Fashion-Savvy Ways to Shape Your Image to Score Business Success

Three experts provide their advice for competitive grooming.

learn more about Karima Mariama-Arthur

By Karima Mariama-Arthur

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Knowledge, skills and experience are critical to your success in business. But so is your professional image.

Do you look the part to snare and keep the role you want? If not, you may be sabotaging your success.

Three image experts, all my friends and networking contacts, shared with me by email how good grooming and appropriate dress are essential, regardless of the industry. They emphasized a strong link between self-image, performance and overall business success.

Atlanta-based makeup artist Brandi Mitchell considers the essence of a polished professional image to be "visual branding."

Related: Your Attire Speaks Volumes Before You Open Your Mouth

Author of Look the Part to Get the Role, an insider's view of how celebrities package and promote themselves, Mitchell considers visual branding a "holistic, intelligently packaged, outward expression of your authentic self."

"If you look the part, you get the chance to prove yourself further," Mitchell says, cautioning that an "image can also stop you in your tracks, even if you're the best qualified candidate."

"The better you look and feel, the better results you will generate," Dallas-based custom clothier Donovan England tells me. But to those who wish to use image to mask poor performance, he would say, "take a hike."

Looking sharp in business is a serious matter for Washington, D.C.-based Maggy Francois, who plans fashion, corporate and nonprofit events and serves as West Potomac Academy's fashion director. "How your clothes look drastically influence the success of anything you do," she says.

Fashion consciousness is vital, asserts Francois, the CEO of Maggy Francois LLC. "Your look frames the person within. Judging each other based on looks should not be the focus," she says, adding, "however, it's a reality we all have to face."

Seeing a symbiotic connection between professional image and confidence, Francois advises, "understand how style helps you advance your professional goals and how others perceive you as you express it."

Here's a roundup of some of their best tips for grooming and appropriate attire:

Related: How to Dress for a Business Meeting. Yes, Seriously. (Infographic)

1. Groom well.

Good grooming involves all the spiny details. Mitchell cites as faux pas "excess hair," such as overgrown body, leg and facial hair, including tuffs in the eyebrows, and "shoddy makeup application."

Visual distractions should also be avoided. "When people first meet you, they perform a visual assessment," Mitchell cautions. "Those grooming details help them to form an impression, good or bad. You don't want anything that is obviously out of place to distract them from the business at hand."

Brandi Mitchell

Image credit: Allen Cooley

Mitchell, who teaches clients to "polish, package and position" themselves in order to successfully accelerate their careers, says this is essential for all professionals who need to look the part to procure and keep the roles they desire in business.

2. Don't underdress.

"Don't ever worry about being overdressed," England advises. "Being underdressed is the worst."

To create a polished, professional look, England says, "Make sure that the clothes fit," a matter that "communicates a great deal about work ethic." He'll notice when a saleperson's clothes don't fit. "Even if I want the product, I won't buy it. I would rather find someone else who looks the part -- who looks well put together."

Matthew Donovan

Image credit: Donovan England

England advises men when selecting clothes to steer away from what he calls "beginner" colors like black, dark navy and charcoal. "Go more for navy blues that have a pop of mid- to light grays," he says. "They give you a more distinguished look." He suggests avoiding patterns until mastering a look in the staple tones.

His current list of fashion faux pas for men includes button-down collars, pockets on shirts, more than two buttons on a jacket (unless it's double-breasted), long jackets, paisley ties, square-toed shoes, jackets without vents, pleats, broken buttons and baggy anything.

3. Boost your fashion sense.

Sometimes your goal is to look put-together, even when aiming for comfort, Francois says.

A comfortable cardigan is a great choice for a business casual look, she advises women. Or a monochromatic black outfit with low-heeled boots can provide a sleek comfortable look, she adds.

Maggie Francois

Image credit: Naiffer Romero Photography

"Ballet flats are superchic and I wear them frequently, she adds. Plus, "nude anything complements everything," she points out.

"Not dressing for the season bothers me the most," Francois says, referring to someone wearing shorts or flip-flops in the winter.

But being sharp in business isn't just about fashion, Francois says. Looking good from the inside out is ultimately the bigger goal. "Listen and learn from people who are smarter than you," she says. "Take big risks and make big mistakes. They are all lessons that will allow you to grow and develop thick skin."

Related: The Stars of Shark Tank on How to Dress for Success

Karima Mariama-Arthur

Founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport

Karima Mariama-Arthur is the founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport, an international consulting firm located in Washington, D.C. that specializes in professional development. She trains, coaches and consults for individuals and organizations on the dynamics of complex communication and high-performance leadership competence. 

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