Five ways to improve first impressions, business image

Dr. Carol Parker Walsh

As business owners we all know that creating and defining your brand is a necessary step in developing a successful business. What few realize is your wardrobe and clothing choices are an important part of your brand. In fact, your image is your brand. Substantial research has affirmed it only takes 250 milliseconds for an impression to be made, and first impressions can fortunately, or unfortunately, last forever. In the business world, your image can mean the difference between gaining the competitive edge or yielding to the competition.

Impression management, a term coined in 1959 by Erving Goffman, is the strategic process of presenting oneself in a way that will positively influence and enhance one’s image or perception in the eyes of others. If done well, this aspect of branding will reinforce your marketed brand and gain the trust and reassurance of those with whom you do business. When your dress and behavior differs from your purported brand, the disconnect and inconsistency is remembered and your potential clients will be less inclined to trust you. Why? Because there’s a connection between looking good and looking capable.

As a certified image consultant who works with both men and women, I’ve found that most people want to be perceived positively and professionally. The challenge, however, is where and how to begin. Here are five steps you can take to improve your image and make a great first impression.

Be sure your clothes fit – Regardless of your height, age or size, there is no excuse to wear clothes that don’t fit properly. Every professional should have a good tailor on speed dial to make necessary adjustments to your clothes when needed.

Find your right colors – Color is a powerful phenomenon because it evokes certain feelings and emotion in individuals. The key, however, is to wear the right colors for you. Depending on your undertones, you may want to wear cool muted colors or bright warm colors. For men, your shirts and ties will be the centerpiece of your outfit so ensure they are complimentary to your hair, skin and eye coloring. The same is true for women’s dresses, shirts, sweaters and jackets.

Update your look – Have you been wearing the same hairstyle, hair color, haircut, makeup or beard for the last 10 or 20 years? If you answered yes, it’s time to re-evaluate your look. Don’t underestimate the benefits of being well-groomed and having a current style that compliments your facial structure and personality.

Determine your personal style – Your style should be an expression of your authentic or inner self. It’s not a “one size fits all” proposition. If your industry is rather specific about the way you dress, your personal style can be used to reinterpret the customary attire to something that accentuates who you are.

Pay attention to the little things – Don’t forget your accessories. Consider accessories as the icing and decorations on a cake. Cufflinks, pocket squares, socks, eyewear, scarves, hats, and/or watches give a polished look to any outfit. For ladies, statement jewelry (particular a necklace), post earrings, a watch or bracelet, and eyewear will do the same for you. Do not neglect this little detail.

These are just a few things you can do to improve your image and create a positive and professional impression. Effective image management will help you develop your visual brand, increase your credibility as an expert in your field, build a positive and favorable reputation and improve upon the perceived value of your product and/or services.

Dress Code is written by Dr. Carol Parker Walsh, a certified image professional specializing in strategies for developing a positive and professional self-image. Parker Walsh is the founder and owner of Camas-based Evolve Image Consulting. She can be reached at