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Dress for Success

October 30, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
(Note: I am purposefully avoiding politics in my blogs because we all need to be able to turn somewhere for a break!)

OK working moms, you know this has happened to you: You wake up late, there's no hot water (or there's a spot on your best suit or the heel snaps on your favorite power-shoes), and, of course, you have a meeting with important clients or company bigwigs this morning. Your preschooler won't get his shoes on, your second-grader can't find his homework and your eighth-grader is sulking over who-knows-what.

You have just enough time to gather your notes (forget about your wits) upon arrival at the office before the meeting. You put on your brightest smile which dims significantly as you glance down at the ugly jacket you had to wear and the uncomfortable back-up pumps you hate. Then you catch your reflection in the glass that covers the family photo on your desk: total bad hair day.

You feel defeated and know the meeting will not go well. It, of course, doesn't.

In the words of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: "A lost battle is a battle one thinks one has lost."

This isn't a phenomenon peculiar to boardroom mamas. Despite how stay-at-home jobs are promoted -- with moms at their computers in their pjs, their faces slathered with a soothing facial mask -- our home-based businesses also can be affected by what we wear and how we look.

The other day, I received an article in my e-mail from Pat Heydlauff, president of Energy Design, a feng shui design company that helps companies improve the bottom line. She says it's not just the layout of the office furniture that can hinder or improve sales, it's what employees are wearing.

Here are some excerpts from her article:

"In the world of feng shui, clothing is exceedingly important, not just another piece of your personal environment. Clothing surrounds you and provides you with positive, helpful, success-oriented energy or negative, distracting, draining energy.

"The colors, textures and design of your clothing, as well as the way it fits, can make you feel confident and in control -– or weak, unimportant and ineffective.

"If you work from a home office, your clothing choices will be equally important. You either dress for your business to succeed or you dress for a mediocre day. Glitches, setbacks, obstacles, low focus and missed sales often happen right in your closet before the day begins.

"First and foremost, apply this rule for the best success energy: If it doesn’t fit you, look great on you and make you feel like a million dollars, don’t buy it; if it is already in your closet, get rid of it. ...

She then goes on to recommend wearing different colors depending on what your day holds.

"If you are in sales wear green or use earth tones like salmon and peach. Green will provide you with new business and money energy. Earth tones will help you connect to others. If you are going to be in a high-stress situation, wear the color blue. It provides calming energy that is needed during a chaotic day."

She also suggests when you want to get a lot done without being interrupted, wear subdued colors that help you stay off others' radar. To be in total control, wear dark colors in fitted, structured designs. To be very productive and upbeat, wear bright colors that provide energy. Need to be more relaxed to let the creative energies flow? Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothes.

And by all means, avoid wild florals, animal prints and "busy" patterns -- they will make you feel scattered, she says.

I think Pat might be taking the fashion tie-in a bit too far. If I feel scattered at work, it has very little to do with my shirt and everything to do with how much caffeine and sugar I have consumed that morning.

But I definitely believe I get less done and feel less competent when I am dressed "down," and feel like I can accomplish anything when I'm wearing a smashing new outfit (ESPECIALLY if I snapped up the ensemble for a song at a thrift or consignment store!).

A few weeks ago, I met with the women who organized today's "Orchestrating Your Life" women's conference at Laughlin Chapel in Wheeling, geared to helping local businesswomen successfully manage their businesses and their lives. They all agreed on the importance of dressing for success, and a couple added their two cents.

"It's the shoes," says Pamela Wood, executive director of Housing Connections on 13th Street in Wheeling, jumping up from the table to display her houndstooth check and patent leather pointy-toed pumps. She loves wearing high-fashion heels that boost her in more ways than one. She wears black suits mostly, and it feels like "a uniform," but she can express herself through her shoes, and it gives her confidence.

"It's all about the hair," says Lynda Hendershot, owner of LyndCo Inc., a local general construction company that works on highway projects. She then told a story about a hair color and cut gone wrong the day before a long-awaited and hard-won meeting with Department of Transportation officials. She knew she couldn't walk in the room with her hair the way it was. She told the stylist on the spot, "We have to redo this."

The next day, she walked confidently into the outer office where the meeting would take place. And didn't the secretary just make her day? "Oh, I just LOVE your HAIR!" she gushed. Lynda entered the meeting smiling, inside and out.


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Blog Photos

The women behind today's "Orchestrating Your Life" conference for women struggling to balance work and family obligations are, seated from left, Laura Stewart of the Community Homebuyer Investment Program; Kara Gray, New Horizon Consulting; Lisa Mason DiSalvio of Firestarters; standing from left, Karri Mulhern, Regional Economic Development Partnership; Pamela Wood, Housing Connections Inc.; Lynda Hendershot of LyndCo. Inc. and Donna Schramm of the Small Business Development Center in Wheeling. The conference took place today from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. followed by a social time and coffee bar until 6 p.m. at Laughlin Chapel in Wheeling.