Female MBA students learn to dress for success
“(Image) is one of our most important communication tools, it speaks before we do.”— Christina McDowell, image consultant
The 1980s flick, Working Girl — starring Melanie Griffith as a hard working young woman trying to climb the corporate ladder and the high-powered executive, Sigourney Weaver, who is already there — captures the difficulties women face in the male-dominated business world.
In the film, the women dress in masculine suits, with shoulder pads and shirts buttoned up to the neck. Weaver tells Griffith if you want to be taken seriously in business, you have to dress the part.
While this statement still holds true today, the facets of corporate fashion have changed. Although most women have discarded the horrendous shoulder pads and opted for a more feminine approach, not everyone pays attention to their attire.
Just ask Christina McDowell, image consultant and national spokesperson at Holt Renfrew, who lectured at a private seminar, Dress For Success, in Toronto for female MBA students from Queen’s University recently.
“The power of image is very key to success, certainly in this competitive global market,” says a well put-together and approachable McDowell to the group. “(It) is one of our most important communication tools, it speaks before we do.”
Image refers to how we carry ourselves and is not to be confused with superficiality. “One of the things that I find very important is looking professional and polished at all times,” says McDowell.
“It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money…the idea is to open up your wardrobe, (to have) key Monday to Friday pieces that enable you to mix and match.”
McDowell suggests having “classically based” items, which include two to three suits, jackets, skirts and trousers in the classic colour palate of black, brown and grey, with accent colours of ivory and red.
“My three tenets are to keep your wardrobe strong, styled and simple. Strong means that there is impact, styled means to keep it very contemporary and simple meaning clean and tailored lines.”
She emphasizes women should not lose their personality or femininity. “We’re not trying to be clones of men, it’s just about being professional,” she says. This includes staying away from open-toed shoes, opting for skin-tone nylons, and wearing skirts to the knee.
A Bobbi Brown makeup session was also on the agenda for the MBA students and the session was led by counter manager and makeup artist, Natalie Pilgrim.
She suggests keeping the black liner for the evening and instead select darker shades of brown, navy and plum. “Be careful of colour choice,” she warns. “No bright colours; keep it natural and basic.” Light shimmer in eye shadows and glossy lips are welcome additions, just as long as they don’t have a lot of sparkle in them.
This was the first time the event ran for these MBA students who are in the fulltime, one-year program at Queen’s. They are part of an elite group of nine women in a class of 45 men. Larry Rosen, son of the refined clothier Harry Rosen, had previously addressed the entire class about corporate attire, but most of the tips were tailored to the male audience.
“Even though the women sat in on that, a lot of it wasn’t geared to us,” says MBA student and business consultant, Sarah Milton, who initiated the Holt’s event.
This Dress For Success event is now a tool these women can add to their resources to ensure success in management roles. Presenting yourself well is key. “This yields success because it speaks to your credibility,” McDowell says.
Although some companies have business casual days, she says it’s still important to be professional — a jacket with a skirt or trouser, not necessarily a formal suit.”
She notes that many companies have now returned to a corporate-formal dressing policy because “for a few years business casual just ran amuck.”