It has been one of the hottest summers in the UK for years, and many HR professionals struggle to contain staff within the acceptable boundaries of the corporate dress code. At the same time, they face their own challenges in knowing what to wear to set a good example for the rest of the business.
Our call for readers to nominate themselves for a makeover in June gained a huge response – predominantly from female readers. Many wanted to escape from their trusty black suits and wear something more colourful that would still convey a professional image. Others were looking for a way to stay cool in the summer without damaging how they were perceived by their colleagues.
Personnel Today, with the help of our sister magazine Hairdressers Journal, called in a team of hair and clothes stylists to make over three lucky readers. Their brief: to make them feel ultra-confident and ensure that HR gets the respect it deserves.
Contrary to popular belief, looking confident does not necessarily mean dressing in a severe way, or wearing lots of make-up. Stylist Candy Yeldham explains: “I wanted the readers to look groomed, but not girlie. We’ve gone for a natural, ‘no make-up’ look that reflects the neutral tones of the clothes. It’s a classic look that’s comfortable in the office but still stylish.”
Robert Masciave, owner of Metropolis hair salon in Kingston-upon-Thames, which hosted our makeover, agrees. “We don’t want a style that’s too heavy or strict. We went for a look that was adaptable and that could be made to look professional easily,” he says.
In the pages that follow, we reveal the dramatic results they achieved.
Laura Campbell, HR officer, YWCA
Laura Campbell bought her first and only suit for her graduation in 2001, and has rarely worn it since.
Working for Oxford-based YWCA – a charity that works with young women facing poverty, discrimination and abuse – the dress code is casual, and Campbell tends to wear the same clothes for work as she would at home. “I still dress like a student,” she admits.
Campbell’s main issue is that, as the youngest person in the office, she would like to feel more confident about the way she is perceived. “I recently had an appraisal, and while my boss assures me I get respect, I’d like to feel more worthy of it,” she says.
“I’ve had a great time and I’ve learned that I don’t have to wear a suit to be smart. I also tend to wear no make-up for work and a lot when I go out – the stylist has shown me there’s a happy in-between.”
Helen Wiles, senior HR adviser, Farnborough College
Choosing a working wardrobe was the first challenge Helen Wiles encountered when she got her job as senior HR adviser at Farnborough College three months ago. For six years before that, she had worked in a number of HR and shopfloor roles at Sainsbury’s, and had to wear the supermarket’s famous orange and blue uniform throughout her time there.
“My first thought on getting the new job was: ‘What do I wear?’ So I just went out and bought five shirts – one for every day,” she says. She also has a tendency to stick to trusty black.
Her manager is keen for her team – many of whom are new – to look as smart as possible, so Wiles hopes to make more of an impact with her more colourful image.
“I’m surprised by how much difference it’s made, especially to my hair. Everyone has commented on my new look at work and I feel so much better about myself. It was definitely worthwhile. I think I will be going shopping this weekend to buy some more colourful clothes.”
Elsie Akinsanya, freelance HR consultant and mentor
Elsie Akinsanya recently gave up her position as HR director at market research group MORI to set herself up as a coach and mentor to black and ethnic minority women moving into management.
She had always dressed smartly as an in-house HR professional, but wanted to feel ultra-confident when pitching for work.
“The first few seconds can dictate someone’s impression of you,” she says. “When you’re in a job, you know what goes. If you’re pitching, people expect you to look slick.”
Akinsanya believes HR professionals have a duty to look smart as they set an example to others in the organisation. “I would always point out if someone on my team was not dressed appropriately,” she says.
“I’ve had a brilliant day and love the look. I just hope that I can reproduce it at home.”
How to make an impact
The way we present ourselves has a direct impact on how we are perceived. If you want to be taken seriously within a professional environment, you need to look serious.
- Gain respect
If you feel like you’re not getting enough respect at work (or anywhere else), start with an appraisal of your image. Do you put the same amount of effort into it as you do your work? Time spent paying attention to the grooming details such as nails, hair, polished shoes and ironed clothes can make a world of difference.
- Project your authority
If you find yourself in a position where you need to project your authority, it’s always best to veer on the side of formal over business casual dress. If your colouring can take it, contrasting colours over tonal colours are also better at conveying authority. Always buy the best that you can afford. Quality items really do look better for longer and can actually work out to be more cost-effective.
- Get out of black
If worn all the time, black is only really effective at making you blend into the background and shows no creativity or imagination. We all have our black days and that’s fine. Just don’t wear it every day.
- Be approachable
Still maintain your approachability by adding accent colours to your neutral basics. People respond to different colours: pinks and pale blues are the most approachable shades to wear. And smile – it makes all the difference.
- Stand out from the crowd
Everyone has their own style personality, which determines their approach to clothes, so don’t suppress it in your work wear. Personalise your working wardrobe by accessorising in your own unique way with different jewellery, shoes and bags. Always try to add colour somewhere in your outfit.
By image expert Rosalie Poels, business development director, Colour Me Beautiful Corporate
Personnel Today would like to thank
Metropolis, Kingston, call 020 8546 7575. Hair stylists: Robert Masciave, Shane Eyers and Limoz Logli; colour by Amanda Morrison and Janie Gunnings.
Candy Yeldham at Minx Management, call 020 7808 7927.
Clothes and shoes
Available at Principles, Marks & Spencer and Evans.
And thanks to our sister magazine Hairdressers Journal.