Networking Interview #26: How To Figure Out What To Wear To Work

Networking Interview #26: How To Figure Out What To Wear To Work

Today in my networking challenge I am interviewing Dr. Anna Akbari.  Anna is the founder of Closet Catharsis, her fashion and image consulting company, And I am very excited to speak with her today, so thanks so much for being here Anna.

In case you are reading this at work and can’t watch the video, you can read all of the great advice below instead!

1) What is closet catharsis?

Closet Catharsis is my wardrobe and image consulting company.  I like to brand myself as the thinking person’s stylist. What I try to do is help people to go  become more conscious of the way their self-presenting and use that to empower them in many different contexts. I also founded an email newsletter and website that offers smart commentary on image related issues. We focus specifically on topics relating to fashion, body and culture. It’s really about helping people become aware of the social significance of visual self presentation and help them rethink who they are and who they want to become so they can really harness the power of aesthetics.

2) What are some starting steps that you would recommend for people as they became more conscious?

One of the things I do with my clients is I help them to go through their closets and really identify the things that aren’t serving them and get rid of them.  Most people wear less than 10% of what’s in their closet. From there, I help them to make a list and that list identifies foundational pieces that would help them create a more cohesive wardrobe so that they don’t have that sort of I have nothing to wear syndrome.  Then they know when they go shopping, either with me or on their own, what they’re looking for so they’re able to stay very focused and not spend money on things that they don’t really need or don’t actively contribute to creating again this cohesive look.

3) Why and how should we think when we decide what to wear?

A couple of factors but the most significant one is your audience. Who’s your audience? What do they look like? What do they think like? How can you tweak what you’re wearing so that you’re going to make them feel your presence and demonstrate that they can connect with you so that you have something in common. It doesn’t mean that you drastically alter your self presentation in a dishonest way but just being aware of what the expectations and what the social norms are will really help you to be effective in whatever environment that you’re stepping in to. One of the other things that it does is help you to be comfortable. We always talk about being comfortable physically in what we wear but I think too often we don’t talk enough about being mentally comfortable and not having preoccupied or fidgeting in the way we are self presenting so that is also a really key factor in putting yourself together. Being very aware of what type of fit is most flattering on you and having things tweaked and tailored so that it is most flattering.

4) Do you recommend someone else’s opinion?

Some people have a friend, some people hire people like me to converse with them. This is a check-in point. Too often, people ask the wrong individual for assistance. People that are going to say “Oh that’s great” or they might not be thinking about your look.  So be very careful who you’re asking advice from. It can be quite problematic if you’re asking the wrong person. Really try to imagine yourself in a particular environment prior to going in.  Do your homework and be aware of  the visual norms.

When we think about how we can use fashion to our advantage, particularly in a professional environment, any opportunities build confidence. Also to demonstrate competence is really important. Looking polished matters! It’s not just a superficial formality, it actually sends a very particular message and studies have recently proven that people that demonstrate a polished appearance are most highly rated with regards to their competence.

It doesn’t mean that you have to look perfect all the time but there should be a certain self-awareness. One of the ways that people can simplify outfits for themselves is really in the finding the pieces that work for them. You spend a little extra money and buy quality classic pieces that are going to last a long time and then you always feel confident. For someone that might be a great dress that they know they can throw on. Its sharp, its polished so have different pieces that are in working order and ready to go. Small tactics like that can help you not be so overwhelmed every morning.

5) How can we save money revamping our wardrobes?

Many people don’t wear most of the things that are lurking in their closets. Sometimes that’s good and some of those pieces should be eliminated but there are a lot of pieces that could be re-introduced and mixed with a few newly purchased items. Think about how you can re-work the items that already exist in your closet and pair them with in new ways. One of the things that I have my clients do is look at the pieces that are great quality that generally look good that are still somewhat current.  I will often take them in to have them tailored just to update them slightly or to refine the fit just a bit and that can make a world of difference. I regularly do that to my items on my own closet. Every year I go through and there are few things that I haven’t been wearing and I realized that if I just change one or two things it would feel very fresh and up-to-date. Another easy way to do that, let’s say you have a coat, maybe you purchase a new button and have those sewed on that can be done for less than $20. It can really make it an entirely new outfit piece. Its not so much about how you revamp it but how you can affordably keep your closet intact and not always have to buy new pieces and that’s to take care of your items.

