By Carrie Kerpen, CEO
I was about to jet off to Paris on a family vacation, but I had one last meeting to take. The meeting was with another agency CEO, who had recently sold her agency. She was now working for the holding company and looking at potential future acquisitions. I was dressed in my typical travel outfit—yoga pants with a hoodie, a messy ponytail, and little makeup—but since I had no intentions of being acquired, I didn’t particularly care how I looked. In fact, I generally didn’t have a problem with taking meetings in casual outfits. I’m the CEO of a successful agency—why should I feel any less confident because of what I’m wearing, right?
Oh, boy. I wish I could tell you I still believed that after the meeting.
The CEO strolled into the office, with clothes perfectly styled and hair perfectly coiffed. Her jewelry was bold and bright, and she wore a shade of lipstick that beautifully complemented her skin tone. Seeing this powerful woman looking so put-together, I instantly regretted not being more prepared. I looked shlumpy. I felt shlumpy. And I made a vow right then and there to never take another meeting in yoga pants and a ponytail.
What we wear shouldn’t affect how we feel at work. But the truth is, it does. I’ve talked before about one of the biggest disadvantages of women in the workplace, which is all the time it takes to look presentable, something men don’t have to worry about quite as much. This matters (a lot) because the reality is that our appearance not only affects how we’re perceived by others, but how we perceive ourselves. When we look confident, we’re more likely to feel confident.
I often wonder how other women choose what to wear, and how that affects how they feel in their jobs. So I asked the women from my podcast, “All the Social Ladies,” to answer my burning question: “What do you wear to work? And why?” I loved what they had to say.
Thea Neal, Social Media Leader at Hallmark Cards
“I make a sincere attempt at dressing like a grown-up. Going from agency to corporate life meant throwing out the t-shirts. The fit is so crucial. I gained a ton of confidence when I switched from Forever 21 blazers to structured J. Crew blazers. Every day I'm trying to mentally feel like I'm dressed to take over the world, even if I'm just updating Instagram.”
Michelle LeBlanc, Executive Director, Marketing at Pacific Communications Group
“How I dress at work depends on whether or not I am seeing clients. Today, I had an off-site client meeting in the morning, so I am wearing a Tahari dress with boots. I accessorized fully and wore a nice wool coat. Tomorrow, I am not seeing clients, so I will wear jeans, Converse, and a fleece jacket. I am a senior exec at a small agency. How I dress does not equate with how I feel in my role, only how I feel in my clothes. As a side note, I have stopped wearing makeup to work, including client meetings. I enjoy wearing makeup, but it is for my pleasure. I won't wear makeup simply because it is expected of me. I only wear makeup when I feel like it.”
Meredith Fineman, CEO of FinePoint
“I have always loved fashion, and I view what I choose to wear as armor for situations. When I have a big meeting or a big talk, I wear what makes me feel like me, what makes me feel chic and powerful. That rarely includes skirts or dresses, but usually well-cut blazers mixed with interesting footwear. When I’m nervous, I'll pick pieces that are more of a statement or loud, like a pair of black dress pants but with a slight drop-crotch or say a Prada creeper that doesn't necessarily read business but can be interpreted that way.”
Edlynne Laryea, Global Director, Social Media at Johnson & Johnson
“Given that I'm usually trying to convince people to change their thinking, I try and dress a little more contemporary with some trends tossed in. I have to look like I have my finger on the pulse. Looking younger than my age helps too. I'm not a millennial, but I play one on TV.”
Nicole D'Alonzo, CEO of 19 Minute Yoga
“I’m launching a yoga app, and am often in workout clothes, but it’s still important for me to show up to meetings dressed like a CEO. In my mind, it means pieces that fit–no awkward pulling and tugging–and statement pieces with a memorable style. When I was a corporate director, I often wore structured pieces, but now it’s more bohemian boss-style. So I’m confident leading a development meeting and comfortable enough to demonstrate a pose, as necessary.”
Brittany Hennessy, Director, Influencer Talent, Content Studio at Hearst
“I am a big fan of the uniform. Right now, since it's winter, it's jogger trousers (black, navy, gray, and green) and a silk shirt (cream, navy, or black) or a romper (black, navy, or gray). I always wear a very chic blazer and great shoes with a great bag. This makes it easy for me, as a working mom, to get dressed in the morning, while still always looking chic.”
Karen O'Brien, VP, Global Social Media, Brand and Engagement at Western Union
“As my career has progressed, I've found that dressing authentically has made me feel more confident and powerful. I naturally gravitate toward classic clothing and colors, but I invest in signature accessories that express my personality and femininity.”
Lynne Jarman-Johnson, CMO at Consumer's Credit Union
“We have awesome logo-wear, and love to show our brand with dressy black pants, a crisp white blouse, and unique, non-high-heeled boots or shoes. When speaking, I surprise myself and my audience with a skirt or a dress (a non-banker look). Bright colors or black and white both make me feel ready to innovate. I have a boatload of black pants and bold jackets.”
Despite all the variations in their responses, one thing is clear: It’s important to dress authentically at work. You need to wear what makes you feel like your best self. And that’s going to be different from woman to woman. What makes me feel confident might not make you feel confident. Heck, maybe you feel most powerful and put-together in yoga pants and a ponytail.
No matter what, dress like yourself.
Carrie Kerpen is the CEO of Likeable Media, a social media agency. She is passionate about social media, and connecting women in digital via her podcast, All The Social Ladies. Tweet her @carriekerpen.
This post originally appear on Forbes.