The other day I spoke about mistakes that I’ve seen made in interview situations. It was a really popular post, and a good friend of mine spoke to me about it at length.

It turns out his wife is Jenny Bersin, an acclaimed style consultant. Now I know what you are thinking – I’m not coming over all ‘Trinny and Suzanna’ on you here. And in fact, Jenny’s advice is nothing like what we have learned to expect from trashy TV shows.

In fact, I was so impressed by what she had to say, I asked her write a guest post for me, and this is the result  Its a fascinating area so enjoy, and check out Jenny’s website here.

Be Aware of what you wear

Because I do what I do I am never sure whether to be glad or sad when yet another style gaffe hits media attention. The recent acting Director General of the BBC was pilloried because he appeared in his new role without a tie.

Why? Barack Obama appears without a tie, David Cameron appears without a tie. If American Presidents and British Prime Ministers can do it why can’t Tim Davie?

English: US President Barack Obama and British...

English: US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron trade bottles of beer to settle a bet they made on the U.S. vs. England World Cup Soccer game (which ended in a tie), during a bilateral meeting at the G20 Summit in Toronto, Canada, Saturday, June 26, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because …  he needs to be thinking about when , why, where and how.

Turning up on the first day to a job that is under deep scrutiny looking as though he may not be serious of purpose was a mistake. The last Director General had left the position fast and under a cloud. A stalwart British Institution whose essence is credibility and integrity was crumbling.

What was needed was to see someone taking control, providing leadership, structure and gravitas.

What the public saw was someone unstructured, relaxed and nonchalant. This is how he appeared to be approaching his new role.

Not to wear a tie is not a sin. Nor does it necessarily signal someone incapable of precision and incisive change. Unfortunately, this is exactly what it did shout at this crucial time.

Leave the tie off once you are succeeding. Until then leave it on. Show everyone that  you are approaching the job with what is required.

So much was said by Mr Davie’s choosing not to wear a tie. The message was not what his watchers wanted to see. His success, or otherwise, was sealed in just three seconds!

Tim Davie, Director of Audio & Music, BBC

Tim Davie, (Photo credit: Steve Bowbrick)

Tim Davie made his difficult task impossible by teasing rather than pleasing with his appearance. I am sure Tony Hall will be thinking much more clearly about his appearance as the new Director General.

Lord Hall will be suited and booted to perfection. He will ooze discretion, intelligence, leadership … we will see that he can do the job and do it excellently. If ever he does choose to appear at work without a tie, we will trust this more relaxed approach; he will already have established his credibility.


So what makes me glad about the furore?

Simply, it substantiates what I do. As a Style & Image Consultant it is my job to show clients how the appearance they choose says very clearly who they are, and the more clearly their style speaks, the more effective the communication.

This is not about hard and fast formulas. I give clients the facts and the clients choose how they will use them.

Rules are not important. What is important is that we have sufficient knowledge to create an appearance that works for ourselves, our colleagues and clients.

Knowing the facts. The how … the why …  The where … puts us into a position of strength. We are on the front foot, poised and ready to succeed.

Not knowing the rules puts us on the back foot. If we do not know what we can’t do, we can’t know what we can do.


Sad because a media style furore often re-enforces a misperception of what a good Style Consultant does. Which, believe me, has nothing to do with haranguing clients into following mindless rules that have little bearing on their personal or professional success.

This is not always the case. I have heard chilling tales; a group of women graduate trainees told at a large corporation that if they wear trousers at work they will not be taken seriously.

I have heard too that you should never wear costume jewellery at work; always wear a dark neutral colour; suit and boot; never wear leather except for shoes, gloves, bags, briefcases; never wear shoes, gloves, bags, briefcases that are synthetic. It is the very endlessness of this list that makes it so unhelpful, especially if you want to present yourself as a thinking, intelligent and successful individual.

 How I can help  

My job is to work with clients in developing their own understanding, and ability to succeed, in what I call the “doughnut effect”….. Dress … Demeanour .. Deeds.

Just as you cannot eat a doughnut without licking your lips, you cannot think of anyone you know, alive or dead, without instantly visualising their dress, their demeanour and their deeds.

Try it

Boris Johnson. What image forms in your mind’s eye?

Boris Johnson Texting

Boris Johnson Texting (Photo credit: Annie Mole)

Do you see him standing naked and motionless?

Or do you see a dishevelled suit? A mop of wild hair? A loose-limbed puppy dog gait? Swinging down a zip wire or waving his arms at the Conservative Party podium?

