I remember my first few years as a Management Consultant. I was 23 at the time and totally in over my head. I always looked older than my actual age, but because of my international background, I approach people differently. Some people get confused and cannot deal with that amount of trust that is given to them. They think trust needs to be earned and when someone hands it out, something is wrong. In reality it is just a different way of seeing it. You can trust someone until they prove you wrong. This makes every interaction so much easier.
I used to have so many rules, at the beginning of my career, I thought with their help, I could outsmart the system. I have kept some of them, especially the fashion ones. Fashion choices helped me make a good first impression and got situated high on the competence barometer, yet in the long run, its the personality, that leaves a mark.
In consulting, you are going to make a lot of first impressions. Every new project you start, every new team member you meet. Most importantly, it is the client that you need to impress. If she is convinced of your work, so are your supervisors.
Vibe: Trustworthy, Smart, Approachable
Never under estimate the power of a good suit. Let me give you 4 reasons, why people trust other people in suits:
- The structured collar of the blazer, makes you appear structured and clear in your thoughts and words
- The colour blue (and so much of it, since you are wearing a blazer and trousers) is calming, and doesn't distract from what you are saying
- It looks expensive and groomed. When people see that you cared about how you dress, they assume you also care about your work, and will do your best.
- If you always have the same outfit on, you appear predictable, and people like predictability, it makes them trust you more.
Thus: whenever you are in doubt what to wear, a tailored suit with a crisp whit blouse and a pair of loafers/heels is the best way to go.
Where you can buy good suits:
Always opt for a suit that has a high percentage of wool in them. They will last longer and they will not get shiny elbows and shiny bottoms. That's what happends with fabric that has a high % or plastic in them. Normally the fabric does not get shiny, if you sit on leather. That's why most expensive office chairs and cars, have leather seats. They don't make a suit shiny.
This suit below by Suistudio is a double breasted one, they are quite in fashion in 2020, a normal suit with just one button row, will also do.
In a more casual environment, such as if you are doing design thinking, or are at a startup, and you believe the dark blue is too formal, go with a shade lighter and combine the suit with a pair of all white, non-chunky sneaker.
Recommended Wardrobe Colours:
I would recommend to build your wardrobe around these colours:
As a standard: Dark and Royal Blue, White, Tan, Grey, Light Blue (I would be careful with light pink/rose, it might trigger some unconscious bias in some people and mistake your competence with that of a little girls).
Additional colours for Winter: Dark Blue, Brown, Dark Green, Burgundy, Lilac, Black
Note: Avoid the black suits. Black pantsuits are for galas and funerals, and yes it makes you look skinny, but so does dark blue. Black suits look very elegant if it is a high quality material, or it can look very cheap if it is bad quality. If you do pick that black pantsuit, pick one e.g. with fake leather applications, or something a little edgy.
- Short sleeves: Depending on how hot it is, and how good your air conditioning is, wear something that is not too naked. I can recommend avoiding the cleavage, or the spaghetti straps. It conveys a little more the feeling that you have actually got dressed for work, and you are not attending a summer barbecue later. It was really hot that day, and my colleague wore a normal tank top, all the guys in the room went mad, they turned red, and didn't know where to look. It is work after all.
- Tights, skirts and dresses: The same goes for tights. It is the etiquette that you wear them, but even if you don’t, the skirt should be over/around the knees, because you want to convey that you dressed for work this morning, not for the party. I have also worn shorter than "allowed" skirts, and in summer, even without tights. I am still not sure how many people thought I was in the wrong company, but hey, rules are there to be broken. You have to feel comfortable, so try out the lengths, and see how it goes.
- Shoes: You can never go wrong with a pair of pumps. Even with a small heel. A kitten heel is very elegant, as well as sling pumps. I do not recommend open toes, or wedges if you do wear them, make sure the pants you are wearing are long and wide, so they cover most of the shoe and foot. This goes for Germany, and I know that in Spain or Italy, an open toe or a sandal is fully acceptable. The flat alternative are moccasins and budapester. They can be fun, as long as they fit the colour scheme of your outfit.
- Colours: Try and keep the colours according to your colour palette, and be careful with too many flowers, you might end up looking like you are attending a garden party. If you want to wear patterns, my recommendation would be to limit the patterns to the top part of the outfit and not go too pasteli on the outfit. When you start your career, i can recommend to not be too extravagant or loud with your fashion choices. Let your intelligence shine, and once everyone knows who you are, and you have a higher position, a couple of years into your career, you can go as extravagant as you like. According to my observation, it's an unwritten rule for women.
- Turtlenecks and jumpers: whether it is a little thicker just like a jumper, or a little thinner like a bodysuits, they keep you warm and are super comfortable.
- Shoes and socks: There is absolutely no need to have frozen feet in winter. Buy that pair of shoes half a size bigger and wear some proper socks or inlays with it. Boots with a high or a small heel, a skinny or a thick heel are all okay to wear with a suit. Just be sensible and please don't wear your pumps if it snows. I promise it makes all the difference.
- Skirts and dresses: For winter I can recommend Viscose as a fabric to wear. It is very elastic and thick as a material, and will keep you warm. I cannot recommend wearing a blouse under a no sleeved shift dress as a Management Consultant, because the look drifts into the direction of “Cute”. Also I would recommend wearing a blazer to a dress, and not just a cardigan, because of the clean lines of the blazer.
The latest trend: Sneakers. White sneakers the look particularly smart when you also wear a white blouse to a dashing royal blue suit. If you are the more daring kind, and or in a more IT/digital environment, or if you are in a design thinking workshop and still want to look the part, wear a pair of nice uni coloured, sneakers. The picture you will be conveying is more daring, creative and out of the box thinking, yet being professional and structured, through the suit.
Research which is good to know: Generally, if women wear dresses, and their competence is evaluated by men, they will be perceived as less structured and less analytical, but more creative and more engaging. Keep this in mind, when you pick your outfit for the occasion. That is why for an interview, I would not recommend picking a dress, because in this short period of time, it is essential for you to convey your competencies. Structure, problem solving and analytical skills are always the first thing Management Consultant companies are looking for.