Dress to impress

To be effective in your communication and to gain a better understanding of both yourself and the people around you, take a look at some of the following areas of body language.

Here's a style chart and reference guide so your body language, at least from a clothing perspective, really does project the right image for you.


A person's style includes many distinct elements. Decisions concerning style should be determined by environment, the need to meet certain expectations to gain your desired
result. It is a commonly held belief that people will get ahead if they standout in terms of
style, but research does not support this. In fact, we sometimes become suspicious of those who are too unusual or different from our expectations. Bearing this in mind, the following should be taken into account when trying to create the right impression.


Believe it or not, studies have found that most hiring decisions are largely based upon a job applicant's appearance, despite interviewers denying that someone's appearance is important. Entry-level salaries are higher for those who make a better physical impression, and those who dress better at work are more likely to get promoted. The importance of being appropriately dressed is obvious. Both men and women when going for interviews should dress in clothes slightly smarter than what they would normally wear to work.


Women who wear ladylike feminine-cut suits, or skirts, and matching jackets with simple
white, off-white or pale-coloured blouses are not only seen as strong and confident, but also
as trustworthy, likable, and humble, but keep in mind that this might not work for all

In more high-fashion professions, the suit should be more stylish, with more
expressive accessories with your goal being a "ladylike" but professional look. Suits should be soft and feminine and strike a balance between understated and conservative, feminine and
fashionable. Colours can range from navy, grey, and blue to cream and mahogany. The look
should be rich but businesslike.

A masculine-cut suit reflects more power and authority, but will be interpreted as more aggressive and domineering and less creative. A feminine-cut suit will show more expressiveness, and a heightened level of approachability, professionalism and confidence. Slacks and a jacket, or a dress, and a jacket is even more approachable, but less professional. A pant-suit is less professional and will not enhance your image of approachability. A dress without a jacket is the least professional alternative.


Silk blouses in white, off-white, light blue, beige, or other pale colours are more professional. Blouses with lapels project more authority and competence, while those without are more feminine and project a friendlier image. Blouses should not be sleeveless if they are intended to be a part of a professional outfit. You should also take into account a slip or camisole if a bra or strap is showing. For professional occasions, the neckline should never be low enough
to be the slightest bit revealing.


Trendy styles have the same negative associations and stereotypes as other parts of your
wardrobe. More functional shoes enhance image as long as they are not too flashy. Less
functional but more stylish shoes send a message that you are more concerned with appearance than performance. If women wear heels taller than two inches they accentuate their sexuality. Boots should not be worn with dress attire unless they are very frequently worn by others in your professional environment. Shoes that are simple and elegant are best. Closed toe pumps with one and a half inch heels top the list. Shorter women can wear two inch heels but they should not be spiked heels. Stay with basic colours and don't try to match your shoes to bright coloured clothing. Always keep your shoes clean and polished for a professional look. If the soles or heels are worn or damaged, then replace or repair them.


For women, belts come in many colours and styles. They should not be gaudy, dangle or make
noise. If a woman is wearing dress trousers then she should wear a simple, thin belt with an
unobtrusive buckle. Accessories, like belts and shoes, should be plain, no frill leather.

For purses, leather is perceived as more professional than fabric, especially in black or brown. A colourful purse that matches the colour of an outfit is more for casual occasions. A woman's tights should be flesh tone, black or navy. White or other colours distract from professional image.
For eyewear, a woman should not get too trendy, unless an image of expressiveness is more important than an image of intelligence and professionalism. Women are rated more professional when they wear less jewellery. Keep it simple and stay away from the large or gaudy.


Women's dress trousers should cover their ankles completely, and for the most professional and
conservative look should touch the top of their shoes. Unlike men's trousers, women's should have little or no "break," and the hem should be horizontal to the floor.

