Els De Deken about Work Fashion for your career development
Innovation, transformation and networking are her drivers, but according to Els De Deken, style is also important in the pursuit and development of your career. Although it is important that you stay true to yourself at the same time.
"It is not because you dress the same as your boss that you will be or become successful. You become successful because you stand for your own identity"
Els’ definition of work fashion
From my point of view, work fashion is a way of taking yourself seriously, but also of valuing the relationship to the person you are talking to. My motto has always been that if you don’t take care of yourself or present yourself in a proper way, it is a lack of respect for the person you are sitting at the table with. I do think it’s important to adapt my outfit to the occasion. A start-up scene does not require high heels or a formal suit, but rather an informal, casual outfit in which I still feel professional. If, on the other hand, I go to a prospecting meeting with a corporate client where I know that a certain etiquette is used, then I also adapt to that. This does not mean that I am going to transform myself. I try to align the atmosphere of the company, the client or the people I speak with with my own identity. Very important – in every conversation – is that you feel good in your outfit to give the best of yourself. Otherwise, there is a chance that insecurity takes over and disturbs the communication.
Work fashion for your career development
Work fashion is certainly important for the development of your career. You certainly see an evolution in people who have been working on their careers for a while. The more responsibility they get, the more formal their outfit becomes. It is nice if you can reflect your personal evolution in the way you dress.
In my career, I was at a certain age and reflected certain seniority, so I didn’t feel the need to do power dressing. Over the years, I started to opt for a more feminine look and feel. I am a woman who runs a business and I like to put that in the spotlight. Why is that? Because I am sure that, just because you are a woman, you can put your own very specific accents in your story, in the way you do business and how you negotiate. Where before I might have chosen a more neutral outfit, now I will more explicitly play the card of being a woman and grasp and embrace the benefits that come with it.
The non-verbal power of work clothes
I often notice how strongly the non-verbal aspect of clothing is underestimated in a meeting and in a conversation. You then unconsciously and wrongly distract the message from what you want to convey, which is a great pity. The person who is strikingly or unkemptly dressed is often, unfortunately, the topic of the conversation at the coffee machine. The message and the enthusiasm of that person – which was also part of the look – is nullified by the fact that no care was taken in how the person comes across visually.
Regardless of the industry, people who come into contact with others are much more conscious of how they dress. People who have no direct contact ask themselves much less the question “what should I wear.” Although they’d better, because then it’s not the external customer who gives you feedback and with whom you communicate, but your colleagues. They too deserve a certain amount of respect.
So be attentive and test out how people react to your appearance. At the same time, do not forget to be true to yourself. It is not because you wear the same clothes as your boss that you will be or become successful. You become successful because you stand for your own identity.
Judgements and inappropriate comments
It still happens that we women receive unsolicited and inappropriate comments about our work clothes. I have experienced and observed this myself. To my great regret, I have also noticed that women let this happen and do not react to it and let it pass. I myself try to avoid the opportunity by not choosing outfits that are explicit or too pronounced. That way, you avoid many inappropriate comments. If there are still people who make comments, then you can assume that they are people with bad character and ignore it.
When it comes to prejudice and in my role as CEO, I have a highly developed gut feeling that I usually rely on. Therefore, I am not so often distracted by how a woman or man is dressed. If it comes down to it, I will call that man or woman to account to avoid missing out on opportunities by wearing a certain outfit or coming across a certain way. Only if that is my function and task, of course. Otherwise, it is not my place to interfere. And I try – because I value that for myself – not to be seduced by the appearance of the other person at the table. I try to open myself up to the story and, through the interaction that occurs, to form the right image of the person. That requires discipline and a mindset from the start.