is a great look that is smart enough to go anywhere.”
Cathy says she has now worn all her new garments. “I love the fit, feel and look of them all and definitely feel it has added to my style and met the brief to dress at a higher level. But they can also be dressed down (using cardigans and the floral pants).
“Apart from that I have learnt new ways to wear my existing clothes for versatility and what I can add to my wardrobe to achieve the required look.”
Cathy says it’s almost too hard to count the combinations from the new clothes but pretty much any of the three pants and blouses go with the jacket or either cardigan and the jacket and cardigans go with the dresses, adding a matching skirt has extended the look further.