Skirt length is always an issue for women. For a professional look, stay mainstream. Whether
you wear your dress skirts a few inches above or a few inches below your knee is largely a
matter of personal preference, and a decision that should be based on what looks best on
you, and what you feel most comfortable with.


In most business settings, the classic professional look for a man is a navy blue or
medium-grey wool or wool blend suit, a white stiff-collared dress shirt, and a simple
patterned or striped tie. This would serve a man well at any formal setting.

A more high-styled version of this would be a blue shirt, a brighter, more distinctive tie or
matching pocket handkerchief. The conservative business suit has become the foundation for an
expressive, creative and imaginative outfit that looks "professional." When a man wants to
project a greater sense of approachability than that conveyed by a formal business suit,
a blue blazer and either grey, camel or tan trousers is a good alternative.

It is less formal than the suit but is just as good in showing credibility. Choose one or the other depending on those qualities that are most important for you to convey in a particular situation. White or off-white suits are for social or leisure situations and not appropriate for the workplace.


Men should avoid "trendy" unless creativity and individuality is valued by your peer group
over other qualities. Dress shirts should be cotton or cotton blend. These materials look
more professional than silk or synthetic fabrics, and they breathe better. Collars should be
plain, and either button-down, or thick and stiff. The most professional look consistently
has been a mid-length pointed collar.

A man's shirt should not be shiny or patterned, particularly if the fabric is thin. Wear an undershirt to cover perspiration and transparency. Men's dress shirts should be long-sleeved. French cuffs are considered trendy and formal — if you do wear this type of shirt wear them with simple gold, silver or stone cufflinks. For a traditional look, a man's shirt should be lighter than his jacket. Darker colours, patterns, and stripes are more casual and trendy.


Trendy styles have the same negative associations and stereotypes as other parts of your
wardrobe. More functional shoes enhance image as long as they are not too unstylish. On the
other hand, less functional but over-stylish shoes can send a message that you are more
concerned with appearance than performance. Always keep your shoes clean and polished for a professional look. If the soles or heels are worn or damaged, then replace or repair them.


Neckties are men's most prominent accessory. In professional settings, silk ties are
preferable. The width tends to change with the times but generally should be in the medium range, neither too narrow or wide. The tie should accent, but not repeat the pattern or colour of your suit. Power colours in neck ties include; dark blue and maroon, whereas red can be very dominant and bold whereas green or yellow projects friendliness and adaptability.

A man's belt should be either black or brown and be without adornment. The belt should be three quarters of an inch wide, with a gold, silver, or brass buckle of equal width. With a suit, a man should wear thin dress socks. For more casual occasions, plain cotton socks that match shoes. Too much jewellery on a man is viewed as slick. Jewellery should be kept to a minimum, such as a simple keeper ring, a wedding band, and a wristwatch.


Poorly fitting clothes detract from the impression you make, clothing that is too short in the sleeve, leg, jacket or tie makes a particularly poor impression.

1. Ties should come down to your belt buckle, but not below it and certainly not two inches above!

2. Jacket sleeves should be approximately four inches above the end of your extended thumb when your arms are at your side.

3. Your shirtsleeve should extend slightly below the jacket sleeve.

4. Your shirt should be long enough that at least one, and preferably two, buttons fall
below the belt line. This will keep the shirt from coming untucked.

5. The front of a man's trousers should always touch the top of his shoes when he stands up.
The trouser leg should extend over the back of the shoe to within one inch from the ground. Never wear clothing that is too tight. This is seen as either an awkward effort to be sexy
or a sign that the person doesn't know better or can't afford to buy properly fitted clothes.
Collars should be loose enough to put two fingers comfortably between the collar and your
neck, but not so loose that they show any significant space between the collar and your neck
when you stand.


Colours have a very powerful way of affecting our impressions both of people. Colours can affect
our impression of such traits as status, effectiveness, attitude, credibility, friendliness
and intelligence. Most colours can be grouped into one of six general categories, each of
which conveys a distinct set of messages.

