Most of us would never send work emails that were full of sloppy mistakes. Yet many of us do the equivalent on a daily basis with our outward appearance. “The way you present yourself is part of how others filter and receive what you’re saying,” says Anna Akbari, a sociologist, image and innovation expert and author of Startup Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way to Happiness. “Someone who is projecting the wrong image can’t communicate effectively.”
In other words, clothes matter—as do shoes, jewelry and hair. And they matter as much for men as they do for women. “Having the right look signals that you know the rules and that you belong,” Akbari explains. “The only difference between men and women is that it’s a lot easier for men to get it right. They don’t have hemlines, cleavage, heel height and everything else to consider.”
To help you put your best foot forward, Akbari offers three simple steps that can vastly improve your image:
#1. Cull the random pieces from your work wardrobe.
“To have a distinct style, you have to be consistent,” Akbari says. “I advise my clients to choose a look—urban classic, casual bohemian, Claire Underwood’s chic neutrals—and give away whatever isn’t complementary to that look. Everything in your closet should work together as a cohesive group.”
#2. Invest in basics.
“Many women will splurge on articles they won’t wear often, while they have foundational pieces missing from their wardrobe. Get the basics before anything else. In the end, you will save money, not to mention time, and your image will be the better for it.”
#3. Get what fits.
“Nothing detracts like clothes that are too big or small. If you can afford it, have new purchases tailored to fit your body perfectly. If you can’t, then consider buying a cheaper jacket or pair of pants so you can afford to have them altered. I can’t emphasize enough how key fit is to projecting a professional, polished image.”