How to Create Personal Power in the Workplace


 Sarah Greenberg: “I have a ‘’blazer on the door’ theory, meaning that you just never know when you’re going to be pulled into a meeting with a CEO or a filmmaker. Even if I’m wearing jeans, I have a blazer on the back door in my office and a pair of heels under my desk, and I’m always going to be dressed appropriately.”   Co-President of Theatrical Marketing for Lionsgate Films.

Have you ever considered the power of the collar?  Many women feel that they don’t have the power or authority at work that they’d like, and because their workplace is ‘business casual’ then the wearing of suits is out of place.Did you know that we give people in collars more respect than those without?   This is why the polo shirt has become such a staple in men’s business casual wardrobes, as even though it is a relaxed and casual garment, it still has a collar.  But as a woman, polo shirts are not usually a great garment, so how can you up the power of your business casual wardrobe by adding in a collar, without looking over-dressed?

If you want to reduce your personal power in the workplace, show lots of skin, shoulders, arms, decolletage, stomach, legs, feet.  Why?  Skin is exciting!  The more skin you show, the more exciting you become, but you also become distracting.  I’ve either had or overhead conversations with co-workers over the years about women (and men) in their office who are showing lots of skin, and that’s all they can talk about or think about, rather than the job at hand.  If you’re going out on the prowl, you’re more likely to show a bit of skin, but as the workplace is not your prowling ground (or shouldn’t be), then skin is not appropriate.

In a recent Shop til You Drop magazine, there was an article/fashion spread on wearing shorts to work, saying that shorts are fine in the workplace.  Well, probably in a mostly female dominated fashion magazine latest fashion is mandatory environment, shorts may be fine in the workplace, but certainly in the IT business and publishing companies, and retail environments I’ve worked in, shorts are definitely not OK in the workplace, not for the women or men to wear.  Too much skin, too exciting, focus not on work.

Graphic t-shirts, bare shoulders, lots of legs, almost bare feet, any garment that is tied with a bow (makes you look like you want to be unwrapped like a gift).  These are not going to increase your power and authority in the workplace.   Fun as they might be, does the word ‘business‘ spring to mind when you look at them?  If it does, I’m guessing that you don’t work in any of the offices I’ve ever worked in!

So how do you increase your power?
Increase your Personal Power

Toss a jacket over the top of your t-shirt, it doesn’t have to be a classic formal jacket, but that collar and extra structure will increase your authority.

Even a cardigan that is constructed more like a jacket and has a collar will work.

Don’t show off your shoulders, look for tops and dresses with some sleeve.

Add a collar to your shirts to up their power.

Cover your toes, heels or feet (why do you think foot fetishes exist if feet aren’t sexy?).

You don’t suddenly have to wear a ‘power suit’, but even these small adjustments to your wardrobe will tell the world that you are serious about business and your work, and they just may help you get a pay rise or promotion (believe me, I’ve worked with clients who were not promoted because they were showing too much skin for the office, it matters).


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  • You hit the nail on the head. I haven't worked in an office in years, but I can totally relate and completely agree. And I would also suggest your points are true in any other situation where women want to be taken seriously.

  • Great topic!

    I work in a casual office, and I agree with your advice completely. Took a while to see things this way, so I am glad to have this view confirmed and solidified.

    Tall & slim anon.

  • Huh. Who knew that the collar held so much power?

    I agree that showing a lot of skin can be distracting, but can't abide wearing closed shoes year-round. In a more formal, corporate environment I can totally see it … but in my laid-back office? No one cares, and everyone shoes toes – even my boss, a woman who just turned 60!

  • I agree with all your points, even though I wear sandals that show a fair amount of skin (vs peeptoe shoes that just show a little).

    I blame my casual city! I mean I am one of the few non-lawyers who will wear closed-toe shoes with hose when I work in a "business not-too-casual" environment. But in the more casual places just wearing a skirt is seen as uber-formal, so out come the sandals.

