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Women@Work Series: So What Exactly is Professional Dress? (Part 2)

Last week we explored answers to the important question: What constitutes a professional image for women in the workplace? Today we bring this topic to a close examining other aspects that contribute to a polished professional look for any workplace.

Too much or too little makeup
According to recent studies conducted in the UK, it is a fact that women who wear makeup in business generally get better jobs, get promoted more quickly and get paid more. In fact, in a survey, 64 per cent of directors said that women who wore make-up look more professional and 18 per cent of directors said that women who do not wear make-up “look like they can’t be bothered to make an effort.”

Why the preference for women who wear makeup? Perhaps it is because we live in a very visual world and we get judged on appearances. Tread cautiously when it comes to the volume of makeup you decide to apply. Often, if you wear too much makeup you won’t be taken seriously. You don’t need to wear a lot – some-light powder, mascara and lipstick are considered the go-to items to make it through the workday. If you have more than ten items in your daily beauty regimen, you should probably tone things down. Try using only mascara, powder or a light foundation, and blush. You might be surprised at the results!

The true purpose of makeup is really to augment your features, not hide behind as a mask. If you really hate the idea of makeup, most image consultants will tell you to try using just one product, especially lipstick. Lipstick is proven to make a big impact and give the appearance that you’re wearing more. Just make sure you bring a trusted friend or enlist the help of a makeup counter expert before picking a colour if you don’t have much experience. Allow me end with this word of caution: applying makeup at your work desk or in public spaces is considered highly unprofessional. In addition to being annoying to watch, some view this as a sign of unpreparedness. So, make sure you are in a private space before applying or touching up your makeup!

Long, colourful nails
Although some may like their nails long, there is definitely a limit to how far you can go in a professional environment. Nails should never impede your ability to accomplish tasks and really should never be so long that dirt can collect underneath them – it sends the message that you just don’t care about your appearance. If you do choose to keep long nails, make absolutely certain they are well kept. If your nails are so long that a simple task like typing on your computer is cumbersome and noisy, I strongly recommend you reconsider. Nail polish in solid colours are considered more professional than multi-coloured or acrylic styles. If in doubt, the French manicure, which is designed to mimic the natural nail, is always a safe bet!

Offensive body odour
Employees with body odour can cause a disruption in the workplace; other employees may feel uncomfortable and unable to perform their jobs. An offensive body odour may be the result of excessive sweating, repeating dirty clothes or underwear, lack of bathing, menstruation or vaginal discharges due to infection or pregnancy, bad breath, too much/wrong choice of perfume. In extreme cases, people develop body odour as a result of medical issues like liver and other organ problems. However, for the most part, obeying the rules of personal hygiene and investing in a good antiperspirant can eliminate offensive body odour.

Old hair extensions, weaves and braids
Most of us working women adapt various hair styles. Hair extensions, weaves and braids are common choices but often an area of blunder. Another major culprit for women is keeping on weaves and braids too long. Remember that hair, even when plaited, should be washed. Most ladies worry that the hair disentangles quickly when washed, but as long as a professional does it, it will stay neat. According to a professional hair stylist: “Even for plaited hair like cornrows, find a hairdresser to wash between the lines with warm water, to melt the oil which when accumulated, leads to itching and bad smell. Have your hair washed at least twice a month.”

Hope you’ve learned a lot as well as enjoyed this two-part series on professional dress. Until next week, win at work!

Yawa Hansen-Quao is a Ghanaian founder, social entrepreneur and a feminist. She serves on the Advisory Board, Women’s Institute for Global Leadership, Benedictine University, is founder of the Leading Ladies Network (LLN), and a member of the African Leadership Network and the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community.

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