Fine tune your professional image in the New Year

Dr. Carol Parker Walsh

There’s nothing like a new calendar year for putting the spotlight on the goals you’d like to achieve. While fitness classes and better eating habits may be on your mind, I suggest you spend time taking inventory of your personal and professional image. Do you need to sharpen your image, are there some improvements you need to make, and is it time to upgrade your professionalism or business brand?

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of your appearance. It matters, maybe far more than you realize. Some people like to scoff at the role personal appearance plays in the workplace and in their everyday lives, but I’d stay clear of this shortsighted thinking.

Attending to your professional image does not mean you have become fashion or trend obsessed like a celebrity might be. However, our image is a dramatic component of how people perceive us. Our clothes speak, provide clues and make assumptions about our ability to lead and perform. Our appearance will either affirm our brand or work in antithesis of it causing potential customers and clients to doubt our skills, services and even our follow through. You have enough to contend with in your business on a daily basis, why add your appearance to that list?

Since you’re in control of how people perceive you before you even open your mouth, let me give you a list of visual cues that may be working against you. Pretend for a minute that someone is looking at you through a camera lens and zooming in to catch all the details. Here’s a list of things that could work against you and send the wrong message.

  1. Wrinkled or rumpled clothing
  2. Scuffed up or worn out heels on shoes
  3. Unkempt hair
  4. Crooked, bent or dirty glasses
  5. Clothes that are too tight or too baggy
  6. Stained clothing
  7. Piled sweaters or worn thin elbows in jackets
  8. Faded clothing colors from excessive cleaning or dry-cleaning
  9. Pant hems that are too short or too long
  10. Jacket sleeves that are too short or too long.
  11. Jewelry that distracts from the face
  12. For men, untrimmed beards or unshaven faces or dry skin

Now let’s look at details that can work to your advantage and improve your credentials in the workplace, again, without opening your mouth. Pretend people are seeing you on a screen in HD (high definition). Remember, any details that seemed to you this morning to be no big deal when you took a look in the mirror will show up as a much bigger deal to others. It’s so natural to tell ourselves that that flaw on our sweater or jacket or the chipped fingernail polish won’t really be noticed by anybody. We’re so used to looking at ourselves (or not looking at ourselves) that we don’t realize that others are processing our visual image every day and making conclusions that may or may not be true. It could be unconscious on their part but it is happening.

Here are five ways to show up in HD ensuring you look your best and visually align to your professional brand.

  1. Wear well-tailored suits if this is appropriate to your workplace. They send an instant message that you know what you’re doing.
  2. Choose clothing in colors that are flattering to your skin, hair, and eye color and make you look brighter and younger, not drab or sickly. If you’re not sure what those colors are, seek a professional consultation. This can save you so much money!
  3. Replace hard-working wardrobe basics like slacks, blouses, belts or shirts. They have a lifespan. They are usually past their prime before we notice it so be vigilant about replacing what’s worn.
  4. Use a garment steamer to steam out wrinkles. Give yourself time in the morning for this task or do it the night before.
  5. Good fit is crucial. A tailor can help assess whether your clothing can be altered to fit you better. This is especially important if there’s been a weight gain or a weight loss. Well fitting clothes look expensive and important. Ill-fitting clothes look cheap and carelessly thrown on. That’s not the message you want to give others.

Take inventory of your personal image strengths and weaknesses and vow to make improvements. Don’t forget your image directly relates to the strength of your professional brand. When you sharpen your image, the value of your professional brand soars. It’s as simple as that. Not sure how to make these improvements? Contact a professional. This is my area of expertise; I’d love to help you.

Dr. Carol Parker Walsh, a certified image professional and owner of Camas-based Evolve Image Consulting, is the expert behind the Vancouver Business Journal’s advice column: Dress Code. These columns will specialize in strategies for developing a positive and professional self-image. Walsh can be reached at