This week, I attended a work ‘away day’ dedicated to personal development – a great idea and some of the speakers were really inspiring. For me, the standout talk (and unfortunately not in a good way) was the one about personal branding. On the surface of it, it’s a totally relevant subject and one which could be really useful, however the delivery of the ‘presentation’ section left me rather aghast – it felt like the presenter had swallowed some form of 1980s power dressing manual given how certain she was in her belief that it should be suits all the way (with the occasional cardigan or wrap dress with a heel for women, while men could go as far as a pinstriped shirt – but remembering that you could only be this creative if the rest of you was immaculate), cartoon socks were not allowed, jeans had no place in the workplace even on a dress down day (know your audience – Marketing team on Friday…), and women should always wear makeup, but not too much – I could go on… This is so far from what I believe, and also pretty far from what would make most people feel confident in portraying ‘brand them’ that it got me thinking about what I feel really builds a strong personal visual identity – the key being personal rather than the identikit view we were introduced to as the ideal.
Make your look individual
Will people remember you because you wore the same grey suit as every other person in the room, will this give them any way to connect with you? Not at all. They will remember the person with the sparkly shoes, the fabulous vintage dress, the gorgeously patterned scarf – all things which give a hint as to who you are as a person and making you not just another face. Yes, you want to be memorable for what you say & do, but we all meet a lot of people so in the time before you’ve been able to prove yourself you still need to be able to give people a hook which will bring you to mind over others and potentially give you the opportunity to become ‘the one with the sparkly shoes who really knows her shit’.
Comfort is confidence – know your confident look
Confidence is one of the most desirable qualities in any personal brand – and what you wear can really help with this. Know what makes you feel the most confident – for me this will always involve Diorissimo perfume, heels and a bold lipstick but what clothes go with that tends to be much more casual – jeans and a comfortable top with great detailing. Put me in a structured suit and I wouldn’t feel like myself; something which would probably come across in my presentation and provide a distraction from what I was really trying to do. Some people would feel most confident power dressed to the max and perfectly coiffured, and some would be distractedly self-conscious in any makeup at all and spend all their time in heels expecting to topple over – not the ‘me’ that anyone would want to portray. So just work out how you feel your best and use that as a starting point, adapting to the situation – you will come across much more confidently if you are comfortable, and your mind will be fully engaged with the task at hand.
Work within your parameters
You might work somewhere that you just can’t wear what you want to, and unfortunately you’re probably going to have to respect that. So work out what you can do to personalise your day to day – colours, fabrics, accessories can all be flexed so that ‘work you’ is still ‘you’.
Currency of communication
One of the best ways to communicate & engage with people is through what they’re wearing – engaging about something as simple as the colour of someone’s nail polish can be a fasttrack into relationship building. Surround yourself with individual touches (again, colour, texture, embellishment can all be key things here), and compliment when others have done the same – establishing yourself both as supportive and someone who notices detail. At best, this could spark a shared interest with someone influential, at worst it’s just made someone feel good about themselves.
You are not what you wear
Some people will always judge on appearances – if you’re happy to be amongst them then by all means tailor your look to their standards. But always remember that what you wear very rarely has any link to what you are capable of, and that the people who value what you can do (and not how you look doing it) are the ones you’ll generally be happier being around than the ones who would dismiss your potential to do anything in jeans and muddy trainers.
Your personal brand needs to reflect the person you are & the person you want to be. Have fun with the visual aspect of it, find your own way to stand out but at the heart of it always know that no-one should ever intimidate you into portraying someone else.