1. Black, dark blue and dark charcoal grey are strong authoritarian colours. Those in
positions of leadership, or authority will project an image of no-nonsense confidence, strength and power.

Black is also seen as serious, secretive, mysterious and depressing. For that reason, those
who dress in black are not rated as warm and friendly. People at the top of an organization
wear black effectively, but also service oriented occupations such as drivers and waiters
are often seen in black. It is often said that black is stylish and sophisticated and makes
you look thinner. That's true, but it's popularity doesn't overcome the stereotypes and
emotional responses it evokes.

2. Lighter shades of grey and navy blue are also associated with power, authority,
leadership and even loyalty. Unlike dark grey and black, studies show that they are warmer and more approachable. For men, navy blue is definitely preferred; but for women, a medium shade of blue is ideal. Grey pinstripe has been associated with projecting wisdom. Green, particularly olive and can project flexibility and friendliness.

3. Bright colours like red, turquoise, purple, bright blues, and greens and fuchsia are sexy, energetic, hard-charging, and aggressive. They are generally  not considered as professional as darker colours, or lighter shades of colours.

4. Lighter shades of blue, green, and yellow, as well as tan and beige, convey a sense
of warmth, friendliness, approachability and trustworthiness. They do not communicate the same sense of authority, power, or leadership that dark blues or greys project. Subtle tones, however, can be very effective to combine friendliness and professionalism. Certain shades of tan can remind people of government employees and come across as dated or institutional.

5. Autumn colours-like rust, brown, muted shades of yellow or gold, olive and
burgundy-are perceived as trustworthy, caring and humble, but lacks in the strength, competency and leadership categories. These are good choices for caring professionals such as
psychologists or counsellors, or anyone whose first priority is to be approachable.

6. Pastels are the most feminine of all colours. Not surprisingly, stereotypical feminine traits are associated with them, such as caring and nurturing on the positive side, and weakness and vulnerability on the negative. Not a good choice if you want to be viewed as serious, intelligent, competent, and professional.

Expensive clothing tends to be richer, deeper and more vibrant than less expensive clothes.
They use higher quality dye and expensive fabrics tend to absorb the dye better. This has a
significant impact to the impressions people get. Rich deep colours project class, quality,
competence, success and professionalism. Less vibrant clothing is perceived as lower class, less competent and less professional.

There are many ways that colours can be used as an integral part of you making the right impression. For example, if you have a number of traits that can be interpreted as overpowering or threatening, such as large size or height, lighter colours will soften your impression; but won't cause you to lose your image of confidence and control because your other traits will continue to send that message.


1. Wear dark colours to command authority or stress intelligence.
2. If you want others to relax, feel comfortable, and think of you as likable and
approachable, wear lighter colours or autumn hues.

3. To create excitement or draw attention, wear bright colours.
4. Wear rich, dark colours associated with quality clothing. You're better off wearing
less pieces of higher quality clothes.

5. Evaluate how your image will be enhanced or diminished by the colour of clothing that
you wear. Unless your collective traits are overpowering, darker colours are better for a professional environment.

6. Different circumstances will call for different emphasis. Many people view synthetic fabrics and those who wear them in a negative light. Natural fabrics like wool, cotton, silk and linen convey a more honest, warm and professional image.
1. Be as attractive as you can, unless you're absolutely gorgeous, if so, don't flaunt it.
2. Don't set yourself apart, especially above your peers.
3. Always dress appropriately for the occasion and environment.
4. Opt for traditional styles, fabrics and colours unless creative flair is clearly essential.
5. Buy the most expensive clothes you can afford, even if it means less of them.
6. Don't overemphasize sex appeal.
7. Give as much thought to casual wear as to professional wear.
8. Don't try to be a trendsetter.
9. Always be clean and neat.
10. Dress as trendily and formally as the top 70 to 90% of those in your environment.

Click here for examples of using body language at work
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