There is much talk these days about personal branding. There is hardly a day that one scrolls down Social Media pages and not bump into ‘personal branding’ or ‘dress like you want to be addressed’ posts…meaning we care about how we present ourselves, therefore how others receive or perceive us.
I have experienced many women who seriously consider the importance of how we present ourselves to the world and the safe line between looking professional without compromising our femininity while trying to fit in different work spaces, especially boardrooms. This consideration and the need to be taken seriously as equal counterparts sometimes leads to personal compromise.
So, I asked my colleague, Marilyn Morris who was a VIP Flight Attendant to Former President Nelson Mandela, a position she says allowed her to give herself permission to be in any room and take a seat at any table, anywhere in the world without feeling like an imposter. This led to her becoming a Diplomat for South Africa in the world city of Hong Kong – moving in the company of Heads of State, Royalty, Diplomats, Ministers and other VIPs.
Her answer to my question: “Women are appreciated and deserve to be at the table as equals. We must consider our femininity as a special contribution to the room and embrace it and our authentic selves and not compete for space with men. A lot of women make the mistake of trying to fit in with their male counterparts – an unfair competition we are not designed for. Our femininity and God given Grace in the way we move and interact are our super power. Let’s embrace this truth.
When you understand who you are, you consider your feminine presence as a value add in the room and the and the world. We should not be afraid to accept the courtesy shown to us out of fear that it will minimise our contribution or the way we are perceived.
Fact is, it’s not what is outside but what’s inside of us that counts. So as women, we undoubtedly have value to bring to the table. What am I saying is that our internal strength and capabilities should inform how we show up. A strong inner presence creates poise and a powerful external impact – an element that settles the environment and eliminates all competition.
In other words, how we show up (external expression) is also important, it is the first introduction before the greeting. Our value, character and contribution (the internal) is questioned first as we arrive, before we open our mouths to tell them who we are.
Let me ask this: would you allow a person who wears a bathroom gown outside the home to represent you company? Or even confidently exchange business cards with him/her? I trust that the answer to the above is ‘NO!’
That is because we all make conclusions and form opinions about people’s character and responsibility capacity based on how they present themselves. What we wear, especially in public, inevitably tells others who we are and whether we are to be trusted or respected or not. It’s undeniable that image still matters and people still form opinions about other people based on appearance.
Someone once said “dressing well is a form of respect”, and I take this as absolute truth.
Can you imagine Moses arriving at Pharaoh’s house in the clothes he wore in the field? Do you think he would have been able to secure an audience with the king? It’s highly unlikely that the king’s court would have accepted his request.
The same was with Esther, when she was confronted with the humongous task of saving a whole nation, and she was desperate for the king’s favour – she knew that the way she presented herself to the king would have great impact on his decision-making process. And so, in addition to praying and fasting, she took time to look most beautiful for her interaction with the king and she won his favour and saved a whole nation.
So, it is important to think carefully about how you want to present yourself and how you want to be perceived at first glance.
“I remember when I started working in Government and learnt that Fridays were ‘dress casual day.’ The first Friday I tried to leave home for work in jeans my father – a former teacher and now a businessman in his 70s – asked why I was dressed in jeans to work…
I explained, ‘Friday is dress casual day at the office Papa…’ He looked at me and said ‘there is no second chance to make the first impression.
If you are comfortable to meet the President in that outfit then go ahead and leave the house’. I was not going to meet the President, but his words made perfect sense and have instructed how I leave the house ever since.
I’ve also heard people say “dress the part.” Maybe it is important to ask ourselves: What is my part?
Where do I play this part?
What industry do I work in?
What position do I occupy?
How do I want to be received in the position?
What position am I targeting?
Would my managers and leaders consider me for the position if they considered my dress style above everything else?
What clothes and style am I most comfortable and confident in?
How can I adjust my dress style to create the best presentation of me?
I personally believe I have become comfortable in who I truly am as well as how I wear and present who I am through clothing items. I now master how to combine my personality, character, sense of style and dress code to present the authentic Kea Modise-Moloto in different spaces. But I know that not everyone is where I am.
After spending two years in pyjamas and tracksuits because of lockdown we definitely need time and help to get our style back… Again I ask Marilyn for advice for professional and business women who are not so sure or maybe want to improve the way they present themselves to the world.
Elegance in dress style is a concept that finds its origin in an innate knowledge of one’s beauty, graciously carried into any room for the highest form of appreciation. This element cannot be bought, it has to be designed and refined over time until it overtakes your being.
But what we can buy is the right wardrobe to create this appearance. And a Capsule Wardrobe helps to keep us in fashion’s safe zone, saves us money and space”. says Marilyn.
“A CAPSULE WARDROBE is a limited selection of interchangeable clothing pieces that complement each other. These are often classic pieces that do not go out of style and are primarily composed of neutral colours.
It allows you to create a variety of different outfits with a small selection of clothes”
Marilyn’s 10 trend-proof items to bring elegance to YOUR wardrobe:
·All time favourite and classic is a string of pearls and matching earrings
·An oversized brown/black leather bag that carries all you need on any day
·Clutch Bag for your evening events
·A black dress and a black leather clutch for timeless elegance
·A Jacket that can dress-up any outfit
·Crisp white shirt for formal occasions or to add style to any blue jeans
·A silk scarf to add some glam on a less formal day
·A pair of neutral colour heels and a pair of black flats in a stylish design
·A good leather belt with a stylish buckle to create or complete a look
·Handbag accessories: leather make-up pouch, high power pen and folder, statement business card holder, a good looking or stylish purse and perfume that tells who you are.
some images sourced from warethecity.com