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Professional Image – Look better. Do better.

professional imageWhen I was pregnant, I worried that I would gain sixty pounds and never take the weight off. Well, that’s not what happened. I gained 18 pounds (amazing) and most of it was gone when Grayson was a week old. Six months later, I’m fourteen pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight. I can’t explain it. It certainly isn’t a result of eating well or exercising, because I’m doing neither. But it has left me with a problem that’s impacting my professional image. None of my clothing fits. This is a good problem to have, but nonetheless, it’s a problem.

Last week I was at a networking event wearing a suit that was huge. When I put it on, I hoped no one would notice. And they might not have. For all I know, I was the only person who knew I was wearing ill-fitting clothing. But more important than what others saw, is how I felt in the suit. I felt unprofessional, unpolished and silly. Aka, I was uncomfortable. I didn’t trust my appearance and it had me doubt myself. So instead of networking, which was the purpose of the event, I went to an empty room and made phone calls.

We feel more confident and do better work when we feel good in what we’re wearing and know we look good.

Here are four things you can do to elevate your professional image:

Elevate your professional image tip #1: Take photos of yourself wearing your ‘go to’ outfits. Look at the photos and assess how you look in your favorite clothing. I’m often dismayed at how I ‘really look’ in my favorite pieces of clothing. Then start taking photos of how you look in pieces of clothing before you buy them.

Elevate your professional image tip #2: Ask a friend whose judgment you trust to weigh in on your clothing. Specifically ask, “What’s the first impression I make in this outfit? Where should I wear this? Where shouldn’t I wear it?”

Elevate your professional image tip #3: Get a good haircut. You get what you pay for. Utilize the same practice as above. Ask a friend who always looks great to share the first impression your hair makes. Then make friends with your blow dryer. This might be the part of the blog when men check out. Stay with me. This applies to you too.

Elevate your professional image tip #4: Try on old items in your closet and get rid of everything that doesn’t pass the photo and friend evaluations. If you can’t bear to get rid of things you love, box them up so you won’t wear them.

You’ll present yourself more confidently when you have confidence in your appearance.

Note, these suggestions only apply when you’re in front of other people. If you work from home and don’t see anyone during the day but your dog and the occasional neighbor, bring on the spandex or the jammies. There is a school of thought that says you’ll do better work, even at home, if you’re professionally dressed. This isn’t true for me. I do better work when I’m comfortable. So now you know what I’m wearing when you call me. Aren’t you glad we don’t Skype!


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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12 Responses to “Professional Image – Look better. Do better.”

  1. Andee Edwards says:

    Love this- totally agree about feeling good if you look good! And this coming from someone who sets aside their “nice yoga pants” for the special casual occasions…
    I am not a fashion expert and rely heavily on my sister who is a fashion blogger.

    • Shari Harley says:

      Thanks for the comment, Andee! I’m glad I’m not the only one with “nice yoga pants.” Fortunately, just like your sister, our graphic designer doubles as my stylist!

  2. Stephanie McCutcheon says:

    For many years, I was in a rut, wearing hand-me-downs from my mom and sisters — neither of which were corporate professionals! Finally, working with a (free!) personal stylist at a large, famous department store, I figured out not only what looked good on me but made me feel good, too. My stylist also helped me extend my comfort level with certain styles, colors, and prints – ones that I never would have chosen for myself but that I’ve received compliments when wearing. This is a really important thing you point out and something we all should consider.

    • Shari Harley says:

      I think I know the store you’re referring to, Stephanie! Happens to be my FAVORITE! That’s a great tip for anyone who isn’t feeling their personal best. Just a couple of new pieces can transform how you look and feel!

      • Dennis says:

        I’m pretty sure I know what department store you’re talking about as I’ve taken advantage of this same service a couple times. I was very surprised regarding what they suggested I wear/purchase and even hesitated. Turns out two of the suits/outfits get the most positive feedback. And, I “feel” very professional in them. Great post Shari, thank you.

  3. Ruth Norwood says:

    Love your blogs- always something fun to think about. A question for you?
    How do you get folks to look professional at work? We have the too casual thing going on at work.

    • Shari Harley says:

      Hi Ruth, Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry for my delayed reply! I’ve seen some organizations sponsor ‘fashion shows’ that demonstrate what is and isn’t appropriate. This is a fun way to address dress code. You can have employees who always look good model. You can also bring in an image consultant who can give a presentation on appropriate work attire and then meet with people individually and give feedback on their appearance. Dress is very personal. Having an outsider give feedback will be easier for your managers. You can get this done at a pretty low cost. And for sure include photos of what is and isn’t appropriate on your document that outlines the company’s dress code. And if you don’t have written dress code, I’d definitely create one with do’s and don’ts photos. I also think it makes sense to take interns and green (read young) employees on field trips to Marshalls and TJMaxx and show them how to put together appropriate work outfits at a low cost. I hope this helps!

  4. Jody says:

    Great topic this week, Shari! I think this is the one thing that people can easily change to really step up their game. When I look good, I feel good overall about myself and feel I am taken more seriously. Thanks for all the tips!

  5. Geri says:

    Amazing the confidence that clothing can bring or take from us!!
    By the way, I was at your session at the WFF conference last week and you looked great!

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