It’s easy to send the wrong message without ever opening your mouth. Opportunities are missed, communication is thwarted, and chances are you don’t get a second chance. Maybe something like this has happened to you:

1. You misread an invitation and arrived to a special event dressed casually when everyone around you is in business attire. You feel completely out of place and not taken seriously.

2. You’re meeting a potential new client for a coffee. Unfortunately your schedules were hard to synch up so you’re slipping this meeting in at a coffee shop right next door to your office-sanctioned Yoga class. You’re in your loose clothing, your accessories are off and you’re wearing your trainers. You explain this to the potential new client who looks at you curiously. You don’t hear from this person again. 

3. You don’t see much point in purchasing any new clothes because you never change sizes. You’ve had this philosophy for the last couple of decades. When suddenly you have to find a new job, you assume that if it was good enough for the company you worked for, your appearance should be good enough for the company you want to be working for. You’re not asked back for a second interview.

4. You’re ready to jump back into the dating pool. You’ve been working hard in your career for a long time but you’re ready to tell the world, “I’m available.” While you spent the day in a courtroom representing your client, you don’t think about getting out of work attire and into something more friendly looking for your date after work. It doesn’t go so well. Even though your intention is to be social, you can’t seem to switch gears out of office mode.

You may not know exactly what each of these people could have done differently to their image to alter the outcomes they experienced, although you might have an idea or two. 

There is an art and a science to matching your message to your appearance. Here are a few ideas to help you hone in on the right image for the message you’d like to convey.

Get serious

You’re getting dressed for a situation and you want to be taken seriously. People are expecting you to bring clarity and your best solutions to the table.

Consider: “Business” colours like charcoal, navy, maroon, black; jewellery should be in metals, semi-precious stones, or classic pearls; prints can be stripes, or subtle geometrics

Avoid: Loud prints; bright colours; noisy jewellery; too much makeup.

Loosen up

You’re switching from work to play. You’re dating or socialising in more casual settings. You’ve left work behind. 

Consider: Tactile fabrics like cashmere, silk, suede, brushed velvet; lighter or brighter colours; prints; accessories that have interest and could be conversation starters.

Avoid: Pinstripes; stiff fabrics; head-to-toe dark colours; high contrast colour combinations, overly classic jewellery.

Show up

If you haven’t changed your look in years, you may appear like you gave up on yourself a decade or more ago. Neglecting to update your style or appearance could send a message that you’re lazy, bored, or stuck… even if you aren’t. People will not see you as 'up to date' and forward thinking.

Consider: Updating your look to be more modern and current so you look relevant and savvy; engaging a professional help to guide you.

Avoid: Putting your needs off for another few months; expecting you can make these changes on your own. 

Unfortunately, we don’t often get second chances. A personal stylist or image consultant can help you align all the parts of your outfit to match the intentions you have. It makes a big difference! Not only will others read these non-verbal cues and make the right assessment about you, but you’ll also be sending a message to yourself that you’re prepared and confident. Whether you’re loosening things up to go on a date or dressing in a more formal way to present to colleagues, your message will be loud and clear.


Lizzie Edwards is a Personal Stylist, Image Consultant and Executive Presence trainer in London, UK.