You may be wondering what style has to do with leadership. It has everything to do with leadership. Your style is what makes it easy for people to spot you in a crowd or identify you to someone looking for you. Your style is what makes it possible to be efficient when you need to leave the house or the hotel quickly.
A few years ago I was at a conference when I overheard two women not far away talking about me. Their conversation sounded like this: “Which one is Charlotte?” “She’s over there in red. She’s easy to find. She always wears red.” It was the first time I became aware that I had both a style and a brand. I always wear red. Now to be clear, I don’t always wear red. I have an entire wardrobe that consists of a whole rainbow of colours. But I do tend to gravitate to red, so the two women were right.
It was a real lesson for me in branding. I can change my hairstyle (that’s a major no-no during elections) or wear a fedora or a ball cap (I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of no-no this would be considered during an election), as long as I have something red, people spot me. They even remember my name easily because Charlotte and scarlet rhyme. It was really the first time, however, that I became aware of how important it is to be easy to identify when you are in a leadership position.
Not long after I was elected, I noticed a somewhat curious trend. People began mimicking my fashion. In fact, nearly every time I visited a group, someone would comment to me, “Look, I wore something red today because I knew you were coming.” It is incredibly flattering to be influential enough to sway fashion trends, though it’s an odd bedfellow for politics because men don’t seem to have the same experience.
What I have come to realize is that women in leadership is more than political responsibility. Upcoming women need role models in every mentoring aspect. Men don’t need this because male leadership positions is a foregone conclusion. (According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, women are still capping out at around 25% of leadership roles in our best representation.) So when women are in leadership roles, everyone watches. Even small details become important.
Additionally, there a very cool human need to belong to an identifiable group or tribe. When someone emulates your style or wears the team colours, they get to say, “Hey, I belong.” So emulating a style, whether it’s wearing red or an entire Hillary Clinton pantsuit, is an important part of leadership for women. Hence, this piece on style. There is no point in ignoring what is obviously a need. So to keep it simple, I have three easy style tips.
Tip #1: Be classic
Choose classic cuts for both clothing and hair.
Being trendy will date you in years to come. The cost of fast fashion is that your high school yearbook photo is slightly embarrassing. Remember puff sleeves? Big hair? Blue frosted eye shadow? Yeah. Me neither. Fast fashion has a way of catching up to us when we aren’t paying attention. So what is fast fashion? Fast fashion is the stuff that appears on the rack in March and is gone by April. We are encouraged to have a wardrobe for each season, something I personally think is great, mostly because I use it to mark time. But we are also encouraged to dump our wardrobes at the end of each season, something I think is wasteful. If the colour, cut, and quality won’t allow it to be used next spring as well as this spring, it’s the essence of fast fashion and it’s going to cost you.
Tip #2: Be consistent
Choose consistency over trends.
When you are consistent in your style, you can add or remove pieces from your wardrobe without losing sight of your own personal style. Find a colour palette, skirt cut and neckline that flatters you and build from there. Our bodies change over time. Childbearing, gravy as a beverage at Christmas, and age simply change our bodies. That’s a fact. But a few things don’t change, like our height or our bust size. If you are tall and thin, you can wear clothes that are cut differently than if you are short and curvy. Your hemline will change based on the event you are attending, but for every day clothes, a hemline that is too long or too short won’t magically suit you one day. Get in the habit of being picky with what you choose to bring home for your wardrobe. Peplum and shoulder pads are not everyone’s friend.
Tip #3: Be simple
Choose base pieces.
Create a look around base pieces, like a white blouse, a black t-shirt, and a black pencil skirt. With only these three items, you can now add a cardigan or blazer to change the event and still look put together. Or don’t choose white and black. Choose ivory and pink. Or grey and purple. It’s not the colour that counts, but the base pieces. You can create an entire look from just a nine tops in one colour palette paired with a five bottoms in a complementary palette, plus five pairs of shoes or boots, also in a complementary palette.
Capsule Wardrobes, what this minimalist approach to wardrobes is called, have enormous popularity because they call for between 25 and 50 pieces in total, all in complementary colours and styles. It’s my absolute favourite approach to style because it is simple, elegant, and still fashionable. I was enormously excited when I realized what I already did had a name. I was even more excited when I realized how well this translates into packing for my very frequent work trips. When you only own a few pieces, packing gets much easier.
I will admit that I don’t adhere to the Capsule Wardrobes too religiously because I wear a lot (a LOT) of dresses. I like dresses a lot because the top and bottom aren’t different garments. All you need is some sort of stockings and you are fully dressed in seconds. That’s my favourite.
Charlotte’s Top 3 Style Tips
Choose classic cuts for both clothing and hair.Tip #1: Be classic
Choose consistency over trends.Tip #2: Be consistent
Choose base pieces.Tip #3: Be simple