Just because you have casual day at your office doesn’t mean you need to dress WAY down. Although many young professionals may not want to hear it, what you wear really does affect and influence your image, and your firm’s or company’s reputation.
To figure this all out, Edge sat down with Emily Burns Perryman, an e-Marketing Communications Specialist for Freed Maxick CPAs in Buffalo, New York. Although Emily now works in accounting, she has a unique fashion background working for Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni, Christian Dior, and Jones Apparel Group. Recently, she began writing a Fashion and Finance Blog for Accounting Today.
EDGE: Why is a visual “image” so important?
Emily Perryman: The image you present in the workplace creates a first impression and very often a permanent impact on the people you meet. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in; individuals who present themselves in a neat, stylish, and professional manner are perceived to be prepared, intelligent, and articulate. They command respect, and exude authority and trust. One’s image in the workplace can help with professional development, improve the way people interact with you, and foster success to meet career goals.
Corporate wardrobe is so important in the business world that some companies exist solely to provide image consulting services, Human resource teams craft well-thought-out dress code rules. Bad apparel choices can actually lead to job candidates not being extended an offer, clients choosing another firm, and deals not closing!
EDGE: So why is it important for the accounting profession, both in practice and business and industry?
Emily Perryman: Professionalism is not just about your education, skills, and experience, but about the image you create and maintain, and how you present yourself to your clients, prospects, and the community on a daily basis. CPAs represent their firm or employer in front of many different publics, so it's important to look your best to help build confidence and appear professional, qualified, and credible.
Clients are looking for highly skilled, professional, and fast-acting service providers. There are many essential elements of great customer service and one of them includes the belief of trust. While trust can be earned in many ways, one way is by continually appearing and acting professional at all times. The way we present ourselves in the workplace is crucial to whether we will be taken seriously and become a trusted advisor.
EDGE: What are the top five mistakes women and men make when it comes to improving their visual image?
Emily Perryman: New employees and younger CPAs often find it challenging to interpret excessively corporate dress codes and may struggle with being able to properly craft a professional image. Women are especially challenged because there are so many more rules and regulations when it comes to their dress code in the workplace. It may not be fair, but in reality, women have far more wardrobe choices than men. As a result, many human resource teams feel the need for more rules to explain what their expectations are.
Here are the Top Mistakes for Women:
Dressing too trendy, casual or for a “night out.” Numerous human resource and marketing professionals tell me many young professional women come into the office with loud jewelry, and too short, tight, or trendy clothing items for their work environment. Going more conservative is always the best bet, and it’s also advised not to attempt to wear all the season’s trends at once. There are ways to incorporate the most recent trends into your wardrobe to show off some personality and style without looking overdressed or inappropriate. Websites such as www.corporette.com offer some great advice on how to balance your look and integrate current trends into your work wardrobe.
Garish or overly done makeup. While purple and blue eye shadow with a bit of sparkle and red lips may be suited for a night out at the club, it definitely does not work at the office. Everyone has different skin tones, types and problems. So, my suggestion is to wear the amount of makeup that works best for you personally, and aim to appear polished and professional at all times. You can go into any department store or cosmetics boutique for advice and seek out the specific products that work best for you. For example, blush can give you a healthy glow, but too much bronzer can make you look like Snookie.
Attempting the latest hair style. Whether chunky highlights, loud colors, or eccentric cuts, a flamboyant or excessively trendy haircut can look out of place and be distracting for those in a more conservative profession such as finance and accounting. As a 32-year-old woman, I have learned a lot about fashion in the last 10 years and have experienced many personal style evolutions. Mainly I have learned that although trends are fun to embrace, they have their place. It’s a really powerful thing to learn what looks and works best for you.
Leggings are not pants. This seems like it would be quite an obvious “don’t,” but this trend can be seen rearing its ugly head from college campuses to offices all across the country because leggings just don’t fit in to a corporate environment.
Invest time and money. Work clothes may be seen as more functional than fun, so many people shop for their office wardrobe quickly and on the cheap. That may not be the best idea, as price can be directly correlated to proper fit and quality. Your work apparel should fit you well and be made up of classic staple items that can last for years to come and will always be in style, such as a black pencil skirt, white dress shirt, wool shift dress, navy blazer, and khaki trench coat. Keep your eyes out for sales at the end of the season; you can likely pick up some well-made, high-end items at a discounted price!
Top Mistakes for Men:
Wearing a short sleeve shirt with a tie. Unless you want to look like Dwight from the Office, this is not a good look. Feel free to wear a short sleeve shirt on jeans or dress-down days, but personally, I believe pairing it with a tie just looks plain goofy.
Mismatch mistakes. Belts should match your shoes and socks should match your trousers. Anything else looks sloppy, mismatched, and not well put together. Remember: shoes make a big impression and can be one of the most evaluated part of a man’s wardrobe, so make sure to have them polished and looking clean.
Wrong length of tie. Ties should reach the belt line. The most often-made mistake is made when guys adjust their tie that lets it hang too short or long. To properly wear your tie, make sure that is touches the top of your pants to cover the buttons or top of the zipper. Anything too low or cut too high is going to make you look more like a clown than an accountant or financial professional.
Not paying attention to the details. Healthy grooming habits matter and it’s a bad move to forget that the smallest details count. Remember to aim for for clean nails, freshly cut and combed hair, well-groomed facial hair or a clean shave, a neat and clean tucked-in dress shirt, and the tools you may need while on the job … business cards, a pen, tissues, and breath mints.
Wrinkly wrongdoings. The worst thing I have seen around the office or out in the business world are wrinkly shirts—something that is so easy to correct. Invest in a good iron and use it! It only takes a few minutes to straighten your clothes out, and there are plenty of tips out there to help you learn exactly how.
EDGE: You mentioned jean or dressing-down days within firms and companies. What’s your advice to women and men for these types of days?
Emily Perryman: Steer clear of “mom jeans,” high- or low-rise styles, and holey, ripped, acid, light, or whisker wash styles. These look bad on just about everyone. Jean days are an opportunity to go more casual and comfortable, but not appear sloppy or like you are about to cut the lawn.
I recommend a dark wash, and boot cut, straight leg—but not too skinny—and lightly flared styles for women, depending on the footwear you choose to pair them with. Many of our firm’s CPAs match up their clean, pressed, and flattering fit jeans with a firm branded golf shirt, crisply ironed dress shirt, or lively and colorful blouse. There are lots of stylish ways to dress up and accessorize your jeans day outfit, including hip and stylish sweater vests, colorful or patterned pumps, preppy blazers, colorful belts, or a strand of pearls, for example. Try to balance out the casualness of your jeans bottoms with something classic, crisp, and conservative.
EDGE: Any ideas for young CPAs who are on a budget with regard to stretching their dollars when it comes to buying new clothes?
Emily Perryman: Again, keep your eyes out for sale at the end of each fashion season. You can stock up on some nice, quality things for the following year. Focus on staple items for your closet and not the trendy stuff that may be “out” next year.
You can also open up a store charge or brand credit card to receive information about private sales and promotions, coupons and other special discounts reserved for cardholders. Just don’t spend more than you can afford, and try to pay off the balance every month or pay it down as quickly as possible so as not to accrue interest charges.
In large cities, you can look for sample sales. Outside the area, try shopping at outlets that offer designer merchandise at a discount.
Explore consignment and used clothing stores for great steals and deals. National chains like Clothes Mentor have some of the latest styles and the recent season’s stuff, gently used, at very low prices. I often find brands such as Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Gap, Jones New York, Express, and The Limited at these stores, and can find great work appropriate stuff at affordable prices!