Home Lifestyle Fashion The Importance of a Woman’s Image in the Workplace
The Importance of a Woman’s Image in the Workplace

The Importance of a Woman’s Image in the Workplace


It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman, if you are a professional—like a CPA, investment counselor, or attorney—you are going to be judged on the basis of your appearance every day by clients, colleagues, and decision makers. This undeniable fact has been demonstrated conclusively by three decades of research conducted by image consultants and focus groups dedicated to helping people dress for success. What is less well understood, however, is that women suffer from this public reliance on image more than men; and this is because women have a larger variety of wardrobe items to choose from and there is a correspondingly greater likelihood that they will make significant mistakes, thereby diminishing their overall effectiveness on the job.

Becoming frustrated by these facts about the importance of image is not going to help change them. Many of our clients report that they feel prejudice directed toward them, especially as they age and gain weight. Although there is nothing that clothes can do to make you lose weight, it is without a doubt true that selecting the right wardrobe, hairstyle, and footwear can go miles toward helping you compete with younger colleagues; indeed, improving your image can also help you develop rapport with clients, especially those from the upper class and those who are high net worth individuals.

The information presented in this article isn’t opinion; instead it’s the result of focus groups, surveys, and in-person testing with a database of more than 18,500 respondents from across the United States and in seven foreign countries, including attorneys, judges, and other professionals. This research is what distinguishes Manhattan Makeovers from design houses and glamour magazines, which never test new fashions for effectiveness in the workplace. We’re proud of the fact that key decision makers rely on our advice because everything we recommend has passed the test of rigorous fieldwork investigation, a process which is ongoing; in fact, those wishing to contribute to this unique database may do so by taking our current short (and fun!) survey at manhattanmakeovers.com.



The first thing to focus on is your hairstyle because it is visible every day and is a subtle indication of your integrity. Believe it or not, subliminally, your hairstyle speaks volumes about your trustworthiness and integrity to your clients, and one of the biggest mistakes female professionals make is failing to realize that their hairstyle is sending signals that cannot be shut off since their hair will always be visible, unless it’s under a hat.

More than any other single aspect of your image, the appearance of your hair can be changed rather easily. Expert help can be found in many salons, where you can get a good cut, an effective color treatment, and appropriate styling. The important thing to keep in mind is that the way to look your best is to make sure that you do not adopt any new hairstyles, but rather select a conservative look.

As far as length is concerned, you cannot sport hair that is longer than shoulder-length if you wish to be taken seriously as an attorney. In general, excessively long hair says to clients that you are inexperienced and liable to forget important details of their case. This may not be true, but that’s what longer hair says on an unconscious level to clients.

For maximum effectiveness with all the people you will meet in the workplace, make sure your hair is shoulder-length, or a little shorter. Keep it neat, using hairspray or other products to ensure that there are no loose strands flying this way and that.



The next most important thing a female professional can do for her image is make sure that she is wearing a jacket. This means that a simple blouse and pants combination is unacceptable, as is a dress. You need a jacket in order to project authority and competence.

“I feel women attorneys should wear whatever they wish,” says one misguided female judge in New York.

That’s easy for her to say since she wears a black robe every day and never has to concern herself with how people react to her in various different outfits. She evidently is on the wrong track since the overwhelming body of research indicates that female attorneys do better and are more successful in suits than in dresses or in a blouse and pants outfit.

It is important, also, to resist glamour magazines and frivolous television programs, all of which convey irrelevant messages about what is fashionable. You’re not concerned with being fashionable, you’re concerned with being effective. The distinction needs to be made, and made clearly, because so many young attorneys are seduced into wearing items they see in fashion magazines and on television.

In fact, it bears repeating that you don’t want to follow fashion; instead, you want a conservative look that has been tested for effectiveness. This means scrupulously avoiding the latest color trends, shoe styles, and hairdos that celebrities wear. You want to look like an attorney, not Lady Gaga.

It’s a serious mistake to remove your jacket at work since doing so immediately reduces your authority. When you’re alone in your office you can remove it, but keep it handy in case you need to take a meeting or talk with a client in person. This one piece of advice can significantly smooth the way people react to you, and can help you be treated like the professional you are.



