2010 Resolution: Dress Like a Power-Player (Part II)

When there's a Part I, Part II will follow.  Here you go; a continuation of how to acquire and sustain power so your personal and professional goals don't languish, but produce results.  If your intent is to emit visual authority, here's a novel look at what you need to know.  Part I listed suggestions 1-5 and Part III suggestions 11-16. But let's talk 6-10 and yes, pictures included.

DRESSING FOR POWER, CONTINUED:


6. Assess your personal coloring and use design elements to compensate. Your skin, hair, and eye tones communicate strength, softness, or a blend of the two.

 Both men pictured here sport the same color clothing. Featured on the left, country singer Keith Urban wears black (powerful), but in a knit fabric (softer). Closely study his personal coloring and facial features, however. He has light colored skin, hair, and eyes. This softer overall palette "yins" his appearance wherever he goes. If his intent is to ever "power-up" his softer coloring, we might recommend some stronger design elements listed in Part I.

Now contrast Keith's "yin" features to those of rugged actor Ian "yang" McShane,  posted on the right. There's dramatic contrast between his hair (dark) and skin tone (lighter). This coloring contrast visually ups his power quotient, which can be good (the dude looks commanding) or bad (not perhaps the guy I'd approach on a street for directions). Moreover, his angular features reinforce his overall look of strength/power.

 Let's use the same principle with two of my favorite actresses, Reece Witherspoon and Anjelica Huston. The former looks more quietly angelic (lighter coloring with little contrast between skin, hair, and eyes) while the latter strikingly commanding (strong hair/skin contrast and angular features). Both women are lovely. Both achieve attention through beauty. My point here is to encourage you to assess your own personal coloring. What messages are sent?

7. Hairstyles talk. On top of your head, on the side of your head, or growing out of your head, hairstyles are a primary nonverbal cue.  Hair can communicate relaxation, business, or nonchalance.  We learned in Power Dressing: Part I that straight lines convey power and curved lines express approachability.

Here's actress Diane Lane, whose luminosity radiates any screen. Would you agree that her hairstyle to the left is softer, friendlier? It features more curves in contrast to the more angular, straight-line cut to the right.  I make no value judgments on these cuts; rather; I encourage discernment and application.

Let's take me. When I'm working/teaching/presenting, I wear my hair pulled straight off my face in a high ponytail. Here I do so in my CNN Anderson Cooper appearance.  Why?  I don't want errant hair strays falling in my face, requiring me to continually push back with my hand (visual distraction).  Worn this way, my hair appears darker straight-on (powerful) and suggests I mean business. But turn this same hairstyle to the side and the soft curve of my high ponytail softens my look. It's possible, then, to have elements of both strength and softness in the same cut.

In contrast, my Psychology Today profile picture shows my hair curved around my cheek bones, lending me an air of softness and approachability.  I've heard students comment I look "younger" and "more approachable" with this style.  "Professor Luccioni, we like you with your hair down.  You actually look....pretty," many voice with no small degree of surprise.  Hey, thank you, beloved UC scholars.  Pop quiz time.  

8.  Shoes matter.  Ever see a movie that began well, proceeded well, and ended with a disappointing thud?  Ever see a person well-coiffed, well-dressed, and then poorly shod? In power situations, don't be that person.

Black Shoe Walking:  For Men

Pictured below are shoes that generally communicate power.  Black color, stiff fabric, and occasional straight line.  While the hue may be shared, the unique styles change perception.

The most powerful men's shoe is a leather wing-tip with a slim sole.  Often worn by bankers and lawyers, they present the most formal image.

An Oxford cap-toe lace-up is close behind.  The horizontal line across the shoe top visually shortens perception of foot length, a wise choice for the man with long feet.

I'm often asked my thoughts on tasseled loafers.  The leather (stiff material) gives them authority, as does the darker color.  But tassels themselves lend a more informal touch, which makes them a great selection for business casual day or occupations that require relaxed relational connection (school counselor or college professor, for example).

Black Shoe Walking:  For Women

What's a powerful woman's shoe? Context is always a factor.  What's powerful in New York is too much in Dallas or Miami.  What's polished in formal cultures is boring in creative industry.  From a pure design element, darker colors, stiff fabric, straight lines, smooth texture, and covered toes and heels promote authority.

Because our emphasis today is "dressing for power", I'd recommend a closed-heel, closed-toe pump. It's the most formal, professional look. I'm no kill-joy, however. I think you can safely wear a higher heel (2-3 inches) provided there's no spike on the tip. One good option is a "stacked heel", a feature I love. Stacked heels look polished enough, but their very design offers foot comfort.

