Does having a signature style boost your chances of success? You know what I mean: Hillary has the pantsuits. The fashion press may not like them, Saturday Night Live has certainly made fun of them more than once, but they’ve also made her standout because they're memorable. The same can be said for others: Brian Wilson, the pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, is perhaps known more for his beard than for throwing the final pitch to win last year’s World Series (the beard even has its own Facebook page). And Lady Gaga is....Lady Gaga. She certainly turns heads.
It’s a question I’ve pondered over the years, so I thought I’d bring it to your attention—specifically to the attention of Milena Joy, a corporate and personal image consultant and a co-author of the book Inspired Style. She confirmed my suspicions that having a signature look can help you gain the upper hand in the entrepreneurial game.
“It’s a rat race, and if you’re doing something to make yourself stand out, it helps. How you dress very much reflects on your business. If you have a sloppy appearance, people think you’re not very organized or successful. If you have an elegant style with clean cut lines, you look put together and, in turn, successful.”
You should dress for the job you want, not the job you have, suggests Joy. But to really create a signature style, you need to take it one step further and truly stand out. Here’s how:
- Build on some simple rules. Joy says she has four elements she always looks at, and they really hit home for me. The first is color: Darker colors are perceived as more professional, elegant and sophisticated; lighter colors convey that you’re fresh, young and—by default—inexperienced. Structure (think suits) means professional and powerful; soft or loose conveys a casual attitude. Third is pattern, and Joy says that no pattern—or something with straight, clean lines, like pinstripes—is considered most professional, while curved lines—like flowers or polka dots—create an image that is more friendly and relaxed. And last is texture: Any item that has a lot of texture—corduroys or chunky knitted sweaters—is more casual, while no texture is more conservative. Does this mean that you should always veer toward the professional side of things? No. “Knowing those four elements will help you decide what makes sense for you. If you’re in a situation where you need to build relationships, and you want people to feel like you’re down to earth or one of them, you may want to wear softer colors or a pattern with curved lines. If you’re trying to convey power, go for structure. And if you’re shooting for middle of the road, take something from both sides—maybe a structured jacket in a light color,” explains Joy.
- Consider your industry. This has to be your foundation. Brian Wilson may not last a day in commercial banking with a beard like that. Lady Gaga certainly couldn’t enter an office in a meat dress. But for their respective fields, their looks fit the bill. If you’re in an artistic world—advertising or graphic design, for instance—you want to be a little more fashion forward, because it gives the impression that your ideas are fresh and ahead of the curve. Follow the latest trends, read the fashion magazines and blogs, and stay one step ahead. If, on the other hand, you’re in a more conservative business, you can still be fashion forward while sticking to traditional routes. Pick one element to move outside the box. For men, that’s often a tie. For women, it can be the blouse under your suit or your jewelry. And if you own a coffee shop, you want to look friendly, laid back and approachable, which calls for pattern, texture, and loose, casual pieces.
- Be consistent. Joy says there’s a real estate agent where she lives in Denver who is known for wearing a bow tie everywhere. “That’s how you brand yourself for success, by consistently looking one way. You can wear a certain outfit and create a perception. You have to build on it, and people will recognize that and it will eventually make you stand out from the crowd.” When you’re in business mode—at networking events, traveling for conferences, certainly in the office—you need to make sure you’re following the style guidelines you’ve set for yourself. People will remember the real estate agent in the bowtie; the one in the plain black suit and Regis Philbin tie is forgotten as soon as they walk out the door.
One great example of this consistency, says Joy, is Jennifer Aniston. I’m sure you’re nodding your head right now, as I was when she brought her up, because you know: She has a very classic style. “Whether she’s casual or dressed up for an event, you won’t ever see her not put together. Most of us have never had a real interaction with her, but we have an expectation of what she would be like when we met her because of the consistency in the way she presents herself,” explains Joy. Even at the peak of the paparazzi’s interest in her, she was rarely caught looking off her game, the way many other celebrities (ahem, Britney Spears) have been.
Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with smartcredit.com. Check out her blog at jeanchatzky.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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