How To Figure Out What To Wear To Work [Interview]
Today in my networking challenge I am interviewing Dr. Anna Akbari. Anna is the founder of Closet Catharsis, her fashion, and image consulting company. I am very excited to speak with her today, so thanks so much for being here, Anna.

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 do is help people 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 harness the power of aesthetics.

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

One of the things I do with my clients is I help them to go through their closets and 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  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 need or don’t actively contribute to creating again this cohesive look.

3) Why and how should we think when we are deciding 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 you demonstrate they can connect with you and 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 help you to be effective in whatever environment you’re stepping into.
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 being preoccupied with what we are wearing.

4) Do you recommend paying attention to 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.
When we think about how we can use fashion to our advantage, particularly in a professional environment. Looking polished matters! It’s not just a superficial formality, it sends a very particular message, and studies have recently proven that people who 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.

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 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 the great quality that 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 in 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 make it an entirely new outfit piece. It’s 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 a 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.

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

I work for all budgets. I’ve had some women who do well what stores like J. Crew. Others who are on 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 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 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 every day and then stick with that because it can 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 they are known for. Make when you pick what to wear, you choose something that has a little bit of originality to it and that 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 think outside the box. Don’t just think about disciplinary possibilities for living and working between the lines. It’s 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.

Thanks so much, Anna!

Hi, I'm Anna!

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