One of the primary ways that I encourage people to care for their items before they need to care for them or before they think they need to care for them is with their shoes. I suggest you take all of your shoes immediately when you purchase them and have sole put on them, a little rubber sole, even if before you’ve worn them. What it does is that it allows you to keep wearing your shoes or otherwise, especially with heels, once that one part has worn away your shoes are done, there’s no repair. So, you need to do it right away, take them there, and then when your soles wear up you can put new ones on. Shoes are expensive and that’s a nice way of maintaining a really key wardrobe piece for very very long time.

I also talk to my clients and get an idea of their preferences. The way they get dressed. What are they comfortable in? I get the feel of their current pattern and their frustrations and what their goals are, professionally, personally, etc. From there, when I have some sort of a mental picture of how they operate then I have them go category by category. We move category by category and really talk about what’s working for them there and what isn’t. What are some personal tips that they should keep in mind when they’re getting dress and what are some key items that are missing from that category. How would that blend in some of the other categories? Then from there, we plan for a shopping trip.

6) Do you have some top stores you recommend for working ladies?

I work for all budgets. I’ve had some women who do really well what stores like J. Crew. Others who are in a tighter budget we go to Zara and find great things or Ebay. Depending on what your budget is, there are a lot of different outlets that you can really explore and find great pieces at. Personally I am a fan of small local boutiques. For some foundational pieces, like jeans, tank tops, etc., there are a lot of bigger brands that do it well and so its OK to invest in those. But then you want more special pieces or some accessories I really suggest that you look at your local boutique and find pieces that will help to differentiate you. Some that can also allow you to use fashion to distinguish yourself and create a little visual flair and I think boutiques are the best for that.

7) How can we use fashion as an asset to navigate challenges in our careers?

It really is about creating a sort of self-awareness and understanding how you’re being perceived. Creating a plan for yourself whether its OK, I know this works for me and this is my best way to look polished everyday and then stick with that because it can really convey confidence and competence. Whether its going to boutiques or whether its statement jewelry or whatever your outlet is to find a way to differentiate yourself. Find a way to stick out from the masses. Everyone has their own thing; some people might be shoes or beautifully tailored blazers. Everyone has something that that they are known for. Make sure there’s something that has a little bit of originality to it and that really resonates in the workplace. Obviously, you have to be careful of not going over the top.

8) What do you wish you would have known as a young professional woman just starting out in her career?

I work with a lot of young women that are starting out in their career. I am also a professor and am very involved with the college network. One of the things that I always tell them is to really think outside the box. Don’t just think about disciplinary possibilities for living and working between the lines. Its OK to go outside the line. I also encourage them to live and work fluidly with that. Moving between different peers, having different conversations. Going broad like that but also creating a niche area for yourself simultaneously is really important. Making and nurturing connections is also very important. Sometimes young women don’t understand the power of connections and the way that they can really branch off to many opportunities and friendships.

7) Where can people find out more about you online?

They can start at Annaakbari.com. They can also follow me on twitter @annaakbari. You can also sign up for my tips and thought pieces at Sociology of Style or visit ClosetCatharsis.com and inquire about my wardrobe and image consulting services there.

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About Anna Runyan

Hi! I’m known as the leading authority on getting women unstuck out of careers they hate. For the last 5 years I’ve been helping clients transition into careers they love. I have worked behind the scenes helping hundreds of professional women find fulfilling, challenging and purposeful careers. Make sure you sign up for my Free ‘CHEAT SHEET’
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Comments

  1. WM says:

    Great interview! This is SO true what she is speaking about, I recently started trying to wear more of my clothes and put them together differently (after my husband commented that I routinely wear the same 10 items). Recently I had a coworker comment that I “must have gotten a raise” because I have a fancy new fall wardrobe! Regardless of her inappropriate comment, I took it as a compliment. I have not gotten a raise, and I haven’t even bought a new piece in over 3 months! I am simply making old things new again! If it gives off the impression that I am doing well enough professional to garner a raise big enough for a whole new wardrobe… I’ll take it!

  2. Chrissy says:

    Great interview! Has helped me to change the way I think of my wardrobe and how I approach deciding on what to wear. What really spoke to me was the advice on thinking of your audience and what they look like and think like. This is very true in my work in high-end sales where image is so important and where the customers are usually dressed to the 9′s. It’s important to match the level of dress of the customers. A professional, refined and classy appearance is key in my business so nothing trendy or cutesy. This means sucking it up and always wearing pantyhose with skirts and dresses and always wearing high heels even with pants. In addition – at least for me – this also means perfect hair, makeup and gorgeous looking nails because my hands are seen throughout the day and I tend to talk with my hands. I think nice looking hands and nails are probably one of the most over-looked aspects of our overall appearance. Thanks for the great interview!

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