Melaleuca Media
Look, it's business

Susan Brown takes to the boutiques for some expert advice on dressing for success

Seeing is believing and the experts say how you look determines the assessment your acquaintances make of your abilities. Business Acumen decided to smarten up its act.


Sadly it is true. Fashion dress for men in Queensland for many years was long socks, sandals, short sleeved shirts with a box check. And it is one fashion that hasn't come back in the incessant recycling of looks. Strange that.

These days your professionals, women and men, will be wearing charcoal, navy, grey or the right shade of black. Or maybe something a little more funky. But it isn't as easy as checking the sale racks, the eternally closing down stores, paying a lot for something in the hope it will work or buying something quick from a concession in a department store.

The right cut, fabric, style to suit the occasion, your body or your job are the nuances which need accounting for and many find this necessary, but annoying.

Others might have been born without a style gene and have no idea. But if you pull it off, it works say the professionals.

“Just because someone looks fantastic doesn't mean they are competent, but it does signal that in most people's eyes they are. Well dressed people generally give the air of success - whether that is right or wrong is neither here nor there” says Kara Holloway of Biffi, a high fashion women's boutique in the Wintergarden. Impressions count she says, and “it may be unfair but it is true” and in business if you are trying to look like promotion material, close a deal, push someone to do business with you or just look good and feel confident, you must dress for success.

“I think most people are critical, you instantly look at someone and think they look well dressed, they look like an international person, they look successful. It certainly helps” she says.

“One managing director came to us and said he would like us to dress his team. They work in a finance organisation and it was important to him they looked good” Raafat Imam, Principle of Xile a designer clothing business in Elizabeth st, the Wintergarden and other capital cities told Business Acumen. He stocks Ermenegildo Zegna, Armani, D & G and other high fashion designers. “Sometimes if you leave it to the staff people don't want to spend that kind of money. Afterwards he came back and said he was delighted because they were closing more contracts. He said it was because his team felt well groomed and confident. They looked executive, had more authority and more respect”.

If you don't know how to get it right, ask for help say the shops. Look for well groomed sales assistants in shops with good quality clothes and let them know what sort of occasion you are looking for. “You have to trust somebody because just because we are competent in other areas of our life doesn't mean we are good at choosing clothes. I have women who are in creative industries like architecture or design and they still need advice” says Ms Holloway.

She says in a boutique environment, she has to tell people if they try on clothes that don't suit them. “We are small and base our clientele on loyalty so they have to get reward for what they wear. So if they buy here and no-one says anything or they get negative comments they will be less enthusiastic. I want my clients happy with what they purchase” she says. “You are best to ask because designers constantly come up with new shapes and styles for different figures.”

One of the mistakes, says Mr Imam is people don't give us enough time to help them. “Our staff don't just stand behind the counter, they explain the meaning behind the collection and how the designer intended the collections be presented”.

“Clothing should represent ones personality and position. If you are a say, an architect you will find most people tend to wear something more subtle, less powerful, soft shoulders, no tie, quite contrasting tones and colours as well. If you are a managing director you want to wear something slightly more powerful, you need a squarer shoulder, slimmer waist and you contrast say red and gold with dark coloured suits. Some companies have a casual environment and we have people come in and buy a nice casual pant and sports jacket” he says. It doesn't matter to us, we have all the product he says, it matters to the customer and that is why they should let us know.

Take a suit, they will put the jacket on a counter, slide in different shirts, lay different ties on and it all looks...well...right. “If you want to have a casual meeting you should dress this way, if you want something really powerful do this. You can soften it for evening by changing the shirt and tie, or sometimes just the tie to something a little more romantic” he says as he picks shades and colours and pulls together a dozen different images.

But it isn't as easy as just choosing a suit. Shapes matter as much as shades and colours. “For a person who has shall we say, indulged in life, he shouldn't wear three buttons. Two buttons hide the middle part. He shouldn't wear garments that have large patterns, such as checks and wide stripes because if somebody has a large figure, you can see how many stripes and checks there are and they look bigger.”

“If somebody is short, they should wear something with stripes because it prolongs their image. If somebody is large they should stick to plain fabrics and dark colours.”

Colour of suit matters. “Dark suits are easy to wear frequently as you would notice the same light coloured suit every day.” Mr Iman says change a shirt and it isn't really noticeable how much someone wears a dark suit. However he gets a little exasperated Brisbane men won't be a little more adventurous.

People are told they can't wear red and green or have certain stripes and keep to those rules forever says Mr Iman, but shades change, times change and designers change attitudes at large he says. “The colours we accept today are different to a decade ago. If you see an orange lounge room for example, five years ago it was a ridiculous colour but today it is quite acceptable. Five years ago when things were conservative people drove black maroon and navy blue cars. Now people drive lime green. So colours change with life styles. In Brisbane I find men reluctant to wear colours that celebrate the environment here. I find we can't sell as much as we would like to with light coloured suits – men go for black and grey, yet some colours can look lighter and fresher.”

So colours, silhouettes, anything else we need to know? Clothes should suit skin tones Mr Imam points out. And above all they should be well cut and made from good quality fabrics.

My clothes are more expensive says Ms Holloway, but they last, they will suit your shape and you will feel good in them. You get what you pay for she says “I like good style and good cut.”

“Fabrics have changed so much because of the introduction of lycra which makes clothes fit well. I recommend light weight wool, cotton, viscose (the new tree based version not the old polyester) and silk” says Ms Holloway.

