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

Seek Power & Status? Read This.

Posted Feb 15, 2010

2010 Resolution: Dressing for Power (Part III)

You don't need an executive title or advanced rank to project power and authority. Get the job, land the client, acquire the account, and command both attention and respect as you leap-frog over people otherwise flailing about. Want to enhance your power base? I've got answers and most, I suspect, you've never even considered.

Here's the last post in my series on Power-Dressing. I'd recommend first reading Part I (suggestions 1-5), Part II (suggestions 6-10), and then concluding with our Part III listed below. Do I have pictures? Of course. Let's move.

 11. Grooming matters. Too much facial hair, too much makeup, too much of anything smacks of indulgence and excessiveness. Context matters, of course (a forest ranger working in the field may have a beard), but true polish means groomed facial hair for men and polished makeup for women.

 There's a difference between makeup that masks and makeup that enhances, as noticeably perceived in these shots.  Tasteful makeup can mean more money. The American Economic Review reveals that women who wear makeup can earn up to 30% more income. Additional research published in the International Journal of Cosmetics Science (Nash et al., 2006) discovered that people judge women wearing cosmetics as higher earners with more prestigious jobs.

12. Consider Scale. My father said it best when I was a young girl; people come in all shapes and sizes. That's the beauty of image consulting; learning that people are literally works of art in their coloring, shape, and features. However, clothing (pattern, size) or accessories (earrings, necklaces, floral pins, ties, cuff links) that are incompatible with your overall body size defeats any impression of power you wish to send.

 I'm 5'8'' tall with broad shoulder and strong facial features. I look absurd wearing a tiny stud earring, even in classic form. Indeed, the smaller pearl earring to the extreme left looks unnatural on me; almost like a speck that should be wiped away. My body frame demands medium-larger scale earrings as seen to the right.  Both are classics, but proper scale can detract or enhance my publicly-perceived power quotient.  

I'll never forget the Christmas a colleague gave me an exquisite red evening purse. I fell in love with the style and color. Unfortunately, such a small bag against my tall frame made me feel (and look) woefully ill-proportioned. I regretfully regifted the purse to my younger niece, whose smaller body shape was more in alignment.

Conversely, a petite woman is visually overwhelmed in larger-scaled accessories. Here, sunglasses and a coffee cup make the beautiful Nicole Ritchie look woefully ill-proportioned. She's better flattered in smaller to medium-based scale jewelry and print. You don't project power when scale is amiss. Your visual appearance is confusing and indeed, jarring. Where's the power in that?

 A male mesomorphic body-build (think Arnold Schwarzenegger) looks absurd wearing a skinny tie (the man's chest is massive). However, E-Network's "Talk Soup" host, the hilarious and ectomorphic Joel McHale, looks properly proportioned in this look.

13. Buy the best-quality clothing and accessories you can afford. A wise image consultant will encourage you to buy fewer pieces, but better-quality pieces. View these purchases as personal investments. That jacket you found on the clearance racks for $39.99 seems like a steal, until you realize you've only worn it once. That's a two-time Andrew Jackson mistake.  

Meanwhile, that jacket for $200.00 that complemented your body, enhanced your skin, and coordinated with other wardrobe items can emerge into a dollar-per-wearing investment. That same jacket worn 48 times per year (4 times a month) now has an approximate cost of a modest $4.16 per wear.  After a period of 3 years, that same jacket has only cost you about $1.38 per wear.  

$39.99 on sale that you only wear once?  Or the $200.00 jacket you routinely wear that's in heavy rotation in your wardrobe?  THAT'S how we should shop.  Of course, peruse the clearance rounders and buy on sale, if possible. But shopping is a luck-of-the draw experience. When you find something that fits, that's appropriate for you job and lifestyle, that makes you feel magically transformed, then pounce and buy, and yes, wear.

14. Accessorize Wisely. Watches, purses, briefcases, jewelry, scarves, winter boots, and even writing utensils communicate messages.  

Which pen communicates more power?  Both have their place, of course, but perceptions are different.


When I'm in normal teaching mode on UC's campus, I'm fine with my standard black briefcase. Sure, it has normal "wear and tear" and a few scratches. But when I'm speaking to a student group on campus or have a community/corporate event, my best briefcases get major play. I started out with basic black, but have expanded my color options as a deliberate strategy. My second briefcase is a medium-red (conservative design, more aggressive color), and the third is tangerine orange. Worn with a deep brown suit, it offers a splash of color for creative clients who'd dismiss black as the anti-creative.

Here's an important addendum. Notice the two accessories to the left. One is a simple notepad and the other a tote or briefcase. Both communicate professionalism, to be sure.  Ask people to choose which item looks more powerful, however, and most will select the item to the right.  In fact, a woman can communicate "business" on a trip by carrying a professional-looking tote or briefcase. Research shows that a woman + briefcase = powerful woman, not playful woman.

 15. Watch pattern size. Smaller patterns are more formal, dignified, and tasteful. Larger patterns, on the other hand, convey fun, informality, and relaxation. Review the two prints to the left. If your intent is to communicate power, the larger-sized lobsters aren't your best bet.  Hello!  They're lobsters and they're huge!  Wear when drinking your beer-of-choice on the shores of a New England Beach.  Enjoy yourself for me; this is my future vacation spot.

16. Ensure proper fit. Improper fit makes one appear (1) like a little girl, (2) like a little boy, or (3) like a stuffed sausage. My friend Brian has an interesting (and successful) style mantra. Whenever he shops or assembles his look, he reflects, "WWJBW"?: What would James Bond (as portrayed by actor Daniel Craig in Casino Royale) wear on any given occasion? Brian's rationale-one I support-is that Mr. Craig looks powerful because everything he wears FITS his frame perfectly. Shorts, shirts, swimsuits, jackets, tuxedos; James Bond looks powerful because each piece of clothing is flawlessly tailored to his body.

Here are two people who may possess the most impressive skill-base set in the office.  But while the quality of their work is acknowledged and respected, the poor fit of their garments power them down.  I'd like to see their visual image consistent with their behavioral quality. 

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 II):  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-image-professor/201002/2010-resolution-dress-power-player-part-ii

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About the Author

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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