What do Kate Middleton, Theresa May, Angelina Jolie and Helen Mirren have in common? All of them were suggested as well-dressed personalities in the public sphere, at a recent BIA Women in Biotech networking event at the offices of law firm Shepherd & Wedderburn overlooking St Paul’s cathedral. Training, coaching and branding expert Sarah Brummit presented an engaging seminar to 36 attendees on ‘The Well Dressed Woman’, covering the business rationale behind image and key principles to dressing well.
Sarah pointed out that although strategising how to dress is easily disparaged, the vast majority (83%) of independently surveyed respondents say that image is important or extremely important to professional perception. This is not a case of style over substance of course – the underlying assumption is that you also do your job well – but dressing effectively is a powerful tool for maximising your confidence, regardless of gender, age, weight, height, or role.
Focussing on Michelle Obama as her chosen example of a well-dressed public figure, Sarah emphasised that if an outfit looks bad it’s the clothes, not the body, that are the problem. When it comes to dressing well, people shouldn’t worry about size – selecting clothes that suit your body shape will make all the difference. For example, she said when looking at silhouettes straight on, if you have curvy hips and a defined waist you should wear light-weight fabrics to skim the curves, whereas if you have a less defined difference between hips and waist (in which case Sarah said you probably have great legs) then more structured clothes in firmer fabrics will help to add shape.
Using optical illusions was another of her key principles to dressing effectively. Adding texture or detailing in the right places can visually ‘balance’ a body shape and using highly contrasting colours where your best features are will accentuate them. Dark colours, continuity of colour, and asymmetric hemlines can act as camouflage, as can ensuring that your accessories are in the right scale for your body – for example a very large bag will ‘shrink’ a small person.
Another tip to finding colours that suit you is to look closely for the different colours in your eyes, as any of these should suit you and wearing them near your face (in jewellery, glasses, scarves or tops) will accentuate your eyes and flatter your overall look.
For many of the attendees Sarah’s key take-home message was that ‘fit is king’; clothes should fit you so that when you are stood up there are no horizontal creases (too tight) or vertical folds (too loose). Items that don’t fit you should not be in your wardrobe. Rather than buying more clothes one alternative Sarah suggested is to spend a little money to have your own clothes altered to fit you well.
Following the seminar the attendees carried on the discussion and Sarah offered some general and specific tips at a networking drinks reception, bringing together representatives from across the sector for a fruitful and enjoyable evening.