Boss Lady

Personal style: Use its power to be taken seriously


Whether we like it or not, people make a lot of subconscious observations about us, including ones about our posture, appearance, body language, and the way we dress — our personal style.

Does this sound familiar? “Oh, those colours are really unflattering on you.” “Having a lazy day today, are we?” Or have you ever thought to yourself, “I want to look good and professional. I don’t want my outfit to clash with my job, but I don’t want to wear suits all the time”…

If you’ve had these encounters more than once lately, then this is the personal style guide for you.  I experienced this myself when I started out in the fashion industry. I knew I was good at my job, but I needed to look that too. So I decided to take action, and one of the personal style changes I made was that I gradually started wearing dressier clothes. I also made sure my hair was not unkempt, and I wore reasonably nice shoes. In less than a month, my manager started acknowledging my work and gave me due credit. Even the girls in my team started showing more respect when my personal style improved.

Why personal style is important

When it comes to being successful in your career – whether it’s a 9 to 5 job or your own business – looking like you’ve got it together is irreplaceable. It’s like scratching an itch. You don’t think, you just do it. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t matter how dedicated you are at work if you’re not perceived as being dedicated.

We all know this and have heard about it over and over again. Yet so often, ambitious women write off dressing well. They claim that their work alone will suffice and they refuse to pay attention to their clothes or their personal style. However, when they refuse to acknowledge that how they dress sends a message to the people around them, they are closing the door to any opportunities even before they arise.

So if you’re feeling frustrated, unconfident or hopeless, here are 3 ways your personal style can look professional and elegant so that you are taken seriously at work. And I promise you wouldn’t have to spend hours in front of your wardrobe.

Personal Style Tip # 1: Add definition to your shape

Adding definition, simply put, means creating a clear outline of something. When you apply this idea to your clothing, you are simply using the clothes to create a distinct outline of your body or parts of your body. In simple terms, you want to dress in a way that accentuates your frame and sharpen your overall personal style.

One of the easiest and effective ways to add definition is by wearing a well-tailored blazer. A blazer is probably one of the most functional and useful pieces of clothing, and one that instantly adds definition to personal style. If I ever had to wear the same thing to work every day for the rest of my life, I would probably choose a blazer. A good one can instantly make you look put-together even if you are wearing a simple dress underneath. A blazer with V-shaped lapels creates an illusion of an elongated upper body. The V-shape also helps make your shoulders look broad and makes you look polished and confident.

But what kind of blazer?

The kind that will not only exude a sense of style but will also take your look from plain to noteworthy. The kind that you can wear with anything and the kind that you can wear to dinner after work.

I hate to sound boring but, you have to go for a black colour. Black will always be a workplace necessity, so I’d highly recommend investing in a Black Fitted Double-button Blazer. Opt for one in thick woven fabric because its slight firmness will give you the desired structure needed to create that definition. Some of the other things to look for are notched lapels and decorative buttons on the cuff. These small details will add elegance to your personal style.

If your workplace is not highly buttoned-up, you can opt for a Menswear-inspired Double-breasted Blazer. You want to go for neutral colours so you can wear it more often without worrying too much about mixing and matching colours. I recommend Navy or Dark Grey as they are still work appropriate colours but also bring a bit of personality to your outfit. This style of the blazer is also quite versatile because you can throw it over trousers and blouse to keep it understated for work or you can pair it with jeans and kitten heels to give it a more casual vibe. The shoulders are boxy, and the fit is a bit more giving so you can comfortably wear a jumper underneath and still wear it in those cold winter months.

While you can do a lot of other things to achieve this idea of definition, starting simply with a blazer will not only bring an outfit together but also make you look professional and elegant with much less effort and time.

Personal Style Tip # 2: Wear a cohesive colour palette

Aesthetics instantly trigger moods and emotions and colours are probably the most significant aesthetic when it comes to this. When it comes to wearing colours in a workplace, a lot of women tend to stick to traditional combinations by pairing bold or bright colours with either black or white, which creates a stark contrast. While there is nothing wrong with stark contrasts, there is a higher probability that they can steer their personal style message towards loud and attention-seeking than understated elegance.

This is not to say that you should stop wearing colours. Instead, use them in a way that doesn’t make it seem like you are trying too hard. A carefully put together colour palette can exude elegance, sophistication and authority.

To achieve this, you need to bring an overall theme to your outfit to make it look cohesive and visually pleasing. What this means is when you pair clothes that have some commonality, it instantly makes you look put-together and sophisticated.

An important thing to remember is that this is different from matching the colours of your tops and bottoms. To effectively bring cohesiveness to your personal style, you must pay attention to the three fundamentals of colour: hue, saturation and brightness.

In simple terms, a hue is a specific colour, for example, the blue colour of the sky. When there is a thunderstorm during the day, the blue turns into blue-grey and is becomes desaturated. As saturation increases, colours appear more “pure.” As saturation decreases, colours appear more “washed-out” or “grey-ish.”

Similarly, on a bright sunny day, the sky is an intense blue colour that you have to squint your eyes to look at. So you wear your sunglasses and immediately the black tint on the sunglasses reduces that glare or radiance. So as brightness increases, the intensity of the colour is more radiant, and as it decreases, the intensity is dull or muted.

The trick is to change one or sometimes two of these properties of your chosen colours but keep the third property constant. This one almost constant property is the key because regardless of how bold or contrasting the other properties are across the colours, it is what gives the outfit a cohesive overall feel.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s combine different brightness and saturation of a single colour (or hue) to create an outfit with a monochromatic colour scheme. So in this case, we are changing the brightness and saturation but keeping the hue constant.

