I often see seriously underdressed people walking around. I am not talking about seeing too much flesh (a woman on the tube the other day had a pleat in her cleavage!)
No, “underdressed” describes a woman in a purple jumper and a pair of black trousers, and apart from her shoes, that is it. No jewellery, scarf or bag to bring the two colours together. Boring hair and no noticeable make up. Or a man wearing old jeans and T-shirt he got from work. They don’t spend too much on clothes, buying their clothes in M&S, Primark or somewhere undemanding. They have made too many mistakes in the past, perhaps buying something they didn’t have the confidence to carry off. They don’t think clothes matter, and dress for comfort and ease.
Clothes do matter. They are the first thing others see when they meet us. Other people will make a judgement based on what you look like, even if you believe this is shallow or unfair. Wearing a nice outfit which enhances you will make you feel better, will make a good impression on others and will also be much more economical. We really don’t need to spend a lot of money on clothes. I think most of the money we spend is wasted as we don’t wear or enjoy our purchases (or makes, if you sew).
Here are three Chief Executives who are well dressed, in my view. I am wearing one of my Curvy Pencil skirts, a turquoise business shirt, flat but brightly coloured shoes and a blue belt. My jacket was the VW copy in teal with a big silver insect brooch. Nick Horne from Knightstone wears a grey blue suit, an open white shirt, trousers the right length and good glasses. He also has yellow socks! Sasha Deepwell, the Deputy CE at Wulvern wears a lovely red linen blouse and matching shoes with her conservative navy trousers. She had a beige jacket on that day, and a turquoise handbag.
I am amazed at the disconnect between the huge sums we spend annually (£21bn in the UK) on our clothes and the lack of any pleasure in viewing people on the streets. It looks to me like maybe one in 20 has actually thought about what they are wearing. And unfortunately half of these have got it a bit wrong, and its obvious, and that discourages the others from even trying.
Know what I mean? The overdressed will always have highly coloured hair. It will be set, or straightened to within an inch of its life. They will have a full face of make up, including lots of mascara or false eye lashes, lipstick and bronzer. A tight outfit, often black and invariably with some animal prints too. On the other hand they love colour and it might be red, or turquoise or purple that floats their boat. It will be matchy-matchy. They invariably wear high heels and shiny leg wear, and jewellery, and a handbag that probably cost more than many earn in a week. They like shopping at TK Maxx where they go for the “designer” item. I know this group are trying – but probably too hard.
What stops all of us getting it right is lack of confidence in dressing. And this is hard to acquire if you don’t have it. So here are some guidelines which might help. All the “models” in this post are people I just met in the street!
Wear some colour
When you see someone in something colourful it will catch your eye, in a sea of blacks and grey. I spotted this lady and asked to take her photograph. She has put two bright, contrasting colours together, added a silver necklace and red lipstick. She has chosen a white phone and a nice big silver ring.
I love to see a yellow cardigan or a pink coat! Or green, or light blue. These colours put people off because “black doesn’t show the dirt”, and this is true. But its not nice wearing a dirty coat even if it looks OK. However a neutral coat is just fine if when you take it off you have on something other than black, or another neutral. Why not wear a green or red dress to work? You will be washing your dress after every wear or two.
Avoid black unless you have black hair
Black does look great on people whose natural colouring is darker. As a rule of thumb it is a good neutral for people who have naturally black hair. But for most others it is just not nice. It washes us out and makes us look older and tireder than we really are. If you suit darker colours try darker browns, reds or blues. If you suit muted colours try the deeper blue greys. And even if you choose a black coat because it suits you try wearing some of your colours underneath.
This lady looked stunning with her black blouse with the collar turned up confidently, well-fitting grey linen trousers, paired with grey Converse shoes. She is also wearing earings, a silver bangle, natural hair and a neutral bag.
Enhance your natural beauty rather than fake it
This is an artist I met on Camberwell Green. She made the jacket and the sweet flower brooch she is wearing. Her glasses are a nice shape for her face and she has a leather handbag across her body. But I took the picture because I love natural hair. I love the shades in it. Jacqui’s hair has lots of different colours in it and it looks marvellous with her bright blue eyes and light pink jacket.
The variety of colours in natural hair means it looks shiny and lively rather than flat like coloured hair. I know because I coloured mine for about 40 years (I should have had shares in Clairol). I love naturally red hair. I love shiny Asian hair. I adore natural African hair and wish that more women celebrated it rather than straightening it with strong chemicals (I was influenced by Malcolm X). I love looking into people’s eyes and seeing so many colours. My own eyes have yellow in them as well as blue, grey and green! This is why seeing someone with coloured lenses is so shocking. Their eyes look flat. Fake tan, breasts, whitened teeth all look horrible at the extreme. In my opinion.
Wear make up
I didn’t wear make up until I was about 50. It made me itch, it rubbed off and I didn’t have the time. Now I find some products are so good that they will stay in place most of the day (I am talking about MAC). I usually manage to get some subtle eye make up on, and if I am trying, some lipstick too. As with the general advice – just a little to enhance you, to give a little definition to your features, but not so much that you look like you are wearing the colour card.
OK – a bowler hat is a bit of a statement, and could go into the “overdressed” category, but I felt worn with the vintage sunglasses and a modern, trimmed beard this looks just great. A nice blue, slim fitting suit (with just the top button done up), the dark tie to stop the hat looking too dark, with a toning pocket handkerchief.
Here is a list of accessories you might select from
- jewellery (brooch, earrings, necklace, bracelet, rings)
- good hair cut or neat facial hair
- hair ornament
- and for men – shoes, tie, pocket handkerchief, watch, cufflinks, wedding ring
For goodness sake don’t wear the lot (spectacle chain plus flower in your hair, anyone?) because you will look like a children’s activity centre. I just listed them to show you where you can add a little detail, to bring your outfit together.