The Importance of Presenting Yourself with Polish

April 23, 2016

 

In a graduation speech at Yale, Hilary Clinton gave the following surprising piece of advice: "The most important thing I have to say to you today is that hair matters" (source: New York Times).

 

The way you look is an important visual communication tool that you need to be aware of. Showing up to work unkempt can give off the appearance that you aren't "pulled together" in life and can even detract from the great work you are doing (source: Forbes). No top-performing assistant wants anything to distract from the stellar service they are providing.

 

How you put yourself together is not only is a reflection of who you are but also of the person you support. You are usually the face dealing with vendors, service people and other employees on your principal's behalf so it's important to always present yourself with polish. It shows respect for the person you represent and makes them look good to others as well.

 

Now that we've gotten the importance out of the way, let's move onto suggestions on how to carry this out. Women have so many possibilities these days (jumpsuits, dresses, leggings, etc.) that it is easy to get it wrong. I recommend taking cues from the person you support as well as other people in your workplace that you feel look pulled together as a general guideline, and definitely make sure you know dress codes if your organization has one.

 

Even though I can't give a one size fits all guide, here are some recommendations broken down by role:

 

Executive Assistant

This role might be casual, business casual or formal. The ideas below are geared towards a more business casual environment.

  • Dark jeans 

    • Light jeans can look unprofessional, so dark is typically a safe bet. One exception is white jeans.

  • Colored pants

    • Make sure your pants are well tailored

  • Steer clear of any kind of ripped clothing

    • Rips, tears and jagged seams can make any professional outfit look the opposite really fast

  • Blouses and button up shirts

    • These are always safe bets as long as they are not wrinkly, not too low cut and fit your body well

  • Sweaters

    • Turtlenecks and timeless cashmere always look classy

  • Blazers

  • Cardigans

  • Dresses and skirts

    • I love shirt dresses. Such a classy outfit all in one!

    • Wrap dresses are another classy and easy outfit all in one. I recommend high-quality double stick tape (Braza makes a good one) or safety pins if you need to keep the cleavage in check.

    • Make sure your dresses and skirts aren't too short. I usually aim for 3" above the knee, but it all depends on your height. Always err on the side of longer length when in doubt.

  • Heels and wedges

    • Classic heels are safe

    • Wedges are a great comfortable option if they have a classic look but just make sure they aren't excessively high

  • Flats

    • Be careful about ballet flats. They can make an outfit look immature or too casual depending on the style.

  • Boots

    • I don't recommend the over the knee ones or ones that are too high

  • Avoid sparkles, loud prints or colors

    • Make sure you don't wear anything that might hurt anyone's eyes (ex: fluorescent colors, sparkles or dizzying prints)

  • Don't over accessorize

    • Simple, dainty pieces are safe bets

    • If you wear something that stands out (ex: statement necklace) make sure you either keep everything else minimal and small or let that piece stand alone

    • Belts can really pull an outfit together but be careful with overly chunky ones

 

Personal Assistant

Being in a personal role can make dressing the most challenging since you will need to really hone in on cues from the people you support. Below is a guideline for a more casual role that allows for comfort while running lots of errands.

  • Jeans

    • Any shade would typically be okay

    • I recommend steering clear of rips

  • Colored pants

  • Most shoes will work okay, just make sure you are comfortable, they look crisp and scuff-free and they are not too high

    • I would be careful with over the knee boots, though. If you feel they are appropriate, then I recommend flat versions.

  • Blouses and button up shirts

    • Make sure they don't wrinkle easily and are comfortable

    • Starchy, classic button up shirts can look too formal but more casual portofino versions work well

  • Blazers

  • Cardigans

  • Sweater dusters

  • Dresses and skirts

    • See Executive Assistant section above

  • Be careful with sparkles, loud prints or colors

    • You don't want to hurt anyone's eyes, however there is more flexibility in this role so you could have a little splash of brightness or a few sparkles if it makes your outfit more fun. Just be careful to not go overboard.

  • Don't over accessorize

    • See Executive Assistant section above

 

Family Assistant

This role is typically pretty casual since you usually are also helping out with children. I have geared this guideline towards a role that includes daily interactions with younger children and is very casual in nature.

  • Jeans are a great staple

  • Shorts

    • I recommend making sure yours cover your whole bum when you bend over

  • Leggings or yoga pants

    • Just make sure to pair this with a top that is not form fitting to balance it out

  • Colored pants

    • Just be sure they are not too formal and are easy to move around in

  • Blouse or t-shirt

    • Make sure your blouse is pretty stain resistant or won't show stains in case the children you help out with are messy

    • Avoid tops that wrinkle easily

  • Tank top

    • These are okay as long as your bra straps are hidden. I recommend having a cardigan to wear over these, though.

  • Sweaters

  • Sneakers, ballet flats or sandals

    • Nothing with a heel since you need to be able to keep up with the children

  • Minimal accessories

    • I've had so many accessories destroyed when playing with children so just be careful with dangly pieces that might get ripped off or damaged. I advise wearing just one piece at a time that is not sentimental or pricey.

  • Swimsuits

    • I'm not saying wear a swimsuit to work, just to be cautious if your position requires you to wear one for the children's activities. One pieces are safe, but two pieces are okay as long as the bottoms are conservative and the tops provide sufficient coverage and are well-lined.

    • Avoid sexy, see-through cover ups to wear over the suit

 

For all roles, make sure your tops are not low cut, cropped and don't have any questionable images or wording. Also, make sure your clothes aren't skin tight, overly loose or on their last leg. It's also a good idea to make sure your look is not outdated.

 

Most importantly, make sure you are well-groomed. As Hilary mentioned, your hair is important so make sure it's not sloppy, dirty or let trims become too overdue. Don't leave the house with week-long chipped nail polish, unkempt brows or jagged cuticles. On the flip side, don't go crazy with the self-tanner, douse yourself in perfume or cake on heavy makeup. Just stick with being neat and clean to be safe.

 

If you have a hard time knowing what is best for your role, especially when you are first starting out, ask the person you support. They will most likely appreciate the fact that you are putting care into making sure you are representing them well. You can also ask the previous assistant if you are lucky enough to have them as a resource. 

 

Do you have any favorite go-to outfits for your role? Please share in the comments below!

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