One of the reasons female attorneys run into difficulties at their workplace stems from the wild shoes they wear. Without realizing it, they’re prejudicing their own case by wearing high heels or open-toe shoes. The only acceptable shoe for a female attorney is a closed-toe, closed-heel pump, with heels no more than two and a half inches. The shoe should be in a dark color: navy, black, or brown. It should not match the color of your outfit, but should be at least two or more shades darker.

In addition, these pumps should not have an overly pointy toe; rounded toes are more effective. Our research—conducted in the summer of 2013—reveals that 85 percent of executives disapprove of professional women who wear shoes that are too pointy. The same holds true for women who wear high heels to work, or—worse yet—boots. Even if your colleagues are wearing boots or high heels, you would be well-advised to avoid them.

You can’t always see the reaction of people to your outfits, but if you keep a diary and record what you wear and how people treat you, you will soon discover trends. When you wear conservative suits and shoes you’ll probably find that you’re treated better, you will be challenged less often, and your work day will go smoother with everyone you meet.


Michael Christian on Email
Michael Christian
Michael Christian
Michael Christian is a former trial attorney and president of Manhattan Makeovers, which conducts research about effective attire for professionals. Writing as William Cane he is the author of eleven books. His firm provides image consultations and makeovers for attorneys from all over the world in their New York and Los Angeles offices.


  1. I wonder what Willy would say about the photo accompanying the story – a woman with hair longer than shoulder length and, gasp, bright nails?

    1. Today professional women can be effective wearing red or clear nail polish, and they can look both feminine and powerful in upper-class colors (blue, gray and beige) as well as colors men wouldn’t wear, such as plum and burgundy. Hairstyles that are neat and no longer than shoulder-length also test well. Women in management positions can also have slightly longer hair, as in the photo accompanying this article.

  2. Hmmmm, I wonder if the focus groups commented on accessories.
    Any thoughts?

    While I tend to be more conservative in dress by nature (due to how I was raised, no doubt), I do like a nice accessory – a brooch, a single bracelet, simple earrings, etc. I felt so plain back in the day when I started out. I eventually designed my own jewelry which many lawyers have complimented me on (shameless plug here) http://www.law-jewelry.com

  3. I’m sorry you had such an emotional reaction to my article that you failed to see its inherent objective truth, a truth that you may not have wanted to see. I certainly did report facts and not my own opinion; the fact is that the way you look impacts how others perceive your integrity, honesty and competence. You know this is true just as well as I know it. Your own comments confirm this since you admit that you don’t dress in “painfully tight clothing” or “visible cleavage and thighs.” There is a spectrum from effective to ineffective, and most attorneys, male and female, could be more successful if they considered the research about what actually works; *that* is what I presented. My recommendations are at the high end of the spectrum and are calculated to make you more successful. I think we’re in agreement about what *not* to wear; the difference in opinion comes when I start to talk about what is highly effective for a female professional.

    On a related point, why do you claim that “nobody writes articles about what male lawyers wear” when on this very site I have already published numerous such articles? I think you have unfairly misrepresented what I say and do.

    You also admit that some colleagues do not treat you with respect, but before you put the blame on “old men who cut their teeth before women became a formidable force” maybe you could do what many of our clients do, and keep a wardrobe diary, recording what you were wearing when you were treated poorly, and what you were wearing when you weren’t. Perhaps there is some correlation between how you are treated and how you are dressing.

    My work neither discriminates against women nor marginalizes them, as you claim; nor does it “reduce [you] to a dress code” as if your clothes were more important than your achievements. Does everything have to be black and white? Is it only intelligence and competence that help you succeed? Our research says no. It is a mix. Competence and achievements are important, but you learn much of that in law school and on the job. Nobody teaches professionals what to wear, however, and that is why you and so many other women who rail against me mistakenly believe that subtle changes in wardrobe and footwear have no effect except to subjugate women to a primitive male mentality. Subtle changes positively do have an effect, and the reactions you’re getting at work may be a reflection of that.

    As to your point that it doesn’t matter how you dress because you conduct business on the phone, that is a straw man argument. Anyone who reads my work knows we’re talking about face-to-face interactions, and you yourself admit that you have such interactions with men at work. So I submit to you that maybe your image does matter more than you think.

