Why Choosing the Right Wardrobe Boosts Confidence and Success
I have never been much of a clothes horse. In fact, my wardrobe has trended toward T-shirts featuring my favorite sports teams’ logos or pithy sayings.
But according to Liz Klebba, how you dress does lead to success, both personally and professionally.
Klebba is a wardrobe, image and color consultant under the umbrella of her company, Closet Play Image. She provides services for businesses, such as workshops and speaking engagements, but she also offers around 30 different services on the personal side, including creating a personal image, a new wardrobe and travel packing.
“I collaborate with clients to cultivate their personal style, curate their closet wardrobe and create outfits they love — and that love them back,” Klebba said.
She said the idea is to create confidence.
“Confidence comes from the inside and from the outside,” she said. “When it comes from both directions, it creates a very powerful synergy.”
What we wear reflects how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves. And it affects our performance. Klebba referred to a study in which three test groups were given a baseline test. Then they were divided into three groups — one took the test again in the same way it already had, the second group took the test while wearing a white coat identified as a doctor’s coat, and the third group took the test wearing the same white coat, this time identified as a painter’s coat.
The first group scored about the same. The second group, thinking they were wearing a doctor’s coat, performed significantly higher, while the third group, the “painters,” performed statistically lower.
Klebba helps clients develop the right clothing style based on their physical looks, personality, lifestyle and values.
“So, they wear the clothes instead of the clothes wearing them,” she said. “It’s being authentic about who I am. The more we are ourselves, the more we inhabit our own skin or clothing, the more authentic we come across.”
Clothes have physical characteristics that “speak” for a person,” Klebba said. Seams and pointed collars and pockets, for example, say business, while flowing clothes with rounded edges are more casual.
The day I met Klebba, I wore a checked shirt in blue and green, untucked, with the sleeves rolled up one turn to expose my watch with the leather band, and black jeans. The look, Klebba said, is casual, which is the look I would have been going for had I known how to express it. And my inability to verbalize it is not unusual.
“Clothing is a language we all understand,” she said. “It’s hardwired into us, but most of us don’t have the vocabulary or language to speak it.”
One thing that speaks volumes is color, both appropriate for a person’s skin coloring and for the work environment. Color plays a significant role in how we perceive a person, especially in the work environment.
A Clemson fan might want to dress his employees in orange, but orange comes across as juvenile and untrustworthy in the work environment. Blue, on the other hand, is perceived as trustworthy.
“Blue is the world’s favorite color for a reason,” Klebba said.
Style also speaks volumes. While she doesn’t advocate “chasing” fashion, especially not fads, Klebba does urge clients to keep their wardrobe current.
“Old clothes are associated with old ways and old thinking,” she said.
Much of what a person should wear depends on situation, circumstances and location, Klebba said.
“You may wear different things on vacation than you would at home or when working,” she said.
Which brings us to the work environment, where dressing for success can be critical. Klebba tries to keep to a person’s personal style within the context of the work environment. For example, a nature-loving businessman might choose a wardrobe with more of nature’s colors of browns, blues and greens.
But businesses also often have to address what not to wear to work. Often, in the CSRA, that is clothing that is too casual.
“It starts with Masters Week, when everybody rolls into Masters casual, and some never come back,” Klebba said.
For women, especially, that can mean clothing that is a little too summery for the work environment. Klebba’s suggestion is to base women’s clothing off the men’s dress code, since men generally have fewer options.
“If men aren’t wearing shorts to work, then skirts should be knee length,” she said. “If men aren’t wearing sandals, then wear mostly closed shoes. If you wear something strappy, then you need a sweater or jacket to wear over it when you leave your cubicle.”
Her rules have a practical reason behind them.
“If you look like you’re ready to go to the beach, then you’re not ready to do business,” she said. “It’s harder for us to be in work mode and harder for people to treat us like we’re in work mode. If you really want to wear whatever you want, then work at home or be ready to face the consequences.”
Part of the problem is that many businesses assume that employees will know how to dress properly and don’t have any set policies. Klebba urges businesses to have written guidelines.
“If you don’t have a policy then you need a policy,” she said. “As employers, you have to set the expectations — your policies and procedures.”
But it is still tricky for employers and human resources managers, Klebba said, because enforcing dress codes can seem petty and even bordering on sexual harassment.
Klebba said common mistakes she sees in the business environment for women are dresses that are too short, shoes with heels that are too high, and tops that are too low-cut. For men, common faux pas are clothes that are too big and baggy, clothes that are too snug and poor grooming. Both men and women can be guilty of using too much perfume, cologne or body spray.
“Any time you’re in a client-facing position, always err on the side of caution,” she advised. “Look approachable — not stuffy — tidy and clean.”
One axiom that Klebba waves off is “never wear white after Labor Day.”
“If you look good in white, wear it all year long,” she said. “Especially here, where it can be 95 degrees at the end of October.”