You also need to be careful of the look of the fabric here. “For example, the light is different in Brisbane, and it can make fabrics which would be fine in Melbourne look shiny and cheap here” she says. Melbourne is a lot like Europe with a dinner light and fabrics can look electric here if you aren't careful. Those rules aren't so important at night of course.”

She recommends having a number of outfits and buying clothes and accessories to suit the outfits. While suits look good on women, it doesn't need to be same fabric top and bottom, a suit can be an outfit where all the pieces work well together. “You need a classic look with a pair of well cut pants, a good shoe or boot, a fitted top and a styled jacket on top. That is appropriate dressing.

She points out it all depends on what you do, whether it is more formal work or whether your work place is on the casual side. But don't wear what you would wear on the weekends, or going out, or round the house and then just throw a jacket over the top she says.

A cardigan instead of the jacket can be fine – “if you get the right piece”. She recommends darker clothes with a splash of colour, avoiding low necklines or see through clothes. “I think some women are afraid of looking too masculine so they overdo it on the femininity”. It is important not to have “drag queen make up or too much jewellry. Men think too many rings looks...witchy.”

“If you wear a suit that is well designed, by Georgio Armani, or Zenga or good designers, you wear it in three years time it is still relevant, the fit is still correct, it still looks nice” says Mr Imam. Designers change subtly from season to season so colours and textures still work well together. “Good designers don't start new every year, they don't go from red to white, amateurs do that. Colours are blended back in, the tones are a continuation from last year, the silhouette or the shirting colours still work.”

All very nice, but in these budget conscious days do we need to buy expensive clothes?

If you buy a cheap $500 suit, after one season the shoulders start falling apart, you start to lose the shape, the fabric starts peeling, you will end up with a cycle where you are replacing $500 with $500 and always wearing cheap, mediocre suits says Mr Imam. Whereas if you invest a little more time and money you can pick a nice garment. “You don't have to go to the top of the market – we have good Italian product here for $800. If you buy one of those a year in three or four years you have a good wardrobe that will last for some time.”

A percentage of your salary is one way of working out clothes spending says Ms Holloway. “Have four beautiful outfits for work which you invest in over time, it doesn't have to be all once. To change a suit you just need a different underpiece and maybe a different shoe and you look quite different.” She also recommends more pants than skirts as most women are a little “heavier down the bottom and look better in a pant”.

Sale racks aren't necessarily a trap as the same mistakes can be made here as with full price clothes. “Go with things that suit your figure shape, just because it is on sale doesn't mean it is going to be great for you, your figure is your figure.”

Both Ms Holloway and Mr Imam go on frequent trips to buy from European collections. Imports are now close to equivalent in price for Australian made products of the same quality and there is no reason to “be scared” about them says Mr Imam as the former freight costs and duties no longer apply.

Ms Holloway operates a long time family business, Mr Imam switched to fashion after starting engineering at university. They dress professionals for work, weekend and evening.

It is all, they say, a matter of good taste. And being flexible as styles change. “Fashion keeps changing and people don't. Most people say this is my style and stick with it and they tend to use this defensive attitude” says Mr Imam. “People say they are classical, or they are double breasted, or so on. Unfortunately sometimes they are uncomfortable asking our advice. They just want to replace their old clothes with the same.”

A passion for your fashion Men

Don't wear

The wrong outfit for the wrong occasion
Colours that don't work together
Different coloured shoes and belts
Cheap suits
The same suit every day as the fabric will stretch out of shape
The wrong sort of collar for the jacket and tie
Three buttons if you have an apple belly
Squares or checks if you are overweight
Plain, dark colours if you are large
The same style from year to year
Cheap shoes

Do wear

Clothes that suit your job and the occasion
Dark suits with red and gold for a powerful look or important meetings
A softer look for night time and weekends
A good hair cut
Colours and tones that match your skin tones
Good fabrics and cuts
Colours which mix correctly
The same coloured belt and shoes
Brown shoes with a navy suit
Four to five good suits to allow fabric to relax between wears
Well designed clothing
Stripes if you are shorter
Clothes with good detailing
An image with is updated, not staid
Leather shoes which are elegant and comfortable

A passion for your fashion Women

Don't wear

Too much make up
See through or low cut tops or very low cut pants to work
Any item of clothing that doesn't suit your body shape
Canary colours all the time
Skirts too short without stockings
Stockings with open toed shoes
Closed in shoes without stockings
Casual clothes in the workplace
Suit fabrics that are shiny during the day
An outfit where the pieces don't all match
Clothes that are too “familiar”
Party or glittery clothes to work
Too much jewellry - no more than 3 rings
Anything cut boxy

Do wear

Well cut pants
A good shoe or boot
A fitted top, ¾ sleeved works well
A styled jacket
A fitted styled cardigan
Matt fabrics for day wear
Dark clothes with a splash of colour
Charcoal, chocolate, grey, navy, black, caramel, cream
Feminine underpiece (shirt) which suits outfit
Wool, cotton, viscose, silk
Well cut clothes which suit your body shape
Colours which suit you
The odd piece with an edgier look to update an outfit
Make up but not too much and have it checked by a professional every 6 months
A good hair cut
Plain earrings
Clothes with good stretch and shape
Leather shoes, squarer toed for casual look and pointy for formal look
Scarves to layer clothing