If you feel like you’re being overlooked at work, the very first question you need to ask yourself is, “am I doing good work?” The second question is, “what message are my nonverbal signals giving?” If you think that second question is unfair – so what? It’s real. Humans evaluate other humans non-verbally, and that evaluation is almost invariably subconscious. I’m going to help you manipulate your non-verbals, particularly your clothing.
Always, when you’re being overlooked, check your fire levels. You can’t ignore fire! Add bolder colors, bolder accessories, sharper contrasts. (Stay within your personal flattery guidelines, don’t skip over into costume). The next thing is to check the quality of your earth – all your clothes *are* in perfect repair, right? They fit properly? Good colors? Right for your industry? How’s air? You keep wearing the Hello Kitty dangle bracelet to staff meetings, maybe it’s time for that to move to a weekend-only accessory. Water? How’s the texture? Fuzzy sweaters will not get you taken seriously.
Let’s use an example.
Betty just re-entered the workforce after a sabbatical of 5 years. She’d previously had 20 years experience in the industry, and has kept up on the latest developments. She re-entered the workforce because the budget was tight, so she doesn’t have much money to invest in a work wardrobe. She’s wearing the suit skirts she wore five years ago with the cardigan she wears over her dress to church. She gets cold, sitting in the air-conditioning all day.
The five-year-old skirts are all just a little tight. They fit okay with a pair of spanx, but who wants to wear spanx to work every day? So, her skirts are pulling over her tummy. When she’s not wearing the cardigan, she wears tunic-length sweaters over knit trousers. This conveys, “soft”, “uncomfortable”, “worn”.
First assignment: Capsule wardrobe – dark blazer, light blouses, skirts that fit. Skirts should be in dark, neutral colors – the fewer Betty can afford, the more neutral a color she should pick (dark, neutral skirts in classic cuts are very nearly invisible, and can be worn repeatedly without being noticed). Next, grab a blazer. She’ll go to a fast-fashion outlet and get one for $20 if she can’t afford better, but again keeps it dark neutral. If she can buy two, add a vivid color in the blue/green/red range. (No pink, no orange, no yellow). Grab a couple of viscose t-shirts in light neutral colors and several in her best brights. Toss the knit pants into the “clothes to wear on errands” pile immediately. While she’s at the fast-fashion outlet, she grabs a couple of pendants on long chains and a bright scarf.
On Mondays, Betty’s wearing a blazer, viscose t-shirt and skirt. On Tuesday, the second skirt under a tunic-length sweater with pendant. Up the makeup ante on Tuesday. On Wednesday, see if that church dress can’t be worked into the routine – under the blazer. Thursday, again with the tshirt/blazer/skirt combo – but adds the scarf. Friday, Betty can wear the tshirt/skirt combo with your cardigan, assuming it’s in good condition. When she can afford to invest in quality pieces, the order of operations goes: Lingerie -> leather -> blazer/suit -> skirt/pants -> blouse.
By adding those dark neutrals with sharper edges, Betty’s drawing more attention (humans look at bright shiny things). By attending to the details of fit, she’s saying, “I’m serious about this job”. When she can afford to upgrade the other things, the good bra will youthen/slim her figure, the nice shoes and belt will complete and upgrade her entire look, the better blazer should go with everything (and last a lot longer than that fast fashion mess)… you get the idea.
Slowly, her co-workers will find that they are taking her more seriously. (It takes more than a day to change a long-held perception of someone). And Betty will take herself more seriously, which is imperative. Betty will be speaking, “I’m an expert in this field” and “I’m at work” to *herself*, which will change the way she interacts with others.
Clothes affect attitude. You can spiral up, or spiral down.. choose wisely.