An Outfit’s Worth 1,000 Words: Dressing for Photos As Women Leaders

Of course for your next keynote or board meeting, you may not be donning the $51,500 Dolce & Gabbana coat that First Lady Melania Trump wore recently accompanying her husband to Italy, or even her power belts on display in the Middle East.Yes, she looked marvelous, but you do not want people to talk, write, share and quip more about your clothes and what they might mean than about you, your leadership style and what ideas and solid content you bring to the table.[bctt tweet=“If you’re photographed at an event, project the image you intend with what you wear #WomenLeaders” username=“takeleadwomen”]As women leaders, you do not want to end up an anecdote on the snarky comedy fashion gossip blog, gofugyourself, where a recent headline screamed, “Lindsay Lohan Surfaced in Cannes Looking Normal And Clean.”Celebrity, pol, royal or not, if you are a nonprofit leader, CEO, spokesperson or public speaker who is photographed at events, you need to know what to wear when your photo represents not only yourself but the image of your organization.Not just any old outfit will do.True, what you wear may not garner the scrutiny or dismissal of Sofia Coppola winning the best director award (a first for a woman director in 50 years) at the recent Cannes Film Festival wearing a simple button-down and jeans, but as women leaders you do want to wear something that reflects your authority as well as your style.And if you are the CEO of a company laying off employees, sporting the coat that costs a year’s salary for a mid-level manager or is roughly equivalent to the median income for Americans is not the most sensitive choice. Clothes may not make the woman, but thanks to social media, clothes might certainly make the meme.[bctt tweet=“Clothes don’t make the woman, but on social media, clothes might make the meme #LeadershipChoices” username=“takeleadwomen”]“Just because something appears trivial does not mean it is any less powerful as a means of persuasion and outreach,” writes Vanessa Friedman on the impact of Michelle Obama’s style choices in the New York Times. “In some ways its very triviality — the fact that everyone could talk about it, dissect it, imitate it — makes fashion the most potentially viral item in the subliminal political toolbox.”You may not be in national politics, but even as a member of the school board or a chair of a local committee, what you wear to public events sends signals about your leadership style and about the organization you represent. So consider what you are wearing in your posed and candid portraits carefully. Down to the shoes.If you are photographed frequently for your work or are  attending an event, conference or reception where you will be photographed and the photos shared widely, err on the side of caution. Nothing very low-cut, revealing, shiny or provocative. This does not mean boring.While gone are the days of a uniform of blue, gray or black suits with white blouses, you do not want to wear anything that does not fit well—too baggy, too tight, too short, too long—or any wild pattern that will detract from you or your message.According to Shelie Karabell writing in Forbes about the style of international business leaders, “It’s not just a matter of choosing the right business suit. Indeed, it’s not necessary in these disruptive days, to wear an actual business suit, according to Jeff Byron, another 25-plus-year retail veteran, now vice president and general manager of the flagship Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Texas.“Byron notes, “I see much more mix and match today. Women are becoming more original, more inclined to adapt their wardrobes to their lifestyles, and that includes wearing pants or slacks instead of the traditional skirts with jackets for the office.”Most women leaders acknowledge that dressing for the podium or for the requisite posed shots of the corporate team at the annual meeting is similar to dressing for a job interview.Leah Bourne writes in Glamour, “Marlies Verhoeven, the CEO and co-founder of The Cultivist, a private member’s club for art enthusiasts, says, ‘What tends to work in my industry is to mix formality with a sense of creativity and personality.‘”Bourne adds, “Verhoeven cautions that there’s a distinct difference between dressing to match the work culture and dressing too casually. ‘I do think it’s better to be more formal than to come underdressed.’”Walking and standing while photographed—particularly if you are giving a TEDX type talk—is one thing.But if you will be sitting on a stage for several hours as part of a panel at a conference, especially if you are posied in a raised chair, you have to consider the length or your skirt or the shape of it. You don’t want to be uncomfortable and you definitely don’t want your skirt to ride up to your mid-thighs in all the photos.There are other considerations as women leaders if you are going to be photographed frequently.Photographer Steven Noreyco advises, to “avoid big prints and busy patterns. Select and wear clothes that make you feel comfortable. Select something that makes you look and feel good. Keep jewelry extremely simple; small is better.”Your choice of color also matters, and Juliana LaBianca writes in Reader’s Digest, that you want to consider if you look trustworthy in the networking photos.“Color experts have long believed that wearing blue creates an aura of trust. (Related: This is what your outfit color says about you.) For professional photos, women can try a navy dress, blouse, or blazer (though you’ll always want to go with the piece of clothing you feel most comfortable in).”Why does this even matter? Because as women leaders it does. You can be judged by your appearance and it can work against you.Most likely everyone attending a conference has a smart photo with a camera, so as an attendee, the chance of you being included in a crowd shot is very high, even if you are attending a conference or business meeting where you are not a presenter or keynote speaker.We have all seen people who attend a conference in the hotel where they are staying and look like they just rolled out of the bed upstairs as they sit in the back row of a workshop. You never know who you will meet and you also never know if you will end up in someone’s crowd shot. Even at the casual happy hour.I attended my 20 year-reunion from college and posed for photos with friends when the university photographer asked to shoot our picture. Of course we obliged. One of those photos ended up as a cover for the all-university reunion brochure in print and on the university website five years later. I was glad I was smiling and dressed professionally. The lesson is you never know where a photo of you in a public place or work event will appear.[bctt tweet=“You never know where a photo of you in a public place or work event will appear #CareerChoices” username=“takeleadwomen”]It’s true that clothes do not make the leader, but your public image contributes to the essence of your leadership, and it may live forever. So get ready for your close-up—and your long shot—and smile for the camera.