    Isn’t it possible that there might be some truth to what I’m saying about the importance of image? For example, our research indicates that you will be challenged more by men if you wear pastels. You claim to know for a fact that these men “aren’t about to change their minds about us or their behaviors no matter what we wear.” How do you know this unless you do a test? Wear what I suggest (a blue or gray skirt suit and a conservative pump) for one week and monitor reactions; then wear pastels and pants suits and open-toe shoes for a week and compare reactions. You might be surprised at what you discover.

    All that being said, I do sympathize with anyone, male or female, who is not being treated with respect in their workplace. That is certainly a troubling and uncomfortable situation. And I do understand that simply changing your attire may not cure a specific problem individual, but our research with eighteen thousand executives and managers indicates that unless the person is a sociopath they will have a different reaction to you in different outfits, and I hope this makes some sense to you and can actually help you.

  4. What kind of a moron wrote this? Of COURSE this article is based on opinion. The fact that somebody conducted “focus groups” does not make the opinions of the focus group participants facts. What kind of demographics made up these focus groups? Where do they work? Are they male or female? How old are they? What are their professions?

    I used to wear suits, nylons, and closed toed shoes pretty exclusively when I started practice. I also used to have short hair. Neither made a difference in how I was regarded and treated as a legal professional. Thankfully, I have since deviated from that standard.

    I have found that colleagues who do not treat me with respect are almost always old men who cut their teeth before women became a formidable force in my profession and they aren’t about to change their minds about us or their behaviors no matter what we wear. Mr. Kane appears to be a member of this group or at least an aspiring member. He is the problem; not the audience he addresses. As men like Kane retire, the acceptance and treatment of women in the legal profession will improve.

    Granted, I do not condone painfully tight clothing, or visible cleavage and thighs. But nor do I condone the worn out loafers, holey socks, threadbare slacks and blazers, stained rumpled shirts and ties I see on many male lawyers. The point is, nobody writes articles about what male lawyers wear because nobody really cares. It has never been an issue because they have never had to fight for the right to be a lawyer.

    Articles such as this one perpetuate the discrimination and marginalization of professional women. It reduces us to a dress code, as if our clothes are more important than our achievements. It ignores the fact that most civil litigation occurs via email, internet research, telephone, and behind a desk or conference table. In most of our interactions, other counsel don’t even see us so why does it matter how we dress? Answer: it doesn’t.

  5. I’m neither an anachronism nor out of touch; in fact, our research is up-to-date and reflects the actual effectiveness of the styles I recommend in the above article. Put the identical woman in a dress or a jacketed suit and do the “twin test” that we have done and you will get the same results: the woman in the dress is perceived as a secretary, the one in the jacket as the attorney.

  6. I am not an attorney, but do have some sense in dressing conservatively. You, sir, are an anachonism. If you were writing this, say, 100 years ago, you might be telling us not to forget our corset. Or in the 70’s , our bra.
    You are stuck in the 80’s. Your idea of a ‘jacket’ is no longer in style, and neither is ‘dressing like a man’ to seem professional, or your condescending style of writing about women!

  7. I do feel it should be said that, while there may be truth to the substance of the article, and that there is of course a place for this sort of advice – it would be naive to think otherwise – for the sort of woman who is happy to sacrifice personal integrity and pander to sexist stereotypes in order to get ahead at work in our currently imperfect climate. The article may have been more successful, certainly less grating, had the tone been gauged better. The consumers of this article have not bought his book, we have not already bought into his concept. If it had acknowledged the outrageousness in these truths and adopted a more appropriately lighter style for a lifestyle internet article we might not have resented the unabashedly didactic set of humourless instructions that it is currently.

      1. What I don’t understand is why, if Mr Cane/Christian can write this other article for men’s dressing as if he is addressing real people with thoughts and feelings and personalities, why is this article for female dressing so cold and imperiously patronising?

  8. Adopt the aspect that is appealing to you and disregard the unacceptable part of this article, I think he should be commended.

