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Women Learn to Dress for Success

Time: 2016-11-13 00:47cheongsam dress Click:

Orlaith Blaney, left, gets advice on style for the workplace from Frances Jones, right, of Image Matters, a corporate and personal image consulting agency. Credit Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

LONDON — Corporate boardrooms were once filled with men. Women were there too, but hidden behind the blacks and grays of stiff suits, protective shoulder pads and sensible shoes. Many preferred to blend in as they made strides in the executive arena.

But the past few decades have opened up a world where corporate femininity is valued, and a chipped nail or messy hair is equivalent to being under-qualified for a senior level position.

When a first impression is instinctively built on appearance, the challenges of self-promotion for a female executive can sometimes seem as daunting as the job itself, in the view of Lynne Marks, president of London Image Institute, a company that trains image consultants across the world on how to coach women on their personal styles.

Since founding her firm 20 years ago, Ms. Marks has seen styles evolve continually among women executives. But one general theme has not changed.

“A man has a uniform, he knows what to wear, when,” she said. “A woman has a disarray of clothing choices, so there is more of a chance that they won’t be able to project credibility through their image. Too little makeup, overdone makeup, long hair, an untidy looking bag, jangling jewelry, too much perfume — all of these things will take their credibility down a notch.”

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For female executives, dressing for the corporate culture of meetings, networking events and client relations can mean four or five different outfits hanging in the office at any given time.

“From a business point of view, your style is extremely important,” said Orlaith Blaney, chief executive of McCannBlue, an international advertising and digital agency in Dublin. “It’s about creating trust. We’re asking our potential clients for huge sums of money to do advertising campaigns for them. If you look bad, it can be associated with not being able to look after their business. I think it’s underestimated how important first impressions are.”

McCannBlue deals with the accounts of major companies like L’Oréal, Nestlé and eMobile. Ms. Blaney, 43, must adapt her appearance to project a different message depending on whether she is speaking to a youthful tech company, wearing a jacket and unmatched trousers, or meeting with a law firm in a tailored, skirted suit. But clothes, hair and makeup, no surprise, were not at the top of her executive priorities.

“About three years ago I met with an image consultant,” said Ms. Blaney, who at 32 was the youngest and only female managing director in her industry in Ireland. “It was after a presentation on how important it was to look in business that I realized that there were some aspects of my personal brand that I could use a little help with.”

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“From a business point of view, your style is extremely important,” said Ms. Blaney. “It’s about creating trust." Credit Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

“Doing simple things, like paying attention to color, length of dress, height of heels and learning how to use the shape of my body with three-quarter length sleeves and slim cut trousers, really transformed my look and wardrobe,” she said.

The notion of color, and the implication it has of attracting attention, often causes women in the corporate world to dress like their male counterparts. But instead of safe blues and blacks, Ms. Blaney discovered that rich purples and chocolate browns were colors best suited to her.

At the highest level of an organization, the requisite qualifications and skills tend to be gender-neutral. That is how and where the right sense of style helps a female executive to further distinguish herself.

“A woman must use her image for the right reasons,” said Frances Jones, personal stylist to Ms. Blaney and owner of Image Matters, a successful image consulting firm that serves clients in Britain and Ireland.

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