Dress your way out of danger

The experts agree that dressing appropriately can help make your job recession proof, writes Natasha Hughes.

You might be clever and well-connected in the office, but this won't necessarily shield you if the grim reaper of retrenchment sweeps in.

Years of loyalty can be dismissed with a single tap to the shoulder as economic downturn selects its victims more often from the older and ''more expensive'' ranks of employees.

So how about some ''retrenchment proofing'' by ensuring you look modern and engaged, that you belong and know what you're doing?

Appearance matters in business as much as anywhere else, says branding expert Murray Chenery.

''Perception is reality,'' he says. ''Look the part, dress appropriately to the highest integrity, be astute and read the game. The ability to dress to get the respect of the room is all part of making sure your appearance and persona are retrenchment proof. I've seen some very bright people let themselves down because they looked like they were not up to the standard of the decision-making process.''

The attention to detail extends to grooming - often the first thing people notice is your hair. Premature hair loss can still, cruelly, be a deal breaker (behold the number of carefully shaved heads around the office and join them if necessary) but grey hair can work to men's advantage as it can convey a certain gravitas.

''Few women can get away with it,'' says Melbourne salon owner Robert Weir. ''They might want to think carefully before allowing their 'wisdom' to show.''

Men should also stringently maintain a clean-shaven face and short hair, cut by a stylist in a modern style rather than shaved by a barber to a prescribed number setting.

''With the credit crunch it's about change,'' says celebrity stylist Kevin Murphy. ''It shakes you up. There's all these pigeons sitting there, doing the extra 9½ yards to keep their jobs; they never complain, and they're the first to go. Change is good now.''

Murphy says that this season women should take their hair shorter, ''up to the join of the bra strap at least'', and if they're curly-haired, they should go straight, and vice versa.

Men whose hair has dulled rather than whitened could consider a subtle colour to enhance the eyes ''and potentially take off some years''.

Any extra kilos can be addressed through judicious choice of outfit. Clothes should fit properly - no straining seams or gaping buttonholes. Dark colours streamline. Belts, however, highlight expanding girths, as does a too-short tie.

A style adviser to the top end of town, Bronwyn Fraser, reckons updating work clothes each season is essential. ''It keeps you looking fresh,'' she says.

Dressing for the occasion is crucial, Chenery says.

''Wear pinstripe suits if you're a stockbroker, be stylish if you're in retail,'' he says. ''If you're not the CEO, look at how they dress themselves to give you an inkling of how you should dress. If the CEO doesn't wear a tie, that gives you permission not to. If they're a power dresser like Launa Inman (former Target chief executive) and Gail Kelly (Westpac chief executive), take your cue.''

Sydney public relations director Ian Thomas says while he is happy about Haviana thongs in the office, he expects his staff to be ''client ready'' with designer shoes under the desk, ''so they can stand up and feel comfortable in what they're wearing''.

''We work in an industry where there's very well-dressed women from media and fashion,'' he says. ''I don't want [the staff] to dress 'corporate' but they need to feel comfortable in their presence without necessarily competing with them.''

Says Fraser: ''Clothing has got to be appropriate to you, to your workplace and your position. It still needs to reflect your personality and to feel right. But you should also be dressing for the position you want.''

Whether that means ''promotion'' or keeping the status quo in these interesting times, it must also mean ''eminently, remarkably employable''.

Both sexes should also look after themselves - good diet, plenty of exercise - as this shows in the face, which they present each day to the corporate world.

Here, women have the advantage.

''You don't have to wear a lot of make-up but some good make-up, carefully applied to just where it is needed, can give a fresh and pleasing appearance," says one of Australia's leading make-up artists, Paddy Puttock.

''Fresh, modern make-up for the workplace means less is more. You want to look beautiful without people realising you've got make-up on. Less is more if you're older.''

Men and women should be aiming for clear skin rather than wrinkle-free skin, Puttock says. ''You've just got to look after yourself. In the long run it's the most economical thing you can do.''

Fashion tips for work success

GREY hair is becoming on a man and is seen as a sign of gravitas. Conversely, grey hair can make a woman look older than she is, so If you are a woman employed in any capacity, colour your hair.

Men should favour short hair and a clean-shaven face. Women have much more leeway with their hairstyle.

Men should try to be subtle with their fragrance.

Women’s make-up should look like ‘‘no make-up’’ (only better). ‘‘No make-up’’ can take as long to apply as full make-up and costs more, but it is worth the investment.

Everyone, keep your feet well shod. Replace soles and heels; shine boots and shoes. Buy handbags and man-bags/briefcases as needed.

Smile. But not too much.

This article Dress your way out of danger was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.