Professional Dress for Women Part One: The Basics

I met Misbah Khatri during my first semester at Bauer while I was in my MBA program.  I was interested in consulting and received her information from Rockwell Career Center with a warning . . . when you meet Misbah bring your A game.  

What did that mean?  

I knew she was a consultant at Alvarez & Marsal and had been named Outstanding Student by Bauer when she graduated, but seriously nobody is that good, right?

We set a time to meet at a Starbucks near campus.  I arrived early as I like to stake out locations and get a prime seat.  I sat down and immediately jumped on LinkedIn to study her profile, while I was reading her past accomplishments I received a notification that someone was looking at my profile.  

It was Misbah . . . I knew we would be friends.

During that first meeting and ever since Misbah has been a business coach for me and someone I consider a friend.  That informational interview was one of the few moments in my professional life where I really felt challenged to completely elevate my game.  

One of the apparent things about Misbah is her sense of style.  

She owns the room when she walks in and is always put together professionally, therefore, when we at Your MBA Purpose were searching for a woman to provide advice on professional dress for women, she immediately came to mind.

What follows is the beginning of a three-part series, the first starts today, and the next two will be released each of the next two Thursdays.  I was able to interview Misbah and she provided extensive resources for women.  The insights include:

  • Your best accessory
  • The importance of fit
  • Getting to know your tailor
  • Your core wardrobe
  • Do’s and dont’s
  • Where to find great items

Although the advice is for women, most of the article easily translates to men. This is a must-read for everyone as Misbah is one of the rising stars in the consulting world and her advice is always on-point.

Enjoy

Part One: The Basics

Your Best Accessory

The first item to think about when developing your professional appearance is much more than just clothes.  Your greatest accessory to stand out is confidence.

You must have confidence as you are building your wardrobe, dressing professionally, and attending events while in an MBA or beyond.  If an outfit doesn’t make you feel and look confident, then don’t wear it.  Your entire persona begins with how you feel and is apparent when you walk in a room.

Before you step into a networking event, interview, or client site make sure to be confident.  

Find the right outfit that will allow you to enter that room with complete assurance that you will succeed in whatever you are doing.  This ability occurs when your entire style matches, i.e. from your hair to your outfit to your accessories you should exude a sense of professional style, this isn’t arrogance, it's confidence.

This brings us to “confidence items.”

Do you own a pair or shoes, a stellar jacket, or something else that makes you feel like you can conquer the world?  If no, then get something!  If yes, then wear the item to the important meeting.  Misbah travels weekly for work and will routinely bring her “confidence shoes” even if she is not wearing them that week.

The key is to project an aura of professionalism that begins with your inner confidence.  Once you have that, the rest is easy.

The Importance of Fit 

While confidence is the most important aspect of professional dress, a close second is fit.

Your clothes need to fit properly for you to have confidence and be taken seriously in the professional world.  There is a reason executives have tailored suits!  Take the time to understand your body type as you are building your core wardrobe (we will get to this in our second article).

The hardest part of building a professional wardrobe is figuring out your style, size, fit, and cut.

What compounds this issue is that no store is the same.  You need to take the time to determine which stores will work best for you.

There is good news!  Many stores have people who will help you.  J. Crew, for example, has dedicated staff (and student discounts) to help you identify the best fit for your body type.

Men, take this advice to heart as well because a well-tailored suit makes you feel like James Bond.

There are plenty of other stores that have consultants on staff who enjoy helping people determine a client’s ideal tailoring.

After you know your style, size, fit, and cut you have more options.  You will be able to buy clothes off the rack that might not be perfect.  But you will be confident you can go to a tailor and have it fitted to your exact specifications.

Speaking of a tailor, they should be at the center of your professional support system. Tailors are vital for your success.  Ask for recommendations from people you believe have great style, odds are they also have an amazing tailor.

Beyond your tailor, your professional support system should include a hairdresser you like and a makeup artist who can assist you with your style.

The importance of fit goes way beyond just tailored clothes.  Your fit must be pristine from your hair to your makeup to your outfit to your accessories to your shoes.  

All items should create a total package of professionalism, style, and elegance. 

It will take time and money to round out your system, but think of it as an investment.  You should take your style seriously as it is extremely important. Think of it this way, when you walk into an interview, client site, or just a happy hour you are judged by your appearance.  We live in a world where perception is reality, how do you want to be perceived?

Are you going to be the person who owns the room and get’s the great job or the person who is wearing the outfit which should be saved for the club and is only remembered negatively?

Maximize Your Fashion Icons 

After reading the above sections, your might be thinking: this is all great but what if I don’t have a specific “style?”  That is a reasonable question.

Who do you look at as a fashion icon?  Coco Chanel, Jackie O, Michelle Obama, others?

When you are first starting to build your personal brand, it’s perfectly fine to emulate others. Search online for individuals with a fashion sense that inspires you.  Those are the people you want to resemble.  Follow them online and start to notice trends.  

What do they wear?

On a more personal level, who in your daily life has great fashion sense?  Is it a friend, a colleague, or someone you see routinely?  Compliment them and ask for advice on where they purchased items and how they put an outfit together.

These questions will allow you to receive excellent advice to build your style.  

Summary

This article was mainly for professional women, yet the advice spans both genders.  Be confident in who you are!  If you are reading this, let’s be honest, you fit in a demographic that is already successful and on your way to even greater things.  You should be confident in who you are and who you will become.  

With confidence in hand, learn your style, size, fit, and cut.  A well-fitted outfit will do wonders. Also, remember your professional support system. This should be a team that builds your personal brand from head to toe.

Then it is time to step up your game and expand your style.  Look to your fashion icons for inspiration.  Find people who will help you elevate your professional persona.

Now that you know some of the basics of professional dress we can move to the fun part, building your core wardrobe!  In the next article, we will discuss the items you need to have in your core wardrobe along with how to start shopping for those essential pieces.

Stay tuned!


Misbah Khatri is a consultant at Alvarez & Marsal.  She is a motivated and organized leader who raises the level of excellence within companies as well as individuals.

Before joining Alvarez & Marsal, she was a student leader at C.T. Bauer College of Business.  

During her MBA program, she was named Outstanding Student upon graduation and was President of the Bauer Chapter of the National Association of Women MBAs.  

She is a rising star in the consulting world and continually elevates any project she touches.