Dressing for success: The importance of fine appearance details

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As a high-flying EA, business support executive, or administrator, you need to be constantly on the ball, and able to respond quickly and effectively to the needs of your team – your appearance has nothing to do with this. Or does it?

First impressions count.

From a potential employer glancing over your CV, to meeting a partner’s parents, those first few seconds and sentences are crucial. Think of the professional image you are aiming to portray – organised, efficient, and meticulous.

A scruffy appearance may influence others’ perception of you more than you know, and work against all the effort you put into your job. Especially for acquaintances, appearing to have your life together externally likely suggests that you will be professionally competent and ready to rise to the challenge.

Imagine two scenarios.

Scenario 1

Monday morning, you are due at work in 45 minutes. But you just woke up, it’s raining, and your wet washing is still in the machine. You scramble around for the first thing you can find to put on, grab your Oyster card and rush out of the door. You arrive at work, damp, hungry, and facing a list of half a dozen things your boss wants you to follow up on by 10 am.

Scenario 2

Monday morning, you are due at work in 60 minutes. Your alarm went off 10 minutes ago, and after snoozing, you are ready to hit the shower. You put on the outfit you ironed yesterday, grab a banana, coffee to go, and your umbrella, and are at the bus stop when it arrives. You arrive at work, say hi to your co-workers, and stash your belongings in your desk drawer. As 9 am rolls around, you’re already at your computer, ready for the day.

Which one would you rather face?

Looking polished and professional at work is about being prepared, and comfortable in your own skin. This confidence will bleed through into everything you do.

So, how can you achieve a polished, professional appearance? Some of this tips might be obvious to the more experienced among you, but offer a good reminder for all of us. While some of these tips are unavoidably gender-specific, the majority can be applied equally to men and women.

1.   Quality over quantity

Make sure you have clean, ironed, well-fitting outfits for the working week. They don’t have to be expensive, but we would advise investing in good quality basics (two well-fitting pairs of trousers/skirt and jacket at minimum), leaving you the flexibility to change your shirt and accessories more often. Take this one step further and develop a few ‘work outfits’ – go-to combinations that mix and match well.

2.   Make sure it fits

If you think it might be too bright, tight, or short, it probably is. This advice applies equally to men! Go to your wardrobe right now and clear out anything that is tired, stained, in need of repair, or doesn’t fit – that way you won’t be tempted to wear it. When it comes to blouses and shirts that button up, they should be loose enough that the buttons are never strained.

3.   Build in an extra five minutes

Build in extra time – that bus is always going to beat you to the stop if you are aiming to get there at the time it is due! A few minutes waiting at the bus stop is not time wasted. It will help you keep your stress levels down and arrive at work collected and ready for the day. A second tip is to touch up after lunch – take a few minutes to head to the bathroom and straighten up.

4.   Streamline

Keep your colour palette simple. Build a working wardrobe around a couple of select colours — navy, black, and grey are good choices. Add in a few contrasting items, and you’ll never have to worry about coordinating again. Chipped nail polish and hair that need a good cut are not a problem if you always have bare nails and keep your hair in a bun. If you wear makeup, keep it simple.

5.   Be prepared

Keep a few bits and pieces at work. For example, keep a spare tie in the drawer, plasters, and toiletries (a toothbrush is better than chewing gum all afternoon). If you like to work out at lunchtime, make sure you look as neat afterwards as you did starting the day. If possible, try and fit the gym in at the start or end of the day and save yourself the time of getting ready twice.

6.   Dress for the weather

Get a proper coat, umbrella and weatherproof shoes – even if you change your shoes at the office. Let’s face it, even in the summer, your office is going to be freezing, so maintain your outfits as usual. In summer, switch to paler colours or a lighter fabric rather than more revealing outfits. Open toed shoes are generally inappropriate for the office.

7.   Be yourself

Wear what you feel comfortable in, and what reflects your personality, without being overly fussy. Adapt your style to your workplace, of course. If you work in a traditional office environment you will likely have different constraints on your appearance to a more relaxed start-up environment, but no matter how formal your dress code, you can still look polished.

Are you an ambitious PA, EA, or business support professional looking to take your career to a new level? Executive Partnerships, a specialist recruitment consultancy just for EAs, PAs, and secretaries can help. Check us out at

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