It’s easy to write off image management as a superficial endeavour.
After all, is there a better example of style over substance than judging someone based on appearance?
Even as a certified Visual Branding Consultant, I relate to this viewpoint. I agree that expertise, experience and work quality should be the characteristics upon which we are evaluated in the workplace. I can’t argue that integrity, intelligence and kindness, not our fashion sense, should be the qualities for which we are evaluated socially.
I pride myself on not being swayed by style over substance, so why have I gravitated to the image industry?
It’s because I know that a working image empowers people and affords them more opportunities to put their substance to good use. An ineffectual image subjects people to oppressive social biases and holds them back from contributing all they have to offer.
In my industry, “image” isn’t just about clothing, it’s about the total impression our physical presence makes on others. This includes our overall appearance, posture, body language and presentation skills. It’s all the things people assume about you, rightly or wrongly, just by looking at you. These assumptions are always at play to reinforce, or sabotage, the actual expertise and attributes you have to offer.
Evidence supports the fact that appearance is important in the workplace. This is not a matter of beauty; it’s about sophistication and poise. Developing a working look is achievable for people of all shapes, sizes, ages and genetic attributes.
Given that the way we appear to others is largely within our control, why choose to send messages about ourselves that are inaccurate or uncomplimentary?
We live in an appearance-sensitive world. By extension, our ability to reflect a suitable image reflects on our cultural intelligence, social skills and situational awareness. While style is never a substitute for skills, a career appropriate image demonstrates that we are socially aware, adaptable, competent and ready to work.