Dress is an emotive subject. How we present ourselves on the outside tells others a lot about how we feel about ourselves on the inside. Colours and styles can make us look as if we belong in a workplace, or stand out like a sore thumb. The problem is, there are so many different rules- or lack of- it is increasingly easy to become confused about what is acceptable and mangers are often left dreading sticky situations and conversations. Solicitors usually wear black, compulsory if you’re in court and expected even if you’re not. Dark and light neutral combinations carry authority (think police and navy), and media types often choose arty all-black. Many “creative” sectors encourage casuals and jeans- one long dress down Friday, the likes of banks may have corporate colours, ties/ scarves or even a complete uniform to ensure everyone “looks the part”. Even schools have got in on the act, one non-uniform comprehensive near me recently outlawing skirts above a certain length and strappy or low cut tops for girls.
For those managers facing a discussion they would rather not have: scruffy dress, poor personal grooming, body odour, how we perceive other’s dress is a minefield many would rather tiptoe around than risk the explosions that can ensue. Here two of Faye’s clients offer their top tips as a mediator and image consultant…
Josie Walker of TWP Mediation qualified and experienced expert in workplace and family mediator, recalls a recent case she was asked to help mediate.
“A manager, whom I was talking to, mentioned a difficult situation she found herself in and asked for advice. She had a receptionist who was fairly new to the company and was excelling in her work. She had already overhauled the reception area and implemented a number of great efficiency saving ideas BUT the issue she was worried about was not her work ethic, or her customer service which was excellent, but the way she presented herself, her ‘style’. She was very reluctant to broach the issue with her, because although she knew she was the first staff member any client would see, she was concerned she might ‘take it the wrong way’. She didn’t even know if it was a subject that she was ‘allowed’ to broach with her, and therefore felt stuck in a situation where she wanted to talk with her, but didn’t know how to.”
“In the end, after we talked it through, the manager spoke with the receptionist in her normal monthly meeting. At the end of the meeting, she broached the possibility of having a uniform, and asked what the receptionist thought to the idea. This opened up a valuable discussion on what the company wanted to ‘look’ like and how to make the very best first impression to clients. They both agreed that a uniform wasn’t appropriate, at which the manager asked whether she would like to have her ‘colours and style’ done as her Christmas present – as the staff received vouchers for Christmas – from the Company. The boss talked about when she had had hers done years before and how enjoyable and inspiring it was. The receptionist had her colours and style done and loved it- with advice from the experts the issue was resolved and the manager was thanked rather than resented.”
Sheffield-based top style and image consultant, Jane Fardon of True Colours, is one of only a handful of Master image consultant worldwide, founded the North’s largest independent image consultancy and offers consultancy to public and private sector businesses around the country.
Jane has been called in to help managers deal with similar situations, often through the gentle and inclusive mechanism of a teambuilding or professional development event. “Many of our clients have said that they progress better at work or in business because they now understand how to communicate their chosen message through how they dress. That message may be ‘I’m competent, organised, trustworthy, professional or creative enough to do this job and more.’ So many people are simply unaware of how others ‘read’ their appearance. We are such visual creatures, that even without thinking we assess people and their ability to do the job within a few seconds. We recently had a male client who came to see us because he was failing to gain promotion at work. He came to learn how to dress for success, dress for where he wanted to go not where he currently was. He realised he had not been communicating the message he wanted to. Another teacher client realized that though she was a no-nonsense straight talker, she had been confusing colleagues by wearing soft floaty clothes, inadvertently causing mixed messages that unsettled them. Managers love us coming in. Our image consultants can have those conversations gently and gain consensus on a new or improved dress code which instead of leaving staff feeling singled out, motivates and empowers them.”
Faye Smith has managed and recruited hundreds of people while holding thirteen jobs in seven companies in the private, public and voluntary sectors. She has managed staff in uniforms, business dress and creative garb. She has had to have words over unsuitable dress over the years and enjoys complimenting those she works with on looking good. She was also “taken aside” in her first month on Debenhams graduate management programme for being “overly creative” in her dress sense- a lesson she has never forgotten! She now runs Keep your Fork marketing, PR and training company specialising in building business and personal brands, and to this end recently trained as a style and image consultant.