One of the most common questions I often get from my clients is how to look professional and stylish. A lot of professional women struggle to find the balance between style and professionalism and usually end up at one end of the spectrum – either going for dull and boring pieces or going completely off the rails with bright and audacious pieces. The challenge for most of these women is knowing how to combine different pieces of clothing to not only t look professional and put together, but also stylish, feminine and confident.

In this article, I have outlined 5 key factors to consider to achieve that balance between style and professionalism.

What is it to be professional?
Being professional simple means understanding your industry culture, standards and norms. What may be considered professional for one industry may not necessarily be viewed the same for another industry. In the corporate world, the most commonly accepted look is a business suit, and even this varies depending on the country for instance. So while you may not necessarily have to wear a suit all the time if you work in a corporate environment, neither would it be appropriate to wear a basic t-shirt and slacks. The most important element in being professional is connecting with your audience through the way you appear.

Understand the psychology of colour
We all have our favourite colour or colours because of what they represent to us and how they make us feel. We use colour to enhance our visual and aesthetic appearance and express who we are, how we feel, what we believe etc. Colour plays a major role in the image and subtle (or sometimes deliberate) messages that we convey to people. It is critical to creating attractiveness (or unattractiveness). Understanding the psychology of colour can help you understand what works best for you, what compliments your body type, skin tone, and also what is appropriate for a professional environment.

For example, while red might be your favourite colour because it evokes a sense of passion and excitement for you, wearing a red suit to the office may not be advisable as it can be seen as aggressive and hostile. A way to get around this is to incorporate toned-down shades of red into your work outfit in the form of accessories or a third piece.

Understanding colour psychology will also help you know what colours compliments your skin tone best. Light colours such as beige, white, grey etc on dark skin communicate a message of authority, but less approachable, whereas dark colours on dark skin tones give the impression of a casual but approachable persona.

Professional fit
The fit of your clothing is also very important. Fit equates to appropriateness – too tight a fit can come across as unprofessional, whereas baggy and ill-fitting clothes can also make you appear frumpy and incompetent. Showing more skin would also project less authority. To achieve a professional fit with your clothes, opt for outfits that are figure-flattering but not figure-focused. If you wear close-cut dresses, for instance, show less skin.

A great fit is the detail that makes the difference between looking good and looking great

4. Requirements for a good fit

Smooth-fitting with few wrinkles. If there are crosswise or have wrinkles, it usually means the garment is too tight.​
Allows for movement when reaching forward to open a door​.
The garment should be easy and comfortable. Don’t wear any garment that you constantly keep tugging at it.​
If it doesn’t fit, it wouldn’t fit: the most common mistake is buying clothing that is too tight.​
Neck: the neck needs to fit closely if the design of the garment indicates that it is supposed to.​
Wrist on blouse: the wrist needs to fit closely It must not gap.
5. Critical checkpoints to consider when purchasing clothing​

The following fit-points are critical because they cannot be altered. If the garment doesn’t fit, you should not buy it.​

The shoulder needs to be wide enough for your shoulders. It cannot pull. You can take the shoulders in a bit, but you can’t let them out.​
The waist of the garment needs to fit at your waist. Every garment has an optical waist even if it is not apparent, check to see where the pockets lie they should be below your waist.​
The garment hip line needs to be at your hip. You can increase and decrease the width of a garment, but you cannot add or subtract inches in the length of the body of the garment.
The saying “less is more” can be applied when it comes to creating the perfect office-chic look. Being stylish doesn’t have to mean six-inch heels and a faux fur jacket draped across your shoulders. On the other hand, being professional doesn’t also have to mean boring grey or black suits all the time.

In the workplace, a sloppy or poorly fitting garment communicates a lack of attention to detail, the possibility of a sloppy mind and even a lazy worker. Loosely fitted clothes give the impression that you are sloppy, and disinterested or appear to be wearing someone else’s clothes. ​ On the other hand, extremely tight clothes communicate that you are up-tight or that you are not aware of your body size or that perhaps you are very much aware of your body and you want others to notice it before they experience you. ​

Also, when your outfit is too long, it can make you appear dowdy and if too short, that sends a wrong message of being skimpy, stingy and out of touch.

The key once again is mastering that balance between style and professionalism

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