Whoever you draw to mind will appear complete with their style of dress and how they wear it, their movement and gestures, the way they respond, the speed and pitch of their voice.

At the Conservative Party conference Boris Johnson shone for many whilst David Cameron disappointed as lacklustre. But in a following poll asking if Boris would make a good Prime Minister the resounding answer was “No.”

Why? Because Boris presents as a wild card; his dress, demeanour and deeds say so. Fun to watch,  amusing, intelligent, quirky but …

David Cameron is the safe hand; he appears reliable, honest and solid – a safer bet to lead the country.

So, some thoughts on being aware about what you wear :


  • Instant assumption. Within the first 3 seconds of meeting, before we even speak, we form an indelible impression. The next 90 seconds are spent trying to confirm that first impression. Important. You never know when you may run into a potential client, future employer, the love of your life, your new boss.
  • State of mind. What you wear affects how you think. It is powerful and instantly effective. Dress like a professional and you are more likely to behave like a professional. Exam takers who dress-up for an exam perform better. Feeling unwell can be helped by dressing-up too. Dress as though you are good at what you do.
  • Self-discipline. Dressing professionally creates self-discipline because it requires planning and preparation, anticipating the requirements of the day ahead and deliberately seeking to meet the challenges envisaged. Look at the difference in behaviour between sharp dressed soldiers and  ragtag militia.
  • Self approbation. Being consistently neat, tidy and professional requires time. This is good for you and good for those you meet; they will recognize that effort and believe you have excellent organisational skills to have time in your day to be well groomed.


  • Create credibility. The power of the visual. Studies show that visual clues can be 3 to 5 times as powerful as audio cues. Not surprising. Up to 90% of each of us is covered by clothes. Choosing wisely will create the look of credibility and get you better attention in restaurants, shops …where ever you go.
  • Easy & effective communication. Make sure that what you wear says what you want it to say. What you are wearing is doing the talking for you in the first 3 seconds of meeting. Giving clear clues about what and who you are makes it easier for those you meet to make correct assumptions about you. If they don’t like what they see they may not stay around long enough to find what an effective, professional, intelligent person you are, and how good you are at your job.
  • Hard-wiring. Human beings are hard-wired to mix with the healthy; the prime survivors. Choosing your correct colour, cut and cloth will make you look youthful, healthy and well proportioned. A prime survivor.
  • Authority and influence. Choose your “uniforms” at work to say what you want to say. Make it easy for those around you to recognise who is in charge, has gravitas, commands attention, can be trusted and shared with. If you are a man a suit or well cut jacket works wonders. It is designed to highlight a man’s strengths. If you are a woman you don’t have to wear a suit to look businesslike.
  • Positive v. negative assumptions. Well dressed people get better results because they are perceived more positively and seen as good ambassadors for their organisation. And in an economic downturn, who do you think is most likely to keep their job – the technician who dresses well and can be out in front of a client or the technician who dresses poorly and is kept out of sight? Small details have big results.

Jenny Bersin of Jenny B Style and Image Consultancy, and author of Style, the Road to Freedom

Perfecting Personal Effectiveness, Dressing for Success, Addressing Dressing and The Art of Fiscal Attraction are just a few of the subjects covered in Jenny’s talks, workshops, small group and one to one consultations. To find out more contact Jenny on 01661 844190, e-mail [email protected]; or visit

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10 replies
  1. Lianne O'Brian
    Lianne O'Brian says:

    Love this post and very much agree with it. Many people really underestimate the visual impact we have which can often distract or detract from our skills and strengths. As a shoe obsessive and the owner of a shoe business, I do also notice everyone’s shoes and can’t stress enough the importance of them too!

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thanks Lianne! Nice to see you back here 🙂
      Its not a perfect world is it, and while it shouldn’t really be the case, its clear that your right about hte distraction effect if yo dont get the appearance nailed down.
      At least, given Jenny’s advice its not just about a suit and tie at least
      I must say I have to agree on the importance of shoes (ahem!)

  2. Jenny Bersin
    Jenny Bersin says:

    Shoes – the exclamation mark of an outfit … and they don’t care whether you have eaten too much turkey or no!

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Ah I see… Hey, don’t worry, it wasn’t a criticism! Do you know what, I have trouble with the WordPress one on some comments systems too. You’d think it would be OK on a WordPress blog though?!

    • Jenny Bersin
      Jenny Bersin says:

      Another thought, Lianne, which I often show for real in presentations – that a pair of shoes can turn an ordinary outfit into the extra-ordinary. But then, you know taht already!

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