  9. I can only hope that you lose every female client your “consultancy” has. This is the most absurd “article” I have read in a long time. If male attorneys can’t take me seriously because if how I look — which, according to you, can happen if I look too “good” or not good enough — then they are the ones in need of change. Not me. Are you 90 years old and/or a total misogynist? Or maybe this is satire? Please, say it is?

  10. I enjoyed these comments so much that it almost makes up for how disappointed I was in reading this article. Thank you, female attorneys, for unpacking the absurdity of this post point by point in a way that makes its tone and “insights” seem even more unfounded.

    Mr. Cane, I recognize that you are using focus group and survey data to legitimize your arguments, but it’s clear that this data is flimsy at best and being used to reinforce outdated norms and stereotypes, and likely, the need for women to pay for “makeovers” from consultants like you. If you are going to make a data-driven argument, present all of the data clearly, along with how it was collected and from whom for us to judge ourselves. This is not true user research. The very fact that you lump the opinions of all people and areas of the law into one view shows that this is credible research, which would be more interested in showing the variation in those opinions and their influences.

    Sadly, I think your research probably picks up on deeply embedded, culturally outdated stereotypes of what a successful female professional should look like– sexless, non-threatening to men, and without any reflection of a real personality, ethnicity, or interests. These stereotypes do still exist, and articles like this reinforce and legitimize them. It should be your job as an image consultant to show how women can break this mold and still be taken seriously as professionals.

    And by the way, it’s hard to believe anyone would hire you based on your tone. It is so totally off that I think you really don’t understand the women you work for at all.

    1. It should be my job as an image consultant to break the mold? Unfortunately change in this area occurs at a glacial pace. Our professional clients want results; they’re not interested in being fashion trailblazers because the risk of doing that works against you nine times out of ten. My article is hardly absurd when seen from that perspective. Our advice is actually very practical and useful.

  11. How is this article not opinion? It’s based on survey results, which themselves are based on opinion. It might be based on the opinion of a majority of people in a survey, but it’s still opinion.

    1. It is not opinion that certain hairstyles are more effective at getting applicants a job during an interview; it is a fact. It is not opinion that wearing a jacket increases a woman’s authority in the workplace; that is also a fact. You may not like these facts but that doesn’t change their status as facts.

  12. I actually agree with this article. If you want to take appearance off the table and immediately project authority and credibility to a new client, then a dark conservative suite with similar shoes is the way to do it. If you wear anything other than this, the client must get beyond your fashion sense and determine that the woman in the bightly colored dress is good and I want her as my attorney. I don’t think it’s right and it will change over the next few decades, but these are the images that have shaped us. “Smart and trustworthy people are conservative in their attire. Creative (read flaky) people are in bright and patterned clothing.” Project Runway?! I know it’s extreme, but if any of them showed up to take your deposition, it would be quite the event.

    I am 48, an attorney, living in the Pacific Northwest. You can’t be in a more laid back environment and I know that the statements are true for many who are my age. When I left the law firm, I left my suits in the back of my closet, because I wanted more expression in my clothing.

    At 48, I wear what I want. Younger attorneys and professional just need to understand that it will take a little more work on their behalf to be seen as a competent professional – especially in high heel platforms. : )

    1. Lorraine,

      Thank you for this very reasonable reply. You are right on target and understand our position: as evidence-based image consultants we are reporting what the most effective look is so that professionals can take advantage of this information to make themselves more successful. To get irritated at me because I’m presenting this information is like shooting the messenger because you don’t like the message. I never said that what we recommend is exciting or particularly fashionable; in fact, it is usually dull and boring, but especially in banking, accounting, and law, dull and boring is more effective, and we will stand by that statement until the evidence says otherwise.

      Michael Christian

  13. Once upon a time (the 80’s) we all had to look, act and dress like men to be take seriously. I thought those days were long gone until I read this junk.

  14. I love articles that tell me how to look, act and dress…especially when the data is sourced from male dominated focus groups. What would a bunch of “executives” know about female footwear? So they don’t like pointy shoes? Well good, then don’t wear them. I, on the other hand, love them. I especially love pointy, platform shoes.

    Somehow I manage to have made my own hair, clothing and footwear choices for all of my career, and without the benefit of a bunch of men telling me how to do things.

