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First Impressions Last: How Accountants Can Improve Their Image

10th Nov 2008
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Fiona Ingham made the national press recently when her image consultancy, House of Colour, was contracted to run a series of workshops for female staff at Ernst and Young. They proved a tremendous success, with over 400 employees attending. Here she explains what happened, and how important it is for professional accountants to look their best.

Funnily enough, 90% of an impression is made in the first 90 seconds of meeting someone. And after two minutes, it is extremely difficult to change that impression. What’s more, a huge 55% of the first impression is visual. A decision can be made before we open our mouth.

At a Professional Image seminar, my aim is to give clients a chance to think about what that vital 55% means to them. Image is about choice and possibilities, not laying down rules. In recent years there as been a constant trickle of research showing that better looking people earn more money or are perceived as being more effective in many work settings. From my observations, I agree that appearance has a huge effect, but believe that it is not necessary to be naturally stunning but to be willing to acquire the knowledge and make the effort to present the best possible version of ourselves, appropriate for our work setting.

Each profession needs to project certain qualities: my clients in accountancy need to be perceived differently from clients in media, fashion, retail or teaching. The trick in effective dressing is to know what you wish or need to project, something people often have never considered. Accountants sometimes cite efficiency, professionalism, competence, authority, organisation, as qualities important to them, as opposed to zany, cutting edge, high fashion or eccentric, which may be relevant for clients involved in art or design. We need to know what our clients expect from us.

In a profession like accountancy which needs a formal look, the most authoritative outfit is a dark neural suit – for men this would be navy or dark grey as in this country the old adage “no green and brown in town” is still relevant, but women could also choose browns, coffee, dark olive , bronze, contrasted with white or cream top or shirt. If a smart casual look is appropriate, the clothes should be fairly structured and not too textured.

While men’s style has changed over time, men will always need some neck detail as can be observed throughout the ages, from the Terracotta Warriors, to the Roman soldiers on the Trajan column, to the linen cravats of Beau Bummel to the modern shirt and tie. When the shirt was removed on dress-down Fridays the polo shirt became the natural standby as it has neck detail whereas the tee shirt does not fit the bill for smart casual, Equally relevant - women can make a huge difference by adding a necklace or a scarf to an outfit to complete the look… Shoes show status, personality and attention to detail. Shoes which are outdated, down at heel or inappropriate for the business setting, speak volumes.

The fit of clothes is also paramount – note how Obama achieves an apparently effortless style by wearing excellent quality clothes which fit him perfectly. It is worth noting that the for men tie should always reach the belt buckle and for men and women the jacket sleeves should reach the thumb joint when standing up, as these are the mistakes most often seen.

In a typical Professional Image seminar we also look at how to sabotage a professional look: the most common mistakes include poor grooming and clothes maintenance, items which move about and distract, and clothes for another time of day or event, such as the party earrings or shoes or the shoes suited for a country walk. Mixed messages are conveyed by clothes revealing underwear or too much flesh - they distract from the business in hand, and nobody listens to the words said.

The professional wardrobe needs to suit our colouring, body shape and personality, so in a seminar we would also conduct a colour analysis and image session for women (or men) gives information which means that you need never again buy clothes which don’t suit you or which you won’t wear (for women, make-up is also covered). The colour analysis is based on the work of Johannes Itten, from the Bauhaus School of Art and Architecture – you are shown a quarter of the colours in the world that work for you and go away with a leather wallet with swatches of fabric and an individualised booklet. Mistakes in shopping are eliminated so money and time is not wasted. It may be a surprise to learn that black and pure white are often very draining colours so only wear them if you are certain that they flatter you

The image session looks at the styles, shapes, patterns and fabrics which make you look dynamic and exciting and more importantly, make you feel confident in any situation, work or play.

Looking great is not just the privilege of the lucky few – it is a choice, and the greatest help in the professional world for both women and men. An effective wardrobe is a pared down one where the cost of an item is the price divided by how often it is worn. The British wear 15% of their clothes 85% of the time – a huge and unnecessary waste, particularly in these straitened times.

My tip is: know the rules for your profession, know your colours and styles then only buy items that you really love.

Fiona Ingham can be contacted at [email protected] or 020 7722 1984.


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By dialm4accounts
12th Nov 2008 12:41

House of Colour are really good
I went on two courses with House of Colour (colour and image) and found them very useful, particularly the colour course.

Where I used to work, all the ladies went on colour courses and it really showed in the way they dressed for work.

Colour courses are fun as well as eye-opening. I'd recommend them to anyone who wants to make sure they look their best. Just try not to faint when they recommend prices for clothes...


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