There’s no denying that COVID has had a major impact on the way we dress. For many, myself and my clients included, we’ve dressed ‘down’ taking the opportunity to be more ‘authentic’ or at least that’s what we’re telling ourselves.
Or is it, as Carol Kinsey Goman in her latest book, Stand Out, says a case of “confusing authenticity with habit.” For example, slouching. As Goman, a leader in executive presence, says: “you may slouch because you have poor posture, that doesn’t make slouching authentic, it simply makes it a habit.”
I’ve been pondering this too as I observe social support for a show of ‘authenticity.’ Most recently, it was Lauren Griffiths, a human resources consultant in North Carolina, who drew huge attention when she changed her LinkedIn profile to reflect a more ‘authentic’ version of herself during the pandemic lockdown.
The photo of herself in a power suit, makeup, and perfectly coiffed blonde hair did not ring true for Griffiths at this unparalleled and chaotic moment in time, so she decided to change it, she told Good Morning America. The new pic reflects Griffiths as the woman she says she is right now during the pandemic, one with “barely dried hair, a comfy pullover, ripped jeans – slightly frazzled from having just gotten three kids ready for ‘school’ – but smiling and ready for work.” I have to say, for me, her new photo certainly projects a ‘happier’ looking individual.
But I wonder, who we are truly serving when we opt for the more low-key, casual dress. Are we simply becoming lazy and developing bad habits? Or are we seeing a ‘watershed’ moment that will forever change the dress code in the corporate world?
The reaction to this need to be seen as more ‘authentic’ begs the question of who and what we were portraying before COVID? Was it ‘inauthentic’?
As an executive image consultant, who works with current and emerging leaders, both advising on their leadership presence and coaching for leadership success, I see many interpretations of ‘authenticity.’ Sometimes, it’s sheer competitiveness, rarely true transparency and authenticity.
Dress is truly transformative. Never underestimate the psychological impact of dressing up, as opposed to dressing down. The research is extensive and compelling.
I’ll offer a personal anecdote to illustrate this point. Just last week I was in the CBD of Sydney, a rare occasion these days, to meet with a new client. And I’ll admit, I felt some nervousness for this particular meeting. I chose to wear a suit, a skirt suit. Scanlon Theodore. The transformation was immediate. I felt like I’d gone up three or four notches in my brainpower, I felt amazing, almost as if I were ‘high’ from some kind of drug. In this case, the drug was the dress!
Who said that clothes do not maketh the woman?! That day, they positively unleashed the woman!
Feeling like I could achieve anything, that suit unleashed the power within me and I strode off to my meeting confident, highly capable, and skilled, feeling like I would ‘knock this out of the park.’ And I did. Great meeting, great consultation, great rapport.
So, to anyone who thinks that their more authentic self is transformational and that their ’natural’ business look, whether it be wild and unruly hair, sweatpants and hoodies, or makeup-free on Zoom calls, I’d say, stop and think? Am I truly serving my brand? My organisation’s brand? My reputation? Or am I, as Carol Kinsey Goman is suggesting, developing bad habits?
Lauren Griffiths says that “today’s remote world has blurred the lines between professional and personal selves” and that’s why she chose to represent that in her selfie. On LinkedIn, she wrote that “I’ve written and read enough on authentic leadership to know that being genuine and vulnerable will get you a lot farther in your career than a glossy headshot.”
Yes, indeed. I would argue that being genuine and vulnerable is one of many essential elements for success and wellbeing. For my female clients, in particular, it’s a must!
And, there’s another way of looking at image, branding, and the all-important first impressions. Certainly, be authentic, whatever that means to you. Be, too, professional. Just as Apple might change its packaging to reflect a more, say, environmentally responsible image, it’s still going to have the Apple look and feel, the authentic brand image that customers associate with the products and services they consistently offer.
It’s no different for us. Our packing speaks the same volumes as that of any brand, product, or service we serve.
In today’s age of the personal brand, it seems to be me that we have to be more astute, more diligent, and more sophisticated than ever to stand-out, and be seen and heard for who we truly are.
Time will tell whether the pandemic transitions to a more ‘natural’ and ‘authentic’ look stay, or will we long for the opportunity to wear a beautiful outfit to look and feel powerful, confident, and ready to take on the world?