Branding is hard. You have to think about your website layout, the content you share on your socials, the copy on your emails… the list gets pretty long. It’s worth all of the time you spend stressing over it though, because it has a very large, although mostly subconscious, effect on your ideal client.
If you knew that your ideal client vacations in Mexico every Summer, you would never blast their Instagram feed with photos of Arctic puffins surrounded by snow in July! Subconsciously, they would start to question whether you actually know them as well as they thought you did. While this mistake is fairly rare, the same type of costly mistake is so easy to make with the type of outfits that you let your clients see you wear.
After stressing over the photos and the copy and the design of everything online, don’t forget about your own personal presentation and the very real effect that it has on your ideal client’s perception of your brand.
Here are the seven steps for you to go through to make sure that your outfit aligns with your desired brand perception:
#1: Make sure at least one piece is from a brand that your ideal client will visibly recognize and value.
Meeting a luxury client in Chanel slingbacks or a Cartier Tank will quietly but clearly communicate that you and your ideal client have a shared understanding. (Choose the specific designer with your ideal client in mind and make sure it is something that they would wear themselves or aspire to wear – it might not always be the Chanel’s, Manolo Blahnik’s, etc.) Everything that you wear doesn’t need to be obviously designer, but choose one or two key pieces that your ideal client would recognize and it will show that you know and understand your client. It will also serve to attract more of the same type of clients in the future.
#2: Research the style of your ideal client and then adapt it and elevate it for yourself.
Knowing which brands and designers your ideal client values takes some time and effort on your part, which is why it will have an impact on their perception of you. The next most important task after determining what types of style they value, is adapting it to your own tastes. Imitation can be a form of flattery, but copying is just off-putting. Your client doesn’t want you to be the same as them, just similar enough that they feel like you have a similar view of the world and will understand what they value.
#3: Be intentional about your bag choice.
The form of the bag you carry is largely determined by the utility you need it to provide. If you are a lawyer you need a briefcase for documents, if you are a photographer you need a gear bag for your extra lenses, etc. But the execution of that form should be determined by the status of your ideal clientele. A bag, is not a bag, is not a bag – there is a world of difference between a simple Hermēs black leather bag and a simple black bag that is not Hermēs. If your ideal client will notice the difference, then you must notice the difference as well. Even if an Hermēs bag isn’t an option for you right now, if your ideal client is higher end, you should choose a bag made of more luxury materials (like goatskin or lambskin leather) instead of choosing something that might not appeal to them (colored canvas with calfskin leather trim).
#4: The fabric of your clothing matters.
Denim communicates one message, cashmere another, and when you combine the two yet another message is communicated. If your ideal client has a more refined taste, choose materials such as cashmere, silk, or soft leather. If your ideal client values both class and whimsy, then you might need to achieve a high-low look by combining a merino cardigan, designer denim, and a bag with plenty of texture (like ones from Chloé).
#5: Elevate your shoe choice.
Just as your bag’s form was determined by the function you needed it to serve, the same goes for your shoes. If you need to be standing on your feet all day or walking through the city, you might need to choose a loafer, elevated sneaker, or a low block heel. If you are sitting for much of the day, then you might be able to make stilettos work. Regardless of the form, the important part is choosing an elevated design and recognizable brand that your ideal client can connect with. For some of you, your clients might really connect with a coveted sports sneaker like Yeezy’s, while for others of you, you know that your clients would connect with a red-bottom heel. With the right clients, they will connect and make them feel like you know them – with the wrong clients, they send a confusing and very different message.
#6: Choose the colors of your clothing intentionally.
Colors have a lot to say about you, but most of it will be communicated subconsciously. For instance, if you want your client to see you as stable and trustworthy, choose a dark shade of blue. If you want to communicate excitement and draw attention to yourself, then a bold color such as red will achieve your desired result. The safest and most widely successful approach is to embrace neutrals, especially if you are catering to a more luxurious clientele. Shades of black, white, grey, and dark brown can be calming, chic, and confident. If you are ever unsure, neutrals will be your best safety net.
#7: Opt for simplicity and minimalism.
No matter what your industry, you never want to overwhelm or distract from your face or the value you add through your craft. Your outfit will have an impact on your client’s perception of you, but they are not doing business with your outfit – they are doing business with you. Use these insights to help you more accurately shape your clients’ perception of you, but don’t lose sight of your main objective to serve your clients well through your unique skill set. The outfit should just be that finishing touch that ties up the experience you’re offering in a perfect bow.
Disclaimer: You can afford to make these changes to your business wardrobe, because your entire personal wardrobe does not need to follow the recommendations made here regarding your business pieces. Your business pieces are achieving a specific result for you in shaping your client’s perception, so it is worth the expense of investing in your go-to business staple items that will help you accomplish that. If these things aren’t important to you in your personal life, you can leave these principles at the office, so to speak. If personal interactions matter to your business, then your business fashion matters to your business as well.
*BONUS note: If you interact primarily on video with your clients, don’t wear any small-proportioned patterns because they don’t tend to look good on camera – solids are always a very safe bet. Stripes that are close together or small check patterns can sometimes get distorted on video.