  • I think it's not so much the collar itself as the kind of fabric and cut normally used for collared tops. A polo made out of towel-like material is worse than a crisp t-shirt!

  • You are so right! At my old company (before I quit when the babies were born) there was a small group of people wandering around in fuzzy slippers and blankets they'd brought from home in winter, and rubber flip-flops and cut-off denim shorts in summer. Needless to say, I never transferred one of these people to my team. And HR was always afraid of enforcing the dress code for fear of "offending" people. It drove me insane. THEY were the ones being offensive and disrespectful. Not the dress code or the rest of the employees who wanted to come to a nice workplace, not a bar or sleep over.

  • What surprises me (in a large, urban North American city) is how many young women are adamant about how casually they *can* dress at work. They look like an 18 year olds with generous allowances.

    Then I sit in the boardroom with the CEO who is wearing a crisp Thomas Pink shirt under a very tailored gray jumper. Opaque dark stockings and heels. She interviews the women in the $130 hip tee shirts and cute jeans. And she hires a man or woman wearing a suit (or at least a jacket) for the promotion they expected.

  • I work in a casual office in Byron Bay (a beachside resort town for those who don't know). I wear covered shoes and don't show skin at work. I know that people coming into the building are often in thongs, boardies and very often no shirt, but I can't bring myself to do it. I probably overdress for a small town, but I'm not going to change. Living in a small community means that you see the same people at work and at play. I like to differentiate between the two.

  • I absolutely agree, Imogen. This is an important topic because being taken seriously is one the biggest challenges for women – by men, other women, AND especially themselves. We sabotage far too often by showing skin. When I see it, I think "bad judgment".
    Certain industries forgive it, but health care, finance, food, no way.
    I wonder too if we've come past the time when boring suits seem just boring. It's fine to use colour creatively, just tastefully. And it need not be a suit. A softly structured jacket can have enough menswear tailoring to look business.
    I also agree with Carol who says she dresses for work even if she's overdressed. People notice and react instantly. The subliminal message is "take me seriously". It's a sign that you respect the work you do, just as dressing for a meal as a guest is a sign of respect for the company and the food.
    Clients should be able to tell which is the person working.

  • I freely admit, if something significant is going on at work, I'm likely to reach for a jacket. But as you say, it doesn't have to be half of a suit – I'm feeling good at the moment in cord and even denim. They're just a bit more structured than my comfy cardis.

  • Great advice! I can't believe the women I see in our office who look as if they're dressed more for a night of clubbing than a day at the office.

  • More great ideas! One caveat – in Los Angeles, and probably in other Southern cities, sandals are pretty much de rigeur most of the year.

    OTOH – often I meet with clients (male) who wear all kinds of juvenile fashions, including man-pris, shower shoes, jeans (that's dressed up!) and those currently trendy tight plaid cowboy-cut shirts with pearl snap pockets and the sleeves rolled up.

    A casual wardrobe with a few "power casual" accessories like these would be just the thing – I think skirt suits might intimidate such clients.

  • Why is it that women really have to wear a collar and a jacket to give the impression that they mean business? A blazer/jacket is like an uniform, comparable to the suit of a man. Could there be a something-in the -between dressing for women? Showing lots of bare skin does not look nice for work, I agree.

  • So if I bought an Elizabethan neck ruff would that work? 🙂 I'm an H shape with a short neck, narrow shoulders, and a large bustline–I don't wear most collars at all, although a traditional dress shirt opened a little further down than usual *sometimes* works.

  • Though I'm resisting, I have to admit that you're probably right about the collars. I know I feel more dressed up in a shirt with a collar. And, at a certain age, you want to draw attention to your face, which a collar does.

  • i love this post! i am a graduate student always struggling to strike a balance between looking like my students (too casual) and looking like my professors (most of whom are men). these ideas are really helpful. thank you!

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