    In spite of my obvious clothing foibles, I’ve managed to craft a successful career with high income. But I’m just a girl, so what do I know?

  15. Possibly your silliest piece of advice “You need a jacket in order to project authority and competence” …And you didn’t even spell “protect” right.

    1. Actually, you are the one who needs a vocabulary lesson.

      PROJECT is correct in the sentence.

      We project (put forward for others to see) an IMAGE.

      Her advice is to PROJECT the best image possible; to PROJECT an image of authority (I’m know what I’m doing) and to PROJECT and image of competence (I can get the job done).

      It is NOT about PROTECTING (preventing from being harmed) anything.

      This is all about IMAGE — something you PROJECT.

      1. way to freak out on a grammatical error… lol wanna focus on the more important stuff.. like I DON’T KNOW maybe the craziness of this article?! hmm

    2. I believe she meant ‘project’ not “protect” as you think. Acknowledge the fact that you can actually “project” your image and authoriy to your client through your look or what you wear.

  16. I would like to know in what markets the research was done. I have practiced in the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest, and the attire expectations for attorneys has been different in all three areas. The above information was precisely on-target when I practiced in the Midwest in the 1990s, but not in the PNW in the early 2000s or SW today. In the PNW, during the height of the dot com boom, our clients expected a more casual attire and were often put off by too formal a look (although we did not get as casual as our clients). In the SW, I see a lot more heels and colorful suits, but the clients expect a professional look, including a jacket for first-time client meetings.

    I am not an image consultant, just a practicing attorney, and I managed to figure all this out on my own, even if I am a woman. While I appreciate that this advice may be necessary to some attorneys, as unsolicited fashion advice, the tone should have been more whimsical and light-hearted rather than patronizing, especially as it involves a man telling a woman how to dress . . . . I believe you would have received a better response.

    Also, you may not be aware but we female lawyers have a thing for evidence and citations, so you would be advised to fully identify and cite your source material, providing the study date, time, location, and sample size.

    1. I appreciate your comment very much, and our data, which reflects regional variations in image expectations across the United States, is largely similar to your observations. Our research was conducted across the U.S. and also on the West Coast, the Southeast, and the Northeast. We have especially found that West Coast dress codes are more relaxed than in Boston and the Northeast, and a less conservative style can be adopted in California. We have a good deal of data about how female professionals, such as attorneys, physicians, bankers, and CPAs, can make more headway by adopting slightly different colors and styles of suits for each profession. Although I hesitate to include footnotes in articles for outlets such as Legal Ink, we do provide a reading list with citations for clients, and our data is being incorporated into a book I’m writing this summer (my twelfth), which I hope to be out in 2015.

      1. The word “data” is plural. As in, “our data, which reflect regional variations” and “our data are being incorporated into a book.” I really hope your 12 books have a good team of editors.

  17. When I was reading this, I thought it might be written as satire. Unfortunately it is not. If I dressed how you recommend for the office every day (when I wasn’t with clients, in depo, or in court), people would wonder what on earth is the matter with me. The jacket portion of this especially got me. I like blazers, and wear them sometimes. But who wears jackets around the office every day, either male or female?!

  18. Manhattan Makeovers provides information about how your wardrobe is likely to affect clients, colleagues, and decision-makers, and this information is based on more than three decades of research, which is constantly being updated. Most attorneys appreciate the fact that what they wear has a significant impact on others, and attorneys are our best clients because they realize how important wardrobe is. It is naïve to say, “Clients judge you on results, not the shoes or suit jackets [you] wear.” The truth is more complicated: both results and image are factors that clients consider.

    What you wear has both a conscious and an unconscious impact on others, and the reason Manhattan Makeovers exists is to help professionals discover what is truly effective. Only research can tell you that. Not a judge. Or a handful of judges. Or an article writer. Or a glamour magazine.

    Of course women have a right to wear whatever they want to wear, but if they want to be effective they will ignore fashion magazines and design houses, which have plenty of opinions and whimsical ideas but a relative paucity of data. The results of surveys, focus groups, and observational fieldwork can tell an attorney exactly what color suits are most effective, which shoes will be useful at the office, and how to style the hair for meeting clients. By supplying this data to our clients, we are not making moral judgments about what is right or wrong; but if an attorney – male or female – wants to dress for success, they now have the option to consider evidence about what actually works.

