betterI was sent this postcard by a client as a “thank you” for the style & colour work that we had done together. I love it because it encompasses the style-lost in just 8 words & one picture.

As does this, Mignon McLaughlin in her book, The Neurotic’s Notebook, wrote “Women usually love what they buy, yet hate two thirds of what is in their closets.”

I was in Guildford on Saturday doing a Personal Shopping Consultation when a woman came out of the changing rooms to show her daughter her “outfit” – dress, jacket & shoes.

What did she think? Would it do for the interview – most importantly would she also be able to wear each of the items again at some stage in the future?

Her daughter preferred the black suede kitten heels to the black suede wedges. So did I. But the wearer was not sure that she would wear a pair of heels again. Too uncomfortable.

We got to chatting and the information I gleaned was not good:

  • The interview was on Monday so something had to be bought NOW and there was going to be no opportunity to take in the dress & take up the sleeves of the jacket to fit. No time either to buy anything other than the best of the lot: “That will have to do”
  • She had no idea about what she wanted her clothes to say about herself. How will her interviewers be able to bond with her? And because she had no idea she defaulted to paying a lot of money in the vain hope that the cost of the outfit will override its ineffectiveness.
  • Work clothes are best staying at work. Trying to buy clothes and shoes that will do for other events is unlikely to be successful. Particularly when the work that you do requires formal dressing.

An effective confident personal image is relevant in both in our work and play lives. Most importantly, developing a look that speaks positively of who we are gives us the opportunity to know ourselves, like ourselves and to our own ourselves in a positive not negative way. It is about speaking clearly without saying a word. The lady in the shop was floundering because she had no idea about what she wanted to say about herself at the interview.

I think that she had done what most of us do when we don’t want to do or think of something – she put off the interview outfit choosing until the very last minute. Not a good strategy. Having a perfectly clear style strategy gives us a real opportunity to be ourselves, and to present ourselves, in the way that we wish. AND to get it right!

It very much seemed to me that she was confusing fashion with style – and fashion was not important to her. However, she then fell into the fashion trap – fashion is about being identified by the labels that are worn and makes us part of the crowd we seek to belong to. Style is about the perfectly clear shining through of the individual and is about using dress and demeanour as a celebration and an expression of who we are. She didn’t need to be in that shop feeling awkward and inadequate; she was a bright, warm, attractive human being. What she needed was style know-how.

We can’t find or display a confident image (which is what she wanted for that interview) when we have little, or no, direction – we need a clear and precise strategy.

Developing such a strategy gives us the chance to look at where we are and where we want to be; to signal who we are effectively and powerfully and manoeuvre change in a way that suits ourselves. Here’s how:

First Impressions Count – Know the Impact

Meet someone new and it takes just three seconds for you to have made that indelible first impression. With just a glance, you evaluate them. Two things happen so quickly they could almost be as one: firstly, you notice the quality and level of energy they give out; whether they are open or closed, charming or alarming, secondly, you respond to how they look from their grooming to what they are wearing… and they do the same to you!

In those same three seconds, they have appraised your visual and behavioural appearance from head to toe. They have instantly analysed your dress, mannerisms and body language. You may intrigue some and disenchant others but feel something about you they certainly will. If they like what they see they will unconsciously tend to see the best in you and look for opportunities to say “yes”. If they don’t like what they see, the opposite is true.

Then, inside a further 87 seconds, without you having said a word, you have been appraised and decisions have been made as to how good you are at your job, what your social standing is, how educated you are and how much you can be trusted. It will take six months for those first impressions to be changed.

On first meeting, only 7% of what you say counts, the rest is down to your dress, demeanour and voice. This is the basis on which you attract that gorgeous woman/man across the room, make friends, win or lose at interviews, in meetings and making sales pitches. And, if you don’t believe me, conjure up someone you know of in your head. Boris Johnson, perhaps! What do you see in your mind’s eye? A naked, motionless Boris or a clothed, animated Boris? It will happen with everyone you can think of alive or dead.

Your height, weight, hair, symmetry of face and body are a big part of this first impression. Some of these things are beyond our control but with style knowledge you can create the illusion of a near perfect body that will attract and not deter those you meet. And, will mean that you can positively enjoy who you are and what you have.

Tease or Please – Your Choice

Those that tease are generally of the opinion that others must take them as they find; they may look dishevelled, disorganised and drab but beneath they are a power house of vibrancy, intelligence and diligence. They leave it to those whom they meet to be amazed and delighted when they discover the real person who lies below that drear and unpromising surface!

Research shows that how you look affects not only how you feel about yourself but how others feel about you too. And, apparently, those who are successful not only increase their earning power but also the confidence that they have in themselves whether at home work or play.

Those that please take an easier route; designers and creators make it their business (because it is their business!) to look as though they have flair, originality and inspired thought, whereas teachers and solicitors meet the needs of their clients by looking dependable, honest and with integrity. If they don’t, those that they meet may find it difficult to believe that they are good at what they do and worth listening to or employing.

An example. I am working with a client whose job is to guide and support senior managers into creating and effecting change within their businesses. Her role is one that is both inspirational and challenging. In terms of experience and intellect she is extremely able BUT she sees a yawning gap. Whilst her deeds and demeanour are spot-on her dress falls short. During her first consultation she described her choice of work dress as “conforming … corporate … dull.” Where does she want to be? “Confident … self-assured … chic … original … “. Easy enough to do now that she has recognised where she is and where she would like to be.

An Image Strategy – The Spiral of Success

Looking good at what you do inspires those you whom we meet to have confidence in our skills. The more inspired they are; the more confident you become. The more confident you become; the more you inspire others into recognising you as a positive presence in their lives. You have clinched the art of being in demand. Being in demand will mean that you are more likely to be in a position to pick the job you want, the friend you want, the lifestyle you want.

The finding of our own personal image is liberating. And, icing on the cake, get it right and you could be making 8-20% more than your competitors who don’t.

All you need is a simple strategy based on self-acceptance not self-criticism.

The mantra that I use with my clients is this:


Understand it, implement it and you’ll find developing your own effective personal style easy and effortless. Some of those who do it now … Michelle Obama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mary Beard, Gyles Brandryth, Brian Cox, Bob Geldorf.

These are not necessarily conventionally beautiful people but they are people with direction and focus who speak about who they are and what they are and what is important to them not only in their deeds but in their dress, demeanour too. We do not need to speak to them to know this.

This is successful style in action: confident, spirited, characterful and truly personal.

I hope the woman in the shop got the job! The odds weren’t looking good.

Jenny Bersin owns Jenny B Style and Image Consultancy, and is author of Style, the Road to Freedom. Perfecting Personal Effectiveness, Dressing for Success, Addressing Dressing and The Art of Fiscal Attraction are just a few of the subjects covered in Jenny’s talks, workshops, small group and one to one consultations. To find out more contact Jenny on 01661 844190, e-mail [email protected]; or visit

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