For the past three years, the Fashion and Luxury team at The MBS Group has attended the Vogue Festival. Mostly, when consultants go to conferences, it is to network – we go to this one to listen to the incredible lineup of speakers that Vogue has the pulling power to secure. This year was no exception, culminating in Editor-in-Chief, Alex Shulman, interviewing John Galliano after his first season at Maison Margiela. The highlight for me, though, was listening to Bobbi Brown talk about starting out as a makeup artist and building a billion dollar brand that the Lauder Corporation acquired some twenty years ago.
It was with a real sense of pride that, this year, I was asked to sit on a panel, chaired by the accomplished Vogue Editor-at-Large, Fiona Golfar. We were tasked with the subject: ‘Dress for Success’.
My research began with the Harvard Business Review. The article I read, published in February 2011, focused on the much-maligned 43-page employee guide produced by UBS on how to dress in a professional manner. The guide is certainly draconian. Point 12 on the Suit and Pantsuit Directive states: ‘the perfect skirt length is in the middle of the knee and may be down to two inches below the knee (measured from the middle of the knee). The shirt must not tighten the chest, or even yawn, because this helps to give a neglected appearance.’ On women’s shoes: ‘the heel height should not exceed 7 cm, the wearing of open shoes is prohibited.’ The guide might have gone too far, but HBR rightly points out that it taps into a very real concern that many people have about the link between appearance and success (53% of women and 37% of men, in fact).
Our panel discussion, therefore, felt complex and challenging. “Dressing for success is not just about what you wear – you have to think about the whole picture,” said Golfer, as she told us about her first day at Vogue, when she wore something chosen by her mother, but immediately found herself thinking, “‘What have I done?’”. She said, “I learnt a lesson that day to never try and be someone else.”
“But choosing the right thing to wear in a professional environment isn’t always easy, and making the right impression is crucial”, said Serena Hood, who also works for Vogue. “I believe that it’s important to understand who you’re meeting and what the nature of the company is, but be true to who you are. Even if you’re going to a company that’s casual, go smart casual.”
Josh Wood, one of the world’s best respected Colourists, said: “I have some clients that come in everyday, and one in particular said to me last week that she had an important board meeting made up entirely of men. She therefore wanted the whole lot: blow dry, spray tan and nails – she called it ‘putting her armour on.’”
So, what can people do to get it right first time? Research, experimentation and confidence agreed the panel, regardless of the budget – and these days with the likes of Zara, Cos and & Other Stories it is not difficult to do.