Personal Style

Example 1

In example 1, the constant property, hue, is grey. The coat has a high saturation level while the top and bottom are almost the same saturation level. The brightness level of the top is slightly higher than the trousers.

I know you think that monochromatic outfits can be so boring and restricting. But once you practice this concept a few times, you’d be surprised how many different outfits you can create just by switching up the saturation and brightness levels.

Example 2

In example 2, the look is still reasonably monochromatic, but one of the pieces has been supplemented with a neutral colour. This way you not only break away from the monochromatic palette, but you also balance out the bolder colours if you were to opt for them.

If you are starting to build your personal style, a failsafe way to bring cohesiveness to your outfit is to start with neutral colours. The most significant benefit of neutral colours is that they almost always seamlessly complement each other, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to match your tops and bottoms. You should go for neutrals like Black, Navy, Grey, White, Muted Light Blue, Pink Beige, Nude/Cream and Sand. These will also cohesively complement other accent colours when you start introducing them in your wardrobe at a later stage.

Lastly, it is important to remember not to mix more than 3 different colours at a time because it will make your outfit look busy and take away the top to bottom flow that was so aesthetically pleasing and made you look put-together.

Personal Style Tip # 3: Have a signature

 A signature is essentially a personal style characteristic by which someone is identified. When you apply this concept to your dressing, you are simply making a piece of clothing, an accessory or your personal style a part of your persona. It becomes an aspect of your individuality that is perceived by others around you.

By creating a signature, I don’t mean you have to go and develop a full-on signature personal style. What I mean is, make something a representation of you. It’s like when you think of Anna Wintour. You instantly picture her face with her signature hairstyle. It’s so characteristic of her that it’s even called the Anna Wintour bob.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You are thinking that you have to make a dramatic change to your personal style or buy statement pieces. And how do you even decide what your signature will be? I get it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and go overboard in desperation, and instead of looking elegant and polished, you could end up looking confused and indecisive. So the way I like to get my clients started is by following the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 style rule is style that is 80% classic and 20% individual. Personally following this rule has proven to be a fairly failsafe personal style formula for me and has minimised any chances of looking overdone.

An easy way to understand this is to divide your look into 5 components: clothes, footwear, accessories, make-up and fragrance. Now stick to classics for 4 of them and use the 5th one to reflect your taste. When I say classic, it could be a classic colour, a classic cut or design, or a classic look. And, if you can’t figure out what is classic in your wardrobe, don’t panic. Just look at what is not trendy, you have had for years, and you still wear it because it never seems stale.

Now, a signature personal style could be anything. It doesn’t have to be the only thing people can see when they look at you. It is something that you can wear almost every day and with most of your looks. You want your signature to be easy to keep up with because frankly, time is scarce in the mornings.

Here are a few ideas to get you started. If you want to achieve an elegant personal style, you could wear the classic red lip while keeping your clothes reasonably neutral coloured. If you have a presentation coming up and you want to look sincere but also fun, you could wear a low bun hairstyle with your favourite outfit. Similarly, if you want your signature to be prominent, you could opt for one statement piece of jewellery.  Sometimes, to achieve the look you want, all you need are minor tweaks.

You will be great at some things, and some skills will come easily to you. But there will some that you will have to work hard to master. Even the women who are born with a great sense of style still have to work hard to sharpen their skill, maybe not as much harder as someone else. Perhaps they look amazing at work but they don’t know how to dress down for a casual look, and they still have to practice, so they don’t end up looking overdone.

If you struggle with how you dress, you may have to learn the skill of dressing well, but it’s entirely within your abilities and power to master it. To help you get started, here are 3 combinations that you can practice to ease into this new skill.

#1. Black Blazer + Grey Fitted Trousers + Ice Blue Shirt

You can replace the Black blazer with Navy, Grey Trousers with Sand and Ice Blue with Charcoal or Navy or Ivory and you’ll be able to create at least 8 more outfits.

#2. Ice Blue Button-front Shirt + Navy Wide-leg Trousers + Black Belt (optional)

You can replace Ice Blue with Ivory or Nude Pink or White and Navy trousers with Beige or Charcoal. Either a navy or a black blazer will complement the outfit.

#3. High-waisted Pencil Skirt + Shirt (tucked in) + Blazer (optional)

It would be ideal to wear a pencil skirt in solid colours and a weave such as a twill or a herringbone to add definition to your body. A high-waisted skirt sits at the curve of your waist. Pair this with a relaxed fit button-front shirt in neutral colours like Grey, Ivory, Nude Pink or Black and tuck the shirt all the way in around your waist. You could wear the blazer or simply drape it around your shoulders for a chic yet professional look.


As Coco Chanel said, “Dress shabbily, they remember the dress; dress impeccably, they remember the woman.” The idea of personal style may sound intimidating or something that’s not for you, but when you truly understand its place and purpose in your workplace or business or your daily life, you will begin to see the power it holds and how you can use it to your advantage.

Whether you think you don’t have a sense of style or whether you think nothing looks good on you- in the end it all comes down to being willing to learn and work at it. With some guidance and practice, you will be able to learn and master this new skill. Personal style is not about wearing the latest trends or wearing expensive designer labels. Personal style is about the deep expression of who you are. And you are the confident, ambitious and remarkable woman that you were meant to be.

About Shubhangi Chandra

Shubhangi Chandra, the founder of Effortless Allure, is a Personal Style Consultant for busy, ambitious women. Using style techniques and practical style advice developed from years of experience as a buyer, she helps women break through the style rut and look amazing, feel confident and excel in their personal and professional life. Receive her free ‘Style Secrets to 5 Minute Dressing’ email series so that you can uncover the secrets to looking polished and stylish in under 5 minutes.

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