- Life’s a stage – ask yourself what role you want to be seen as?
Life’s a stage and you cannot not stage yourself. Be it in private or in business life. We represent a certain image to the audience. Regardless if we want to or not. We built a brand to our family, friends and business partners. This process of personal brand building is all about building up an image the audience can emotionally relate to (or not, if unsuccessful). A successful brand is able to create an image attractive to the audience, highly depending on appearance and performance (Gálvez, 2007).
Our appearance and our body language are subconsciously creating an image non-stop. This is because statements are not always made verbal but mostly nonverbal through symbols. Bevor communicating with our speech, we already communicated with another language: the language of clothes.
- Understand the symbolism of fashion
What is the language of clothes? Lurie (1981) establishes that clothes are a language “of signs, a nonverbal system of communication” with vocabulary and grammar, sending a message to the audience (Lurie, 1981, p.3). It is a variable of sex, age, physical attributes, attractiveness, historical and geographical circumstances. Clothing is used for speaking, simplifying life, showing or personality and connecting (p.27).
With this building a powerful leadership image is related to the way you dress – an instrument already used back in the days of Julius Cesar and Cleopatra. In the times of fast fashion and casual looks, it seems we have forgotten about this historic role of dressing. As power is always over something – over people or over an event and it is always dependent on a counterparty, dependent on perception: Does the audience perceive you as powerful? The usefulness of dressing has been well known by emperors such as Cesar or Royals around the world. It might be subconsciously, but history proves the effectiveness.
- Know your personal brand and your audience
Michelle Obama during the presidential election of Barack Obama has been a great example of how the shift in image through clothes can create a powerful brand of a first lady. A person supporting her husband’s brand, creating a new role of model of the American woman by becoming an everyday fashion icon connecting to woman from all backgrounds (Betts, 2011).
- Colours, colours, colours
Her secrets in using the language of clothes to establish a powerful post-feminine icon standing not behind but aside the president as a strong personality: colours and symbols.
She used pink, red and soft floral patterns to complement the feminine side of the president and to make him approachable and emotionally connectable. Green, blue and red colours have been used to create a warm, calming and sophisticated style building credibility. Moreover, by using strong contrasting colours and colour of expression, she “overcame the business dress of Washington D.C.” (Berendsen, 2017; Betts, 2011, p.94; McDonald, 2016). Instead of using the camouflage look of a business leader with “boxy blue suits, vanilla coloured panty house, sexless squared-heeled pumps to show seriousness and coherence” she chose pink, red and gold outfits to show her individuality and powerful personality (Betts, 2011, p.94).
- Learn to use key fashion pieces related to your brand
Her clever usage of key fashion pieces as well as her body as symbols of power, individuality and realness created an image of professional appearance with perfect balance between attraction, admiration and comfort (Berendsen, 2017; Betts, 2011; Swimmer, 2009, p.52-55).
First, being aware of her strong athletic figure, sleeveless dresses were often a choice of her showing her strong arms. A sign of independence combined with glamourous style and modern confidence. Second, the empire waist cut she wore commonly underlined her sophistication and aristocratic side. Especially with gold and white shades it creates an empowered image also known from times of Cesar. Another great fashion choice in her brand building was the selection of accessories she used: belts and statement jewellery. Faux broaches, pearls and vintage pieces underlined her “wear-what-you-love” attitude and made her authentic. Another great branding tool was her “high-low” approach to create a “one-of-us” image. Lastly, using multi-cultural designers showed her connection to a united America. Complemented by another authentic accessory: her body language and open and warm manners (Berendsen, 2017; Betts, 2011).
- Celebrate realness and wear it with a smile and confidence
By celebrating a style of realness and not of red-carpet dresses or latest fashion trends, she celebrated a realness which made her a fashion icon connected to woman as a “one-of-us-leader”. She is a true role model of simple and smart fashion. She shows how slow fashion can work for the office: Fashion that is combinable for work and leisure and sustainable. Sustainable meaning being timeless pieces of good quality which can be set together in a creative and powerful way. With this, she shows that it is not about fast fashion following the newest Instagram trend but the confidence to show your personality through combining and wearing your clothes to underline your brand. Less is often more – focus on colours and accessories!
“Cardigans make you approachable, but colours make you to stand out and accessories show your personality” (Betts, 2011, p.133).
So if you want to find out what to wear for your next big meeting, the corporate Christmas party or at an upcoming event, be brave and step of line not following another Instagram trend but instead show some personality and have these brand building tools of Michelle Obama in mind.
Berendsen, F. (2017). Inside a First Lady’s Wardrobe. MSc. Thesis. The London School of Economics and Political Sciences.
Betts, K. (2011). Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the power of style. New York: Random House.
Gálvez, C. (2007). Du bist was du zeigst! Erfolg durch Selbstinzenierung. München: Knauer.
Lurie, A. (1981). The Language of Clothes. Markham, Ontario: Fitzenhenry &Whiteside Ltd.
McDonald, C. (2016, January 18). The Psychology of Clothes that Women in Power wear. The Psychology of Fashion. Retrieved July 8, 2017, from http://www.psychologyoffashion.co.uk/the-psychology-of-fashion-pop-psychology
Swimmer, S. (2009). Michelle Obama: First Lady of Fashion and Style. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.