We have talked about executive presence before (many times before!) but as a quick reminder, Executive Presence, is a theory that in business/work, people respond to you depending on your executive presence, which is really how you’re perceived based on how you look, speak, and act. There is a whole lot to dissect in that simple statement, especially if you include how race and gender play into all of this. But in the day to day, as you are establishing your own career, executive presence does play a role in your daily work and I wanted to discuss how the first part of EP (how you look) is something that can be easily addressed so that you can look and feel as polished as you’d like.
Of course, when discussing looks and behaviors within primarily white spaces, I have to add the disclaimer that none of these things I’m listing are mandatory. I don’t preach that people MUST change their essence to conform to standards that are based on oppressive principles. As always, you do what’s most comfortable for you–but if you do think that a few slight changes may make your career trajectory better, then it’s worth considering, right? And sometimes these changes aren’t even about how others perceive you, but in the how you perceive yourself. Maybe instead of spending a meeting worried that you don’t look like you belong, you’ll be able to focus on other things. And let me just say for those that don’t struggle with how their looks impact their self-confidence, good for you. A lot of us are not there yet and there’s no shame in assessing how our appearance influences us.
Anyway, this is a super timely post because as you know, I started a job at an office that is more formal than where I previously worked. Not only was the place more casual, I also worked there forever and was a known quantity, in a senior position, so it was ok that I walked in wearing jeans, etc. because my work product spoke for itself. That history and reputation is not something that travels very far when you start a new job. When I started this new gig, I knew I had to change my normal routine to help me feel more put-together. The changes were simple, nothing overboard, and I think if you incorporate a few of these into your routine you may feel a little more polished as well.
Here is what I do to feel more polished:
One. Nails: Ok, so I have always done my nails at home and for the past two years defaulted to “bare with me” from essie. This is my go-to color. Some of y’all may have noticed that about a year ago I had some really cute, long nails. They were cute af but really not your normal, law office style nails. And really I was picking those styles and patterns because I was rebelling from the office. There were a lot of things going on that I won’t delve into yet, but those looks were a way to push back against some racially systemic barriers I was facing. Simply, I knew the nails made people a little uncomfortable and I liked it.
But in this new job, I don’t have any beef or frustrations and more than anything, I know I need to prove my work is good before anything else. So going back to my basics–soft, neutral colors with shortened, natural nail shape, makes the most sense
My go to is still essie’s neutral taupes and tans, and I’m still using the press-ons but less dramatic shapes and patterns.
Two. Foundation: I basically stopped wearing foundation for a while, but started up again because I like how it evens out my skin tone and just pulls my look all together. I guess this is where I add that I always wear makeup to work no matter what (mejor tarde que fea lol). This may be doing too much, but I like doing too much. I stick with medium coverage foundation that is matte not dewy.
I’ve been using anastasia’s foundation every day since the fall and I love it! My more affordable option is revlon’s candid, which is also medium coverage and tarte setting powder when I really want the foundation to last beyond 5pm.
Three. Business Attire: There is an old adage that you should dress like your boss to make sure you’re abiding by the office norms. I think that’s a good guideline but also with the caveat that bosses likely have already proven their worth and so may be a little more lax than others. My suggestion is that you look to the level above you and take that as a cue of how to dress. Wearing suits was bizarro world to me when I first started law school. I literally changed into my suit during oral arguments because it was such a foreign concept to me that I would actually wear a suit. Now, wearing a suit doesn’t feel weird at all so if you find that formal business attire feels at odds of what you’d normally wear that is normal, and you’ll adjust eventually.
I’ve been finding most new pieces at Banana Republic Factory–such good pieces. But Target and Marshalls also have some winners.
Four. Hair: I’m never ever going to tell people how to wear their hair, periodt. I wear mine curly as much as I can because I color my hair and don’t want to damage it further with constant heat. Do I get more compliments when it’s straight? Yup, I do. Do I know that people probably think my curly hair is “wild,” yup. But do I care? no. Hair is so political and I won’t alter it just to abide by white norms. Further, it’s important to note that I don’t have it nearly as bad as Black women who are frequently harassed, interrogated, and harshly judged for their hair, so knowing that I can wear mine curly with little push back is a privilege. I do straighten now and then depending on how I’m feeling but never as a way to look “more” professional. Of course, I do my best to keep frizz at bay and constantly working on perfect my ringlets–it’s a constant battle.
Honey Baby’s wash and go cream is my key to thick curls. I use an enhancing curl (shea or deva) on days 3/4 to fight frizz and restore shape without needed to re-wash.
So those are the simple changes I added to my every day look (neutral nails, even skin tone, upped my business attire, and maintain my curls) that helped me feel more polished and ready for this new professional challenge. Have you found that how you look has impacted your day to day at your job?