McleodstarDo clothes make the man? Or in this case, the woman?

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Lisa Earle McLeod: Can cool clothes make you more successful?

Published 10:30pm Tuesday, August 3, 2010

We can talk all day about how brains and work ethic are more important than looks and fashion. But humans are visual creatures by nature. Like it or not, we make instant assessments of people based on what they’re wearing.

It’s not just a chick thing.

Male wardrobes may be less complicated, but they’re no less relevant.

My father, who spent 40 years in banking says, “The people with the good suits are always the ones who get promoted.”

The question is, do they get promoted because they look like leaders? Or does looking like a power player inspire you to act like one?

It’s both.

Have you ever watched a young man try on his first real suit? There’s a moment when he sees himself in the mirror and he transforms before your very eyes.

He stands taller, he squares his shoulders and he juts his chin forward as he realizes that he looks strong and competent.

The same thing happens to women. I remember the first time I tried on a fancy black cocktail dress.

As I gazed at the grown-up-looking girl in the glass, it suddenly dawned on me that I might be pretty.

When I was a college senior, my grandmother offered to buy me an interview suit.

From the moment I slipped on the jacket, I felt smarter. As I stood in front of the mirror practicing my imaginary interview handshake, I thought, “Wow, that girl looks like she could actually get a job.”

It’s an odd paradox.

When you’re wearing the right clothes, it becomes less about the clothes and more about you. The clothes give you a visual jolt that awakens you to your own possibilities.

I had a recent experience that reminded me just how much clothes can matter. I spent an afternoon with a few stylists from Ann Taylor, and I have to say, I was shocked by the positive impact it had on my self-confidence.

As a professional speaker, I know that first impressions are important, so I’ve always paid some level of attention to my wardrobe.

However, as my life got busier (and my body got lumpier), looking decent had become yet another item on my seemingly endless to-do list. Good suit, check; brush teeth, check; back-up batteries, check.

I had forgotten that one of the people I was making an impression on was me.

When I put on one of their stylish, sleek suits and looked at myself in the dressing mirror, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t see an overworked woman who worries about her payroll, her business, her weight and her kids. I saw a confident person who could walk into a room and own it.

It was that magical moment in the mirror when you quit worrying about how you look and start thinking about what you can do. Ironic, isn’t it?

Not surprisingly, I bought several suits that day. The next week, I went on the road and had three of the most successful professional engagements of my entire career.

Coincidence? Probably not.

The image you see in the mirror matters. It’s not shallow to care about how you look; it’s smart. Because when you look better, you feel better, and when you feel better, you do better.

Cool clothes aren’t a substitute for competence, kindness, curiosity or compassion.

But sometimes it takes a killer suit to remind you just how fabulous you already are.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, columnist, keynote speaker and business consultant.

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