Written by Nadine McDonald, Consultant Rubik3

International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8th, 2021 with the theme #ChooseToChallenge. I was fortunate enough to attend several events in Canberra throughout the week with my work. Given the recent events around sexual harassment and assault in Parliament House, many of the conversations were focused on this distressing but vitally important topic.

I was surprised that what struck me most at these events was a seminar given by stylist Rosie McKay who argued that Fashion is not Ficial and that first impressions do matter. As a young female professional working as a Consultant, how I present myself professionally matters as I have experienced firsthand that first impressions can make a lasting impact (no matter how many people say they don’t – it is an unfortunate fact of life). As I prepare for work each morning, and depending on my assignments for that day, I spend time and effort putting thought into what I will wear to increase my confidence and to create my “personal brand”. On occasion I find myself dressing to make myself look older than I really am, particularly if I am meeting with a more senior client. It only occurred to me that I do this when I was explaining it to a male colleague recently. Fashion is a tool you use to create an image in the mind of others in social interactions, and this in turn makes you feel a certain way, whether that be older, more mature, confident, intelligent!

Science says, you are what you wear and what you wear has an impact on how you feel about yourself. In the literature this is referred to as “enclothed cognition”, which is the effect that clothing has on a person’s mental processes, on the way they think and feel, and to a degree how they behave. For example, relating back to my earlier point on confidence and how this facilitates my meetings with others. Further, research indicates that first impressions matter and science (well the science of psychology anyway) suggests that our cognitive biases automatically kick in, in situations of uncertainty, such as when we are meeting a person for the first time.

I chose outfits to make me look older in the hope that a senior client I am meeting with will take me more seriously as opposed to viewing me as an “inexperienced young girl”. However, this can create a “false” image of myself as I am possibly dressing to be someone who I am not. Thus, a balance needs to be struck between creating a desirable image so as to be taken seriously, whilst ensuring that my personality aka “me” still comes through. Surprisingly, this trend occurs amongst most of my young female colleagues, though it is more prevalent when we are required to meet with older male clients – as the scholar Sara Ahmed writes “it’s not all men, but some men – white men” as she writes in her blog post titled “White Men”.

So how can we use fashion to make us feel confident? All hail the “power suit”, the outfit you wear to suit the role you’re playing, which in my case is an outfit that makes me feel powerful and in charge. It is said when wearing a power outfit, you will find yourself even holding yourself a little differently, this is because when we put an outfit on, we are adopting the characteristics associated with it. 2020, the year of Covid-19 saw many of us working from home and how easy it was to laze around working in our PJ’s all day or activewear. Did we get a little too comfortable during this time and lose confidence in our interpersonal skills when in face-to-face meetings (we know you were still wearing your pyjama pants and slippers with a business shirt thrown on top). This is where a power outfit is your saviour, or even a “power shoulder” as Rosie says, to really boost your confidence in virtual meetings. So, dress to suit the role you’re playing and leave the pyjamas to the bedroom and activewear for the gym.

Fashion is Ficial
Nadine McDonald

Stylist Rosie McKay also mentioned the importance of colours and how you can use these to facilitate your “role”. Wearing neutral colours on days we are feeling all over the place, we might be stressed about an upcoming deadline, will bring a degree of calm. On days where we might be feeling a little down and need a pick me up, opting for bright colours can help lift our mood. Funnily enough, on the day of the event I was wearing a bright green (loud) shirt. Can anyone guess how I was feeling on that day? I could go on about fashion forever or provide endless tips and tricks, but I will conclude with this, fashion is not Ficial, first impressions matter – its science.

My advice – put your power suit on and go be the boss lady you are.