Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Image: It Matters!

By Debra Davenport

With so many fashion trends to choose from at any given time, some working women make the mistake of opting for “fad” over “fashionable.”

And that can damage both image and credibility.

Most women want to present themselves in the best possible light. However, many simply are not sure what really looks best with their coloring, body shape, personality and, yes, age. Age-appropriate dressing is a critical component of image management and one that many women are not comfortable embracing. Perhaps semantics is the issue … no woman wants to be reminded that age is a part of the image equation.

So let’s focus instead on what I’ll call the “credibility factor.”

Women who dress with polish, panache and sophistication immediately communicate their expertise, professionalism, cachet and monetary worth in terms of salary and/or consulting fees. In other words, an exterior image that is both appropriate and stylish conveys credibility nonverbally – and that is a powerful tool to utilize, especially in today’s competitive market. Fads are fine, as long as they are properly adapted to the woman wearing them, her professional role and the organization in which she works. Ad agencies, design firms and art galleries may encourage more creative and colorful attire whereas more conservative fields will likely adhere to a more toned-down dress code.

Just yesterday I was conversing with some colleagues about the proliferation of casual dress at the office. Even in professions like law, accounting and finance, it appears the trends of “casual Friday” and “fad-following” are dominating organizations around the country. However, I am also aware of a number of companies that have done away with their casual Friday policies and now require professional dress every day of the week.

Unfortunately, casual attire in professional settings often sends the wrong nonverbal message (translation: “We’re casual about our appearance, and we’re casual about our products and service, too.”). While this may not actually be the case, does anyone really want to take that perceptual risk?

Women’s image management does not stop at wardrobe. Hair, make-up, accessories and eyeglasses must also be selected wisely. Further, the appearance and health of the nails, skin and teeth are exceptionally important. I recall a lovely woman with whom I worked several years ago who demonstrated the utmost in professionalism and adroitness in her field, but her badly discolored and misaligned teeth became the unfortunate focal point of every interaction with her customers, peers and managers. As sensitive a subject as it may be, these are image realities that everyone must consider as they begin developing and promoting their unique personal brand. From a more practical perspective, these improvements can have important overall health benefits that far outweigh the visual aspects.

I believe one’s image is the culmination of their appearance, career and well-being. Every woman owes it to herself to look her best, feel her best – and identify a career that brings her joy. A genuine smile that reflects self-actualization is the best accessory any woman can possibly wear!

Debra Davenport, president of Identity IQ, LLC, a licensed and certified firm that provides career development, image consulting and wellness strategies. Debra was a recent career expert on the “Dr. Phil” show, and she is the former workplace color spokesperson for Panasonic. Debra holds multiple degrees and certifications and serves on the faculties of several universities. She speaks and writes regularly about the image-career-wellness connection. Connect with Debra on Twitter at @debradavenport, and visit for more information.

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