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Sunday, August 12, 2001

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The art of dressing well

HAVE you ever heard somebody described as being dapper or well dressed and wished you could be described that way? I think most people like to make a good impression on others but sometimes do not know exactly how to put themselves together.

As an image consultant, I am keenly aware of how others dress. If somebody does not look great, I usually know exactly what is wrong with his or her outfit and/or hairstyle and mentally re- dress them so they look their best. I think it is important to look your best and see the whole process directly correlating to your self-esteem. Personally speaking, I know that the way I look affects the way I think, feel, act and conduct myself. On those days that I know I look great I feel myself looking forward to seeing people. I am more apt to be friendlier, look people in the face and have them look at me. When I act friendly, others also react positively. This turns into a positive cycle and contributes to a happy day. On the other hand, when I do not look my best, I am not as friendly and hope that I do not run into any body. If I do, it usually makes me uncomfortable. Our image is one of the few things in our lives that we can directly control.

Most of us have more freedom to dress as we please in our personal lives. But in business settings, it is a different story. There is no excuse for sloppiness. People assume that those who do not pay attention to the details of their appearance probably do not take care of the details in their work. What do you think of the person who sends you a letter with spelling or typos on it? Do you think less of the person? Isn't a mistake on a resume the ultimate faux pas for a job applicant?

So how can you be well dressed every day? My five-part definition of a well dressed person is somebody whose clothing and accessories 1) complement their physical appearance 2) coordinate in colour, pattern and fabric 3) fit properly 4) are current 5) are appropriate for the occasion. Each element is equally important and all must be in place to have you be well dressed.

The first element is wearing clothing and accessories that are complimentary to your physical appearance. This means that your clothing should highlight your assets, your positive physical traits and if necessary, diminish your liabilities, your less positive parts.

For example, if your shoulders are narrow, you will look much better wearing a jacket with padded shoulders. If you are a little overweight, you should be careful not to wear horizontal stripes because they will make you look heavier. If you are a woman with a small waist, you will look better with a belt and your shirt tucked in.

The second element is wearing clothing that coordinates in colour, pattern and fabric. The colours should be harmonious to your eyes, skin and hair colour. If you have dark hair, you will look better in primary colours such as navy, black, brown, red and white. Colours that are pale such as beige, cream and khaki are usually not flattering to people with strong colouring and features. It is best to wear colours that either match or are complimentary to your hair/especially close to your face.

I always recommend matching the colours of your belt and shoes and if your watch has a leather band, it should match as well. The same is suggested for handbags and totes.

The third element is fit. Fit is one of the biggest areas that most people miss. In order to look great, your clothing must fit properly. Sometimes it is hard to find clothing to fit you exactly because the manufacturers use models who have perfect bodies. My suggestion is to find a brand or a store that has clothing that fits your body and shop there. If you know that the fit is right for one season, it will most probably fit right the next time. If you have any special concerns, such as height or weight, you may need to find a tailor to alter your clothing. If you are 5ft 3in or shorter, you need to buy clothing that says petite for women and short for men.

The fourth element is wearing clothing that is current. Fashions change every season and wearing up to date clothing is as important as keeping up with the news, technology and social issues. I am not suggesting that you buy the latest styles every season. I am urging you to invest in classic clothing that will not go out of style. You can update your image every season with new accessories such as shoes, ties and shirts for men and shoes, handbags, eyeglasses and jewellery for women.

Finally, last but not least. The last element is wearing clothing and accessories that are appropriate for the situation. If you are overdressed for an occasion, you will feel uncomfortable, as will those around you. Alternately, if you are underdressed, you might seem disrespectful to your hosts, colleagues or friends. The best way to ensure this from happening is to ask what the dress code is. Casual dress has become so commonplace today that most people are advising guests what to wear in order to avoid making any one uncomfortable.

Although casual dress has many meanings depending on the type of industry you work in, job function, and image goals. My advice is to always bring a jacket with you. If the other people are more casual, you can always remove yours.

And do not forget. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.


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