    You may not lose a case because of your attire but attorneys who keep a wardrobe diary, like many of our clients do, might be surprised to discover that they are treated better and challenged less by others if they take into consideration our evidence-based advice.

    Last but not least, to make fun of me because I wrote a bestselling book about kissing that was translated into nineteen foreign languages is in itself laughable. A former trial attorney, I enjoy helping attorneys and other professionals dress for success. And as for pointy shoes, caveat emptor: the research is clearly against them.

  19. The content of this article is beyond stupid, but I take even greater issue with the caliber of writing. Willy, no one needs your opinion on their lawyerly attire. Judging by this piece, you would be better served spending some time seeking out writing advice.

    1. This is a good question; and we have found that long hair tests well in a neat bun, updo, or chignon. Hillary Clinton, for example, is very careful to almost always appear in public with an effective hairstyle, and she sometimes puts her hair in a chignon. Hairbands also work well for attorneys, executives, and other professionals. I will be publishing a new article in July, with an accompanying video, specifically on which women’s hairstyles work best in a professional environment, and it will also discuss what to do with long hair.

      1. Hairbands, eh? I see you read the “Preppy Handbook” way back in 1980. As for your other “dos and don’ts,” did you watch the 1980 movie “9 to 5” and take careful notes?

      2. Funny you should bring up Hilary Clinton and hairbands in the same breath. You may recall that she was slammed for precisely that –wearing hairbands. She changed to these “appropriate” styles you approve of. Now how is it hairbands are fine but not in that case? Perhaps we can use this key to unpack the validity of the article.

        1. It is not difficult to test the validity of my statements about neatness and appropriate length being essential for a female attorney’s hair. In other words, like any reliable finding, my statements are falsifiable. To prove me wrong, simply show that female attorneys with long unkempt hair do better at job interviews.

          It’s also largely irrelevant that Hillary Clinton may have been criticized by political opponents for wearing headbands or that she may have discontinued wearing them in favor of other, more modern, styles; the point remains that when she did wear them they kept her hair controlled and confined, and this kind of neatness is critically important for a successful professional or businessperson’s hair.

  20. I see so many female lawyers dressing like Lady Gaga! (One attorney actually wore a beany baby dress to court the other day!) We are SO thankful to have people like you reign us in. We’re all just idiotic little girls who can’t seem to understand this system of patriarchal oppression! Thank you for your guidance. What EVER would we do without you?!?

  21. This is one of the stupidest, ridiculous, and most troubling things I’ve ever read and that includes Plessy v. Ferguson. You are an idiot.

  22. Is this a joke? Compete with younger attorneys? My clients want an experienced lawyer, and I love pointy heels.

    I’d take my cues from the “misguided female judge.” She’s not using her law degree to be an image consultant. She must have done something right.

  23. This advice is basically nothing special and nothing you cannot find in countless books on style at work that have already been written … and written better.

    The author may also want to actually VISIT some leading law firms and see what the female attorneys are wearing. For example, I think he would be in for a shock if he were to visit Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. Clients judge you on results, not the shoes or suit jackets the female attorneys wear.

    I think you should vet your guest writers more carefully, especially ones that use pseudonyms and are going to presume to talk down to female attorneys. Remember, you can be anyone you want by setting up a website … even a “fashion expert.” He’s actually in Yonkers, not Manhattan according to the blog below and probably has a post office box for his “Los Angeles” office. This author has a decidedly sophomoric background and I sincerely doubt he has ever actually practiced law or is a member of any Bar. For instance, look at his other website and blog:



    The condescending tone of this article is quite humorous considering the author’s background. He should stick to producing videos showing teens how to kiss.

    PS: You made “Above the Law.” However, the author of the article should not look at the posting or the comments over there.

    PPS: I note the author of this article has made a Comment under his other name (Michael Christian). How unprofessional! Again, Legal Ink should vet their guest writers more carefully.

  24. You are absolutely correct that logically it is an impossibility for shoes to be two or more shades darker if a woman is wearing a navy or black outfit. With those outfits the most effective shoes will be black.


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