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Is Your Professional Wardrobe Hurting Your Business?

Interview with Toi Sweeney

Episode Description

[Listen to this episode on iTunes]

You’ve got about a tenth of a second to make an impression on someone.

Sadly, that’s not enough time to showcase your winsome personality and sparkling intellect.

As a leader or entrepreneur, it’s what you wear — your image and personal style that form an instant impression on your prospects, customers, and staff. Fortunately, you get to define what that impression is.

You have a tenth of a second to really make or break a deal. In that one tenth of a second, people are trying to decide if they can trust you. You work so hard to build your brand only to possibly blow it in a tenth of a second.

-Toi Sweeney, image and style consultant

I interviewed Toi Sweeney, an award-winning image and style consultant, to help us understand this whole “dress for success” business. (You can listen to the entire interview on the Building a Story Brand podcast.)

Spoiler alert: you and your favorite disgusting Reagan-era sweatshirt may need to have a long tearful goodbye.

But I promise it will be worth it. When you use your wardrobe to extend your brand and your business, you’ll feel more confident and stand out for all the right reasons.

The Must-Have Professional Pieces for Men and Women

Toi recommends you buy the building blocks of a smart business wardrobe. Here are her lists, for both men and women.

Gentlemen, you need:

  • An exceptional tailor
  • A suit that fits you perfectly (in black, gray, or navy)
  • Two spread-collar shirts (white and any shade of blue)
  • Two button-collar shirts (white and any shade of blue)
  • A dark-wash pair of jeans that fit you well
  • A signature “something” — cufflinks or a watch, for example
  • Brown shoes
  • Black shoes
  • Casual sneakers (of the non-yard-work variety)
  • Optional: a conversation-starting graphic print tee

“Everything with men is fit, fit, fit, fit. It can be a $200 suit. But if the fit is right, it can look just as good as a $5,000 suit.”

Ladies face a greater challenge, simply because there are so many more options. That means it’s easy to go overboard and end up with a huge, scattered wardrobe that doesn’t quite feel like you.

Instead, Toi recommends that women build around these foundational pieces:

  • An exceptional tailor
  • A simple, beautiful little black dress
  • A tailored black blazer
  • A black pencil skirt
  • Dark-wash or black jeans
  • Two pairs of pumps (nude and black)
  • Two pairs of boots (black and brown)
  • Nude wedges (or flats if you prefer)
  • Nude lipstick
  • Nude nail polish (or red if you love color)
  • A investment-level handbag
  • Classic hoop or stud earrings (gold or silver)
  • A simple, meaningful, signature piece of jewelry

“Invest in your shoes and invest in your handbag. If you’re carrying a great handbag and wearing a great pair of shoes, everyone else just assumes that the rest of you is expensive too.”

Are Your Clothes Sending Hidden Messages?

Now that we’ve got the pieces down, let’s look at color.

It may be subtle, or even subconscious, but every color you wear sends a signal.

It may be subtle, or even subconscious, but every color you wear sends a signal.

Once you understand this, you can tailor the color choices in your wardrobe so they work to your advantage in specific situations.

Red signifies power and passion. Try it as a tie color or a lipstick shade in a meeting when you need people to know you’re in charge. But avoid it if you’re not taking the lead — it can also be seen as aggressive.

Blue is calming and trustworthy. It’s a versatile color that works well in many settings. You’ll notice a lot of banks and software companies have blue logos for this reason.

Brown communicates that you’re grounded. Think UPS and Uggs. It’s relatable, friendly, and reliable.

Yellow can signify happiness or cheer — but also weakness. It might be a great choice for celebrating a big company milestone, but avoid it if you need to position yourself as an authority. As Toi points out, you’ll never see a presidential candidate choose a yellow tie for a debate.

Black is authoritative, strong, and dramatic. Use it to make a bold stance about your expertise or qualification.

White says “here’s something new.” Wear white when you’re sharing ideas about innovation or kicking off a new project. That’s why white is Apple’s color of choice in its marketing and packaging.

Listen to the full episode of the Building a Story Brand podcast for more details and insight. With Toi’s advice, you can makeover your professional wardrobe in a few hours. You’ll see the return on your investment every time you step into a meeting looking (and feeling) like a million bucks.

Your clothes send a message about you. So does your website.

If you need help dialing it in, our free 5 Minute Marketing Makeover will help you clarify your message and grow your business.

Podcast produced by: Tim Schurrer
Additional editing by: Nick Jaworski

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