When you’re lounging at home do you prefer fuzzy bunny slippers, or satin kitten heels?
When hanging out with the guys do you prefer fight night on a big screen, or sushi downtown?
Which one of these celeb’s style do you most admire?
Retailers are enticing men and women by promising to “find your perfect style”, and they are doing it with algorithms. Algorithms can be great. They often make our lives easier and more efficient. But can they really help you find your best professional style?
These algorithmic questionnaires are the offspring of the quizzes you find in women’s fashion magazines. You know, the ones you took as a teenager. (Hang in here with me, guys.) For a few minutes you answered some questions and played mental dress-up. At the end, your effort was rewarded, and you could forget your teen acne and braces while embracing a glamorous new style label such as “Modern Maven with a California Beachy Vibe” or “Classic Audrey with a Hint of Romance”.
Ooh, makes you want to take one right now, doesn’t it?
I wanted to see how close an algorithmic quiz could come to my real style, so I took one. Okay, more than one. It brought me back to my own teenage years. Teenagers can never take just one.
The first quiz got some things right and some things wrong and some things vastly wrong. (I don’t like to stroll around the city in wide-legged satin pants). The second quiz was so far from who I am I couldn’t even answer the questions intelligently. I gave up before I finished. I tried a third, which presented me with seven pages of pictures and not one that came close to representing my taste, much less how I want to present myself as a professional.
I even took a fashion quiz for men, which was really fascinating. Apparently, I am a man of average height, with well balanced features. Do tell! How did it come up with my height and facial features from questions about colors, cologne, and at-home attire? It doesn’t know I’m not a man. It doesn’t know I’m barely 5 feet tall. (What it is is a flattery job for men who are potential customers on that site.)
Here’s the thing — fashion quizzes can be fun and algorithms have their place, but they can’t create a personal, dynamic, memorable image that helps you reach your professional goals. Your professional appearance is no place to turn over the critical thinking to a machine with a narrow scope. As a person and a professional, you are more complex than seven fashion questions can reveal.
A successful professional image is not about fashion; it’s about communication. I often tell my clients that they are not my paper dolls. I’m not looking to simply dress them up in cute clothing; I’m looking to help them create an image that is a powerful marketing tool. To do that, I look at who they are and who their clientele is, and craft an image that addresses both. That’s where a strong professional image begins.
What you want to achieve in your image is a marriage between your personal identity and your professional intent. Many professionals focus on one facet or the other and lose the impact of a complete visual message.
Some focus strictly on the suit (or other basic pieces) as proof they mean business. The basics may cover your body but, without personality, that isn’t enough if you want to use your image as a marketing tool. To excel with your image, you need to go beyond basics. You need to brand your wardrobe.
Branding is creating a consistent theme of who you are and what sets you apart from the crowd. It tells people what they can expect from you, and it secures a unique place for you in their minds. That’s vital in competitive markets.
The goal is to inspire customers to choose you because of what makes you unique. Wardrobe branding is about expressing an image that is personal, as well as professional, and works in concert with the rest of your branding.
You need to think: What is it about me that will make my potential clients want to work with me? What is going to attract their attention, spark their interest, and make them cross the room to find out more about me? These are things the fashion algorithms don’t take into consideration.
The other extreme I see among professionals is those who dress for pure self-expression and expect immediate acceptance of their personal style by everyone they meet. I often hear people from this group defend their less-than-businesslike choices by saying that people shouldn’t judge others by the way they look, or that once people get to know them they will have confidence in their abilities.
That just isn’t realistic. Psychological research has proven we are hard-wired to form a first impression of a person in 1/10 of a second – that’s not enough time for potential customers to “get to know” you.
Clothing is a language, and you need to consider how your choices translate to your target market. Wardrobe branding is not about general self-expression. It’s about expressing yourself in a way that is accessible to your clientele and inspires confidence in your ability to get the job done.
An image that marries your personal identity and your professional intent is a very powerful marketing tool. A well-branded professional wardrobe paves the way for you to be noticed, move with confidence in your sphere, to influence others, and succeed.
Leave the fashion quizzes and algorithms to teenagers.
Are you ready for a professional image that represents you? Get started.