Women all over the world are spoiled for choices when it comes to dressing up. Indian women in particular, have many options available to them – salwar suits or sarees, skirts or pants, and shirts or kurtis, in a variety of designs and colors.
Fun turns to confusion when you start working in the corporate space. The dilemma is deciding “what to wear that looks formal yet is an expression of oneself”.
- Is the salwar-suit workable or will it look frumpy?
- Should I play it safe and dress in pants and a boring striped shirt every day like my male colleagues do?
- How should I decide what to wear?
Here are some guidelines you can follow to project the desired image:
First, think about the image you want to convey. Would you like to be seen as a person who is “professional and no-nonsense” or “professional but approachable”? This depends on your work, designation, situation, and yourself. Further, you may not want to convey the same message everyday for every occasion. For example, for a party at your boss’ house, you don’t need to project a “professional and no-nonsense” image but for an important negotiation, dressing casual will be considered inappropriate.
Next, think of all the things you can use to convey this image. Here are some parts of your ensemble that convey different images.
- Clothes are the first things that catch people’s attention. Judith Rasband, known as the first lady of image management, has created the Style Scale for western wear, and Suman Agarwal of Image Consulting Business Institute has adapted the same for Indian wear for women.
Here are three principles you can follow:
First principle: sharp lines and matched suits offer a tailored-look and are considered most formal while curved lines with flexible fabrics are considered casual.
Second principle: darker colors are more formal than lighter colors.
Third principle: three layers are more formal than two layers. Three layers, such as pant-shirt-coat combination, or sharply cut salwars (straight-cut salwars) and long kurtas with collars - in darker shades of silk, worn with a stole can work for a highly formal look. An appropriate silk saree with a co-ordinated coat can easily match the three piece suit in formality.
These principles will help you project the right image while giving you ample opportunity to personalize the look and create a personal style that works well.
- Accessories like belts, scarves, stoles, shoes, and bags can help emphasize the image, if you pay a little attention. Accessorize one or more of your most visible areas: neck, wrists, and shoulders. Remember, accessories that look smashing for a night on the town may not be appropriate for wearing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Principles for accessories are similar to those for clothes: sharp lines vs. curved, dark colors vs. soft colors, and so on. Choose shoes, jewelry, watches, and belts from such classic materials as leather, silver, and gold.
Jewelry should be minimal and should emphasize your face rather than taking attention away from it. So, avoid wearing danglers. Classic jewelry like a pearl necklace, a pair of diamond studs, jade bangles, or small beads will add an air of sophistication to your ensemble. Watches with simple lines and a neutral band will go with a variety of outfits. Ensure that the metal of different accessories that are worn together is matching. For example, keep it all either silver or gold.
Belts and Shoes should always match. Brown, black, gray, and tan palettes dress up everything. Closed shoes are considered formal irrespective of whether it is Indian or western formal wear. Shoes like the brogues with their precise cut and pattern are the most formal. Women, of course, have a lot more variety in shoes than men. For example, pumps can add to your formal image.
Stoles and scarves add to your personality and when worn right, can help create a faux third layer over a two-layer ensemble.
Hair and makeup help emphasize the image, if worn right. Hair should be orderly and cleanly cut to further emphasize the sharp lines of the attire and to help give a formal look. Makeup, which is much maligned in India, can actually enhance your features and add to the overall image that you want to project.
Just remember, people’s attention is drawn to anything that is out of place, or looks brighter, or more uneven as compared to other things. You can make it work for you. For example, a dark suit with a white or light-coloured shirt draws the viewer’s attention towards the face so that one actually pays attention to what you are saying.
When you read these guidelines, it is possible that some of you might react to them as being restrictions rather than guidelines. The perspective you need here is to take responsibility for the image that you wish to portray and consider the fact that the little effort required to project this image is worth it.
is an alumna of IIM, Ahmedabad, and runs her own company called, WebofComms. The company specializes in business, and digital marketing strategy and services. Lira has over 18 years of experience in marketing, strategic planning, communication, and research across various categories and countries. She has worked across various organizations such as Grey Advertising, FCB Ulka, Euro RSCG, MasterCard International, and Tech Mahindra. She has worked on various brands and companies such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble in Japan, SmithKline Beecham, Masterfoods, British Telecom, Marico, Bacardi, Chevrolet, and HDFC Securities among others.