If you’re a professional woman, chances are you’re doing some kind of networking at least some of the time.
This is a chance to meet new people and develop new sources of referrals, information, clients, ideas, and even friends.
And how are people looking at YOU? Well, of course they’re forming their opinion based on their first impression of you.
That’s what what you’re wearing (and the image you present overall) is so critical. Once formed, that first impression can be hard to change.
Despite all that’s at stake, I’d say that fully a third of the women I see when I’m at networking events, possibly even more, are wearing something or more than one thing that detracts from their overall presentation.
Here are my five top offenders, and what you can wear instead:
- Overly casual shoes. Flip-flops: Yes, I’ve seen them at formal business networking events. And not just once or twice, either. Clogs, sneakers, heels upward of 4 inches, and open sandals. The message these kinds of shoes sends varies, but none of them says “business.” And this matters, because even though they’re far below eye level, your shoes do say volumes about you.
- Jeans. I love love love my jeans. As an image consultant, I can even get away with wearing a new-looking pair of dark-wash jeans on the job. But anyone trying to forge new business connections simply shouldn’t be wearing jeans, especially anything faded, distressed, torn, jeweled, or otherwise embellished to a networking event. Better to stick with trousers or a skirt/dress. ‘Nuff said.
- Mismatched bags. It’s really easy to get saddled down with too many bags at a networking event, especially when it’s an all-day conference. You’ve got your own bag, maybe a separate laptop bag, and then possibly a conference tote. My advice is to see how much you can consolidate these things into one or possibly two bags. Make sure they coordinate with each other and with your outfit. And no fabric/beach/straw bags at a business event. Save those for the farmers market and/or the beach.
- Too much skin. We’ve all gotten used to seeing women dressed for business in sleeveless dresses and tops. But there’s a limit, and I think my kids’ dress code nails it: Anything narrower than two or three fingers across is just too narrow. Especially if it combines with a scoop neck. Remember, more coverage equals more formality; less coverage, less formality. In a business setting, which is what networking is, you want more formality and thus more coverage. And it bears repeating (unfortunately) that this includes cleavage and overly short skirts. Here too, more coverage is better.
- Wild patterns. In a professional setting, you’re best off keeping patterns muted and colors subdued. That cute Hawaiian print top is cute, but not for a networking event. Better to stick with solids or sedate stripes and geometric patterns.
Above all else, if you stick with clothing choices that support the image you’re trying to project, you can’t go wrong.
(Ketura Persellin is an image consultant and personal stylist in Washington, DC, and surrounding suburbs. She helps successful women build confidence, one outfit at a time. Please contact her for a complimentary strategy session.)