Why is professional appearance so important at work?
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Appearance counts all the time – from the job application, interviews, meetings and appointments, right through to every day on the job. Don’t forget - you represent your company, and your image is that company’s essence. Your employer’s goal is to have employees project a favourable image; your goal is to represent the employer and yourself in a favourable way. Your first impression may influence how people will react to the way you look and present yourself in the beginning, even if you look and act differently later on. The way you look and act at work is critical to your success on the job.
Why do people have to get dressed up in conservative suits to go to work anyway? Why not wear casual clothes? The answer is that you appear more competent and professional, and you portray confidence, clad in this attire – as opposed to just a t-shirt and jeans. This means wearing the traditional dark suit and white shirt. There is no question that we are all being judged on our appearance. To be noticed, recognized and create influence, we have to take the time to make a good impression on others.
Good appearance makes you feel great about yourself, your self-confidence, and your attitude towards life. You attract a positive energy and you start to notice that people start paying more attention to you. This makes you feel better about yourself and enables you to project positive inner emotions.
People re-entering the workforce often need some encouragement and reassurance. Below are great tips for ensuring your professional appearance is at its best.
What do your clothes say about you? Clothes you wear depend a lot on the environment you work in. Take a look at what your colleagues and other people in that environment are wearing, and dress to fit in. A professional appearance is quite important. Look your best and be proud of how you look. It is very important to dress to enhance your appearance so that the interviewer can concentrate on your qualifications. For women, the best attire to wear at work is something with solid colours such as a navy, grey or black suit or dress that is knee length with dark shoes or high-heels. Avoid miniskirts. Be sure that heels are about 1 ½ - 2 inches high, no stilettos, or open toed shoes that attract too much attention to your feet. You want to be taken seriously. Avoid flashy jewellery. Men should wear a classic dark suit – whether it’s navy, grey or black – and a white long sleeved shirt that is cleaned and neatly pressed in case you need to remove your jacket. Ties must be conservative with no cartoons or sporting events displayed on them. Socks must match the suit and not show any leg. Men should wear black leather shoes – oxfords or loafers, but make sure they are polished and in good condition. Like women, less accessories is the best approach – no earrings and use cologne sparingly, about two to three hours prior.
The key is to buy outfits that are of good quality and classic design for both men and women. The same rule applies for purchasing shoes. They are to be comfortable, stylish and polished. Purchase versatile pieces that can be mixed and matched with your existing work wardrobe.
What goes into grooming? It’s the basics for both genders: your hair, nails and teeth. Knowing what hairstyle will look good on you is very important. The hair should be manageable and not wild. It should be neatly combed. Avoid excessive hairspray and ornaments in the hair. Wild hair will get you attention, but not the attention you want.
Hair should be clean, current and flattering. It’s often better for men to be clean shaven because excess hair, whether a beard or a pony tail, could be very risky in a conservative workplace.
Nails are to be clean, trimmed and in good condition. Your hygiene, grooming, posture, smile, tone of voice, hair and nails are very important. Breath and body odour should be fresh, clean and pleasant. Teeth are clean, white and the smile is attractive. Clothing and eyewear are clean and in good condition. Keep your make-up natural. Little or no make-up is best. Do not use too much perfume; remember a lot of people could be allergic to perfume. Spray it on two to three hours beforehand, so it becomes more subtle.
To increase your chances for success, remember to offer a warm smile, maintain eye contact and offer a firm handshake. Let the interviewer or client see that you are a person who pays attention to detail. It’s also very important to arrive at your appointment about fifteen minutes early. Use the washroom to compose yourself and make sure you are neat and tidy.
Our looks and behaviour are called nonverbal communication. They send a powerful message, whether we intend them to or not. Grooming, the condition of your clothes, your posture, tone of voice, facial expression, hand gestures, how close you stand to the other person, eye contact and body image are all factors/impressions that other people receive from you.
Every thought causes chemicals to be released in every cell of the body. If the thought is positive, then the chemicals released are healthy. However, if the thought is negative then the chemicals released are unhealthy. Over a time of negative, stressful thinking, the body will feel disease. To apply this to your health, when something happens in your body, it is usually a good idea to look at what’s happening in your life. Symptoms occur in your body to let you know that something is out of balance and needs to be changed. Drugs can interfere with the balance of our systems. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system; it can cause nervousness, irritability and insomnia. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system. Sleeping pills depress the central nervous system, respiration, heart rate, blood pressure and temperature. Diet pills stimulate the central nervous system; delay fatigue, and curb appetite.
Carbohydrates are the major fuel for all of the body’s cells. Simple carbohydrates are obtained from fruits. Complex carbohydrates are starches and can be found in vegetables, whole grains, peas and beans. Proteins are essential for growth and maintenance of body tissues. If more protein is consumed than what the body can use, the excess is stored as fat. “Complete” proteins contain the essential amino acids and are found in meat, poultry, cheese, eggs and milk. “Incomplete” proteins contain only some amino acids and are found in grains, legumes and leafy green vegetables. Fat is the most concentrated source of energy available to the body. Saturated fats are solid and are found in animal products, coconuts and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats are found in corn, soybean, sunflower and safflower oils and in some fish. Monounsaturated fats are superior and are found in peanut oil, canola oil and avocado. The essential fatty acids, Omega-3 and Omega-6 cannot be made by the body. These fats are important for cell membranes, weight loss, cardiovascular and the skin. Omega-3 is found in some fish, flax and hemp seed oils, green leafy vegetables and soy. Omega-6 is found in hemp, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, evening primrose and borage.
Vitamins regulate metabolism. Water-soluble vitamins are C and B-complex and need to be taken into the body daily. Minerals are important for healthy nerve function, the cardiovascular system and formation of blood and bone. The fourteen minerals are: calcium, chlorine, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, sulphur and zinc. Enzymes are essential for all biochemical reactions in the body.
Since 75% of our total weight is water, water is essential in every function of the body. Sufficient water helps you stay lean, alert and healthy. It is important to drink enough water every day. Warning signs of dehydration include fatigue, loss of appetite, flushed skin and dark urine.
Water-soluble fibres assist with elimination. Sources are barley, brown rice, corn, legumes, apples, bananas, carrots, prunes, cranberries, seeds and seaweed. Water-insoluble fibres help eliminate cholesterol; they improve elimination and flush toxins from the system. Sources are leafy green vegetables, whole grains, unpeeled apples, pears and strawberries.
Fitness helps reduce body fat and increase lean muscle. It even slows down the process of aging by helping the lymph system eliminate toxins. Fitness also reduces stress; allowing you to be more calm, relaxed and positive and feel more vital, energized, alert and productive. It helps you sleep better and feel more confident. It also reduces the risk of heart disease by slowing down the build-up of plaque in the arteries and reducing blood pressure, making the heart stronger and more efficient. Fitness also reduces the risk of diabetes, by improving the body’s ability to regulate sugar and reduce the risk of osteoporosis which is the occurrence of bone loss. The great benefit in later life is reduction of back problems, improved circulation and longer life. Essentially, fitness improves the quality of your life as a whole.
Making an effort to look your best at work will offer many rewards, not the least of which is a boost to your self-confidence. Spend some time each week working on each of these areas until you are certain you have the balance and professional look you are striving for. Each step will bring you closer to the person you really want to be.
Regina Gershman, an Image Consultant a member of the Association of Image Consultants of Canada, has offices in Richmond Hill and downtown Toronto. She specializes in appearance, behaviour, etiquette, job strategy and interview skills, communication, anger management, adult & teen self-awareness, and other forms of counselling.
Regina can be reached at
Phone: (416) 219-3730 and email at: