At an event hosted by Ann Taylor and Marie Claire, Features Editor Lea Goldman discussed the power of executive presence—a force that shows people we are capable of being leaders. The three components that make up executive presence are communication, gravitas, and appearance.
That last one is a big one. According to Goldman, executives say appearance counts for 60 percent of your executive presence. With Goldman’s tips and a couple of our own ideas, we came up with a list of fashion sins that should never make it into the office.
Ashley Olsen recently made headlines when she headed to work with long, wet locks. First of all, it’s a really great way to catch a cold. But more importantly, no matter how rushed we are in the morning, not taking the time to dry your hair shows that you don’t care enough to do so. According to Susannah Gonzalez of NaturallyCurly.com, “The bottom line is that wet hair is viewed by many as unprofessional because several people equate wet hair with unfinished hair. Going into work with wet hair might give off the impression that you are not ready for work, or that you did not have time in the morning to dry your hair. Employers, therefore, might assume that you put little effort into getting ready for work. However, most agreed that it is perfectly acceptable to go out with wet hair if you are going to class (if you’re a student) or if you are simply running errands.”
Too Much Cleavage
“The single biggest mistake women make [in work attire] is dressing too sexy,” said Goldman. According to a recent survey commissioned by Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Peter Jones, women who display too much cleavage at work could end up sabotaging their careers. The survey of 3,000 managers found that almost half of bosses had overlooked a woman for promotion if she had regularly worn low-cut tops to attract attention.
According to fashion expert Lauren Conrad, you should “never show more than one inch of cleavage or wear a skirt that skims your bum. For most offices, skirts that hit more than 3 or 4 inches above the knee are considered inappropriate. (If you want to wear shorter skirts, or even dress shorts, pair them with opaque tights to temper the higher hemline.) Also, no tank tops unless you have something layered over it to cover your shoulders.”
This also applies to any overly exposed area of skin. Maybe you don’t have cleavage, but you think showing off your breast bone will work in the office. Even with professional black tie events outside the office you have to be careful. Kat Griffin, founder of Corporette, told me, “When shopping for your dress, think ‘classic beauty,’ not sexy. To this end, avoid skin in unexpected places (see left—the keyhole above the empire waist is trouble). No side-boob, no under-boob, and no dresses with the low-low back.”
Visible Lingerie/Panty Line
Oh, the VPL. It’s considered one of the worst fashion blunders ever, and yet people just keep doing it.
Conversely, this does not mean you should go to work sans bra or underwear even if you really don’t need a bra or just don’t like to wear them.
Goldman said you absolutely have to wear makeup, even if you have the features of Snow White.
“Not wearing makeup to work says you don’t take it seriously,” she said. The trick is to look like you’re not wearing makeup. A study found that wearing makeup at work can actually help you appear more confident, but the line between confident and looking like all you do is put on makeup is a very thin one. Researchers say it “may have to do with the negative stereotypes associated with an ‘overly groomed’ woman in the workplace.” Sparkles should never come into your place of work.
High High Heels
“Context is everything [in the office]. If you are wearing the highest pair of heels in your office, then you’re wearing the wrong shoes,” says Goldman. If you work in an industry like fashion, wearing three inch heels may be the norm. If you work in accounting, a kitten heel may be all you need.
Too-tight clothing is a major problem, but so is too-loose clothing. Investing in a good tailor is part of a professional wardrobe.
Dressing Too Casually
Casual Fridays sound great. Friday is the day where you don’t have to don the suit or conservative dress and heels. But dressing casually and still conveying power can be tough for women.
“Casual Fridays were designed by men, for men,” says Goldman. According to Christina Binkley of The Wall Street Journal, women can’t convey as much power as men when they dress casually. It seems that dressing casually, in certain industries, may be even trickier than dressing professionally. But unfortunately, your clothes are the first things people see when they meet you, and they can send very strong messages. Binkley writes:
“Clearly, clothes and accessories are powerful symbols in the workplace. They are seen before our words are heard in a board meeting, and they are remembered long after, like perfume that hangs in a room.
Collars on a shirt or jacket convey authority. Flat shoes can suggest a girlish lack of authority; if you wear them, choose flats with some hardware and avoid the ballet look. As for stockings, the debate rages on, but if your primary audience is over 50, they may feel more comfortable with them.”