These 3 Rules Will Take the Pain Out of Dressing for Work
These days, we hear a lot about the importance of building a “personal brand.” While that might sound like a corporate buzzword, there’s a reason it comes up so often: Your brand is about how you’re seen by the world—including clients, investors, and, yes, the boss.
In this three-part series, Fortune talks to experts about how women can use their personal and speaking style, body language, and online presence to create a powerful brand for themselves.
For the first installment, we talk to Cheryl Han, the co-founder and CEO of online personal styling service Keaton Row. (Disclosure: Fortune‘s parent company, Time Inc. is an investor in Keaton Row.)
We’d all like to believe that it’s the job you do, not the clothes you wear, that matters at work. But the reality is a little more complicated.
“How you dress matters,” says Keaton Row CEO Cheryl Han. “Whether you want it to or not, and no matter where you are in your career.”
It’s not about being on-trend or dressing like your boss, says Han, but rather about using clothes to communicate who you are—and how you want to be perceived—at work. Here are Han’s three rules for anyone struggling to define her own personal style:
1. Dress like yourself
The most important thing about clothes is that they’re comfortable. Not in a physical, hoodie-and-sneakers sense, but in a way that makes you feel like your truest, most confident self. Look for things you can’t wait to put on, and that you can visualize feeling good about in any work scenario.
“If you’re not feeling like yourself, you’re not going to act like yourself,” says Han. “You create a barrier that makes it more difficult for people to communicate with you.”
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2. Be consistent
The same way that your personality doesn’t change day-to-day, your personal style shouldn’t either. Once you’ve established what it is that makes you feel like you, it’s important to stick with it, says Han.
“That’s one of the most important things in branding: consistency,” she notes. Consider the backlash experienced by major corporations when they change a beloved logo or product (hello, “new Coke!”). Keeping your style relatively consistent is another way to communicate your authenticity.
3. Ignore the trends
Having style is not the same thing as being on-trend, an idea that many professional women struggle with, Han says, noting that the pressure to feel fashionable is what causes that feeling of anxiety with we look at our wardrobe. “It’s not about spending all your time reading fashion blogs or feeling like you have to constantly keep up,” she says. Of course, if there’s a specific trend that appeals to you—and is appropriate for your workplace—go for it, but don’t feel like it’s mandatory.
Once you’ve figured out what clothes make you feel like you, dressing should be effortless. “Clothes are empowering. They’re a tool at your disposal to say something about who you are,” says Han. “Embrace it.”