The left shoe is a must-have for many women. Both conservative and fashion-forward occupations could safely wear, although creative types might simultaneously demonstrate visual flair through unique color combinations or dramatic jewelry pieces.  You'll again note the horizontal line across the shoe top; this "cap-toe" feature makes a longer foot appear shorter.  Seek this feature to shorten foot length.

This next shoe is similar in design and color, but has the "peep toe" which allows others to view a woman's toe (or toes). Toes are a lovely body part designed by God, but I think we'd agree toes aren't a power statement. I'm not saying don't wear them; I'm pointing out that many people (especially men) view "toe cleavage" as sexy.

I read some years back that news anchor Diane Sawyer was more likely to wear a sling-back pump (displaying heels) than a peep-toe pump (displaying toes) for evening events. Perhaps Diane might prefer the black shoe to the left, sans the Mary-Jane strap?

And for those of you who claim romantic fashion personalities, here's a black closed-heel, closed-toe pump that covers the skin but boasts a bow that reflects your feminine style of dress. 

Black Shoe Walking:  For Both Men & Women:

No scuffs, no nicks, and appropriate polish added. The shoe on the top left happens.  If so, repair so it's unscuffed as appearing in the "after" shot.  Scuffed can work; grocery shopping, walking the dog, or touring Washington, D.C. in the summer when comfort is key.  They have their place, but power doesn't tolerate dents and dings.

9.  Is skin in?  Not when dressing for professional power.

Power up by covering skin.  All things equal, a longer-sleeved shirt has more power than a short-sleeved shirt because more skin is covered.

 All things equal, a knee-length skirt has more power than a mini-skirt because more skin is covered.

 All things equal, wearing pantyhose (especially in a formal environment) is more powerful than bare legs because more skin is covered. Read my earlier Psychology Today blog post on pantyhose (found here), an issue I consider to be contextual.  

When I teach, I'm always wearing a jacket. To make my point about "skin-show" and its perceptual effect, I gently move a portion of jacket off my shoulder to reveal a sleeveless tank top underneath. I'm prepared to ask the audience "What happens to your perception of my power when I remove the jacket edge off my shoulder?", but have no need. The audience loudly gasps. They can't believe their image professional with the tailored jacket sports a garment underneath that shows a large amount of skin (the long expanse of both arms).

A general good rule of thumb when dressing for power is "Raise the necklines; lower the hemlines."

A special note to female newscasters: I love watching you on television. I admire your confidence, your assurance, and your articulation when reporting on Haiti, the economy, and other important issues of the day.

But when you cover the news, will you please cover your skin? I'm shocked (am I wrong here?) that some female anchors and reporters speak to the public wearing attire better suited to a cocktail party. Cleavage displayed. Skirts hitting high-thigh. Thoroughly bare arms. Make no mistake; I don't want you to eschew your femininity. I get it. I celebrate it. I revel in it myself. But consider the context and how viewers perceive you. The male anchor/reporter seated next to you almost always wears a full suit (skin covered) or at the least, a sports jacket, shirt, and tie.  In visual contrast, you convey less power and authority than your male counterpart. You sound as good, you just look...like you're not all-the-way dressed.

Here's an example of a BBC female anchor doing it right; stylish, covered, and powerfully elegant.

10. Streamline your look. Streamline your clothing. Streamline your accessories. Streamline your office or professional working space. The more color and fussier the details, the less focus on powerful you. Color-blocked shirts, stack of necklaces cascading down your torso, and chandelier earrings that swirl with each movement are the three-ring circus and not the main stage.

Notice the picture of the woman to the left. I understand her position; she's burdened with the seemingly obligatory purse, tote, and other such accoutrements that accompany most working women and mothers alike. End result? Attention on baggage and away from your overall "look" and message.

Here's more streamlined.  She looks more in control and consequently, more powerful.  Were she inclined, she could add a belt to the jacket, carry a bag with a "pop" of color or contrasting texture, or add a vibrant scarf in the neckline to add visual interest.

Dress Like a Power Player (Part I)http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-image-professor/201001/2010-resolution-dress-power-player-part-i

Dress Like a Power Player (Part III)http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-image-professor/201002/2010-resolution-dress-power-player-part-iii

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About the Author

LisaMarie Luccioni, MA, AICI, CIP

LisaMarie Luccioni is an adjunct professor of Communication at the University of Cincinnati, a business etiquette expert, and one of 100 Certified Image Professionals in the United States

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