Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why do we need to dress well? Where is the line?


From late August to early September I was traveling for a family/business trip to the east coast including New York and the Washington DC area.  Our last stop was Alexandria VA, just across the Potomac River from Washington, where we attended a friend’s wedding.  As usual, I travel in casual wear.  The moment I stepped in our hotel, I started feeling like I was the most dressed down woman in the lobby.  The next day, when I went to Starbucks for my morning coffee in shorts and a T-shirt, I found myself in most casual situation again. Even guys were super dressed too.  There was a young guy, maybe barely 30, wearing a bow tie and sport coat ordering coffee in front me.  I don’t know if any of you share this feeling with me or not - when I am the least dressed women in a group, I felt very uncomfortable.  I started to think, what’s going on with this town?

Being as close as it is to the nation’s capital, many politicians and lobbyists live and work in Alexandria.  In the professional world, it should go without saying that dressing well is very important.  Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov said "First impressions are formed in less than a tenth of a second."

When you dress to project an authoritative image, people tend to listen to you more.  For ladies, my personal experience is, when you dress well, you get treated well.  Newsweek columnist Jessica Bennett said, "In this economy looking good isn't just vanity, it’s economic survival."  

Inevitably, dressing well can go extreme. So the question arises: in the professional field, how can one dress well while maintaining their own style?  Where is the line between stylish and fashion slave?  I’d like to share my thoughts.

1. Smile! - this is the best, most sustainable and easiest (no cost) accessory you can ever have. And also please take care of yourself, eat well and exercise! You can attract more bees with honey than vinegar! In virtually any professional setting, a smile and a good attitude will get you a long way.

2. If you are a professional, when you manage your wardrobe, set professional needs first and play needs second.   This is a very personalized topic, it depends on your professional goal and image goal.  For one example, make dressy slacks a priority ahead of jeans.  There are also shopping guidelines you can follow from my previous post.

3.  Once you have established your core wardrobe, you can use the looks within that wardrobe that work for you - you won’t need to “work for looks” any longer.  If you like to shop, work from the core wardrobe and add a few pieces each season along with the trend.  It is not necessary to become a fashion slave, to panic each new season, to overbuy and still feel like you have nothing to wear.  Well-selected, quality professional clothes should last for at least a couple of years.  Being organized and having a plan can help you avoid feeling lost.

The good news about my time in Alexandria was that I was simply visiting while the folks surrounding me were working and dressing to impress.  The “underdressed” impulse I felt was quickly followed by the realization that these people were here to work and I was here to relax and enjoy my friend’s wedding.  I enjoyed my time in Alexandria, and I did look good at the wedding - I just didn’t pack “wedding clothes” for everyday use!  

Do any of you have the same issues when traveling - how to pack when mixing business, pleasure and other activities?  Please share your stories and questions in the comment section.