For most women, image is important. With few exceptions, nobody tries to leave home looking sloppy, inappropriate, or overdone. However, as you know if you’ve spent a little time people-watching in a public location, those efforts don’t always succeed. And there’s a good reason for it.
One of the many things I have learned as an image consultant is that it’s fairly easy to provide constructive feedback on another person’s look—but that task becomes much more complicated when you’re looking at yourself in the mirror. No one can look at themselves in a completely objective manner. We all have literal and metaphorical blind spots when it comes to our appearances and how we approach constructing an image in general.
I most often find that my clients are 80 or 90 percent “there” with their looks when we begin working together. After we focus in on correcting a few misconceptions and making specific improvements, these women (and men!) typically feel that their looks and self-confidence have been kicked up multiple notches.
When it comes to your image, knowledge really is power. Once you are aware of what might be keeping your look at “average” instead of “amazing,” you’ll be well on your way to smoothing out those wrinkles. Here are eight things that may be keeping you from maximizing your image potential:
*Your clothes don’t flatter your body type. Not all styles are created equal. What flatters a petite woman won’t have the same effect on a taller frame, for example, even if it makes the first woman look like a million bucks. It’s worth your time to research basic style parameters for your body type. Many fashion magazines and websites offer this type of advice—and a good friend or image consultant will definitely be able to help you zero in on what does and doesn’t work for you. I would also recommend that you get in the habit of regularly visiting a tailor. A well-tailored $100 jacket can look like a $600 jacket, for example—and vice versa.
*You focus too much on comfort. In a world of five-inch stilettos, scratchy fabrics, and constricting cuts, it’s no surprise that many women gravitate toward comfort when they’re off the clock. However, running errands looking like you’ve just rolled out of bed sends a clear message about you to other people—and it’s probably not the one you want them to receive. The truth is, a broken-in pair of jeans, fitted cotton tee-shirt, and soft leather loafers or ballet flats can feel just as nice as gym clothes, but look much more put-together.
There’s one current comfort-oriented trend that I want to highlight in particular: leggings. At a recent Giants football game, my husband and I were walking behind a woman whose leggings were so thin I could see through them—not a sight I wanted to encounter. And in general, I’ve observed more and more leggings on the streets. When worn with a longer top, tunic, or dress that covers “strategic” areas, leggings can look very nice—but too often, that isn’t the case. Please, don’t make the mistake of dressing as though leggings are pants! Your comfortable bottoms might be revealing more than you really want them to.
*You overaccessorize. Who doesn’t love a fabulous multi-strand necklace, sparkly chandelier earrings, or a brightly colored chunky bracelet? While the fashion world is full of great accessories, wearing too many of them at once can be overwhelming. Think of statement pieces as divas who don’t like to share the stage. Limit yourself to one standout accessory per outfit, and you’ll get more of the right kind of attention. Your goal is to be dazzling, not blinding.
*You’re too trendy. There’s nothing wrong with trying to stay in style, but when you’re too much of a slave to fashion, it’s easy to veer into unflattering territory. You can unwittingly put together ensembles that aren’t age-appropriate or that (again) don’t flatter your body type. Plus, if you switch styles every season, you can send others the message that you’re inconsistent and don’t have a firmly established sense of self. No matter what is being worn on the runways, strive to develop and express a personal sense of style that is strategically supplemented by trendy pieces.
*Your undergarments are making an unwanted appearance. The dreaded panty line. The errant bra strap. The not-so-mysterious back bulges. What makes these fashion faux-pas so insidious is that they emerge without our knowledge, often in hard-to-see spots on our bodies. And to make things worse, undergarments tend to draw others’ eyes like magnets. Here’s the solution: Suck it up and get help stocking your underwear drawer. Get fitted for bras. Ask sales associates and image consultants for professional opinions on what’s most likely to stay hidden while providing you with the shape and support you want. And if you don’t have a spouse or roommate around to give you an honest once-over before you leave the house, make sure to pause (and pose) in front of a full-length mirror.
*You stay neutral. The great thing about neutrals is that they’re easy. For that reason, some women pack their closets with blacks, grays, browns, beiges, whites, and other muted tones. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with neutrals, you don’t want to constantly wear camouflage that causes you to disappear into the urban jungle. Even a small pop, like a scarf, a handbag, a belt, or a piece of jewelry, can go a long way in making you more memorable. And finally, remember that there is a time and a place for neutrals. Nobody can deny the classic appeal of a “little black dress,” for example.
*You’re stuck on size. I’m a size X, you think, so that’s what you purchase. However, buying clothes based primarily on size is a rut in which you don’t want to get stuck. Whenever possible, try on pieces before buying them, and be honest about your body’s dimensions. Don’t walk around with a muffin top because your pride won’t let you go up a pant size…and on the flip side, don’t walk around in a tent because you’re so used to buying larges that you don’t even consider trying on a medium instead. Remember, others see only how you look in your clothes, not the sizes on their tags.
*You’re living in the past. I often work with women (and men, too) who think that they’re in style. And they would be—if it were five or ten years ago! Every once in a while, I recommend asking a trusted friend for a constructive critique on your look to make sure you haven’t fallen behind. Better yet, hire an image consultant who can suggest strategic pieces to buy that will help the rest of your closet transition gracefully into the 21st century.
No matter who you are, what your body type is, or what kinds of clothes you like to wear, I have one final piece of advice that I urge you to take to heart: A full-length mirror is a must-have accessory. If you don’t own one already, make the investment—and use it every day. Checking your head-to-toe reflection from several different angles can help you to avoid many fashion missteps. And when it comes to looking great, seeing really is believing. When you know your image is what you want it to be, you’ll feel more confident and positive all day long.