The Power of Presence: Learning to Stylize

By Kelsey Begin

Excited to get off campus and explore downtown D.C., my fellow E-board members and I donned our professional best and cabbed it to the 13th Street Ann Taylor store for a night of fashion-filled networking and advice. Walking into the Power of Presence, an event sponsored by Ann Taylor and Marie Claire, I was delighted to see the store packed with women. My eyes locked on the ever engaging Marie Claire Features Director Lea Goldman. The event began, and all of the women in the room listened attentively to the panel’s discussion regarding professionalism for women in the workplace.

Looking at my family, it comes as no surprise that I enjoy dressing up and accentuating my eclectic wardrobe. I would bet my favorite black suede booties that my father owns more designer jeans than I do; fashion has undoubtedly always been a part of my life. Even as a toddler I was constantly trying on different outfits, parading them around the house, and eventually casting them off in whichever room tickled my fancy, much to my mother’s dismay.

Although I certainly love fashion, I was not expecting the serious tone with which the Power of Presence panel discussed how to present oneself in an interview and how to look while at the office. Their absolutely crucial fashion advice on powerful presentation varied from always wearing the right bra to only wearing sparkly makeup/heavy eye shadow at night to never wearing flats. These tips were easy enough, but the importance they placed on looking the part was critical.

Lea Goldman, over the course of her presentation, explained that walking into an interview with chipped or noticeably cheap heels is a cardinal sin, and carrying a ratty or unorganized bag can ruin an otherwise productive interview. Intimidating, right? I glanced down at my slightly scratched nude leather pumps and realized that every other woman in the room was doing the same. Was my bag organized enough? Did it convey the proper attitude of a professional young woman like myself? Who knew an Ann Taylor store could spur so much self-reflection?

Although LinkedIn Career Expert Nicole Williams’ occasional f-bombs softened the blows to my self-esteem, I wasn’t sure I could endure anymore of these professional styling tips. These fashion forward women noted that men have to have one nice suit and polished shoes to look the part. For me, the prospect of waking up early to tame my new bob, apply makeup and perfume, choose the perfect ensemble, and make sure that the heels I’ve chosen (thanks Lea) won’t destroy my feet at the end of the day seems like a little much to handle. I don’t exactly lose sleep over these thoughts, but it’s still pretty tough to constantly look presentable in a world where time feels like it’s slipping away no matter how many to-do lists you make or iPhone reminders you set.

Listening to Lea Goldman, Nicole Williams, and Marie Claire Merchandising Editor Madison Shoop stress the necessity of dressing the part, I was forced to say goodbye to that little toddler who used to run around the house half-naked trying on a million and one different outfits throughout the day. Fashion can still be fun, but it’s become a crucial aspect of conveying professional preparedness and competence. This leaves those of us who want to seriously pursue a career in the business world with full closets, sore feet, and early alarms set before sunrise for makeup routines each workday morning.

Is it fair? Is it right? At this point, it doesn’t really matter. Making an effort to appear as competent as you want other people to believe that you are is part of the unsaid job description, and ladies, that’s the pencil-skirted, bobby-pinned, accessorized truth.