‘The customer’s perception is your reality,’ 

(Kate Zabriskie, Author on customer service, communication and negotiation)

What perception of success do you think fashion choices can create? 

Would you say wearing designer labels make you appear successful to work associates or potential business partners? 

I don’t know how many times I’ve been told to dress for the ‘job I want, not the job I have.’  Alternatively, could wearing high-end fashion as a business owner create the impression of a vain, unapproachable nature? 

Could likability and connection be lost if you turned up to a meeting in a jacket worth the same as the others’ car? 

Furthermore, would they assume your possibly overcharging to acquire such a lifestyle?

As one of the world’s most recognised and successful luxury brand owners Richard Branson employed top designer Vivienne Westwood to create the current signature cabin crew uniforms for Virgin Atlantic.  Not only has this had an impact on the image of the brand to be synonymous with luxury but there does seem to be an air of pride when they are worn that often leads to an impressive strut through the airport that oozes that picture of success.   My little girl once asked at the age of 5 if one was a superhero and I have to admit she looked nothing less.  

illustration of a woman
Illustration by Sam Baguley for revivemagazine.co

So, does this also mean those providing a luxury service must also be dressed in luxury brands?   I heard of a wedding planner secure a client based on the watch she was wearing earlier last year.   When asked how the meeting went, the bride replied: “Well she must be good, she was wearing a diamond bezel Rolex.”  Do designer brands alone really have the potential to exude the image of success and close a deal before we even speak? If so, I wonder how a Balmain blazer would look on my next expenses form.

In contrast, whilst in conversation with a very successful (and equally hardworking) businesswoman in the hospitality industry she confessed to having always wanted a luxury sports car.  She then explained she could never face buying one through fear of losing favour or relatability with her clients as her brand was aimed towards women who possibly couldn’t afford such luxuries.  

If our outfit choices have this much impact on our professional lives, this raises further queries on a question many women already find to be a task in their personal lives, “What should I wear?” or even more daunting “Who should I wear?”

Growing up success, for me, was closely tied to fashion labels.  I had a list of ‘iconic’ designer pieces I wanted to own once I had my ‘successful’ career.  In all honesty, I actually saw my career as the doorway to my wish list and therefore the life I wanted to live.   Designer clothes meant success to me, although I did not associate them with creating the success as such.

I had an image of rushing to a lunch meeting (even my future Patek Philippe wouldn’t be able to cure my terrible time keeping) with the exact quilted Chanel bag I saw models grasping in magazines swishing by my side.  If I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the click of my heels on the pavement, flashing their red soles as though to alert everyone to the fact that this woman, strutting with purpose, was on her way to a very important meeting and her Burberry trench may as well have been a cape.  I would personify success through these iconic recognisable pieces and it would feel great.  This was the branded fantasy of a young girl with an addiction to fashion magazines and watching Sex and the City, the main sources of fashion inspiration for the time before Pinterest and Instagram. 

It almost felt like my career would simply be there to fund these luxury items.  It was deeply engrained that designer was the way forward, magazines seemed to focus mainly on designer items and Carrie was not going to be cooing over shoes in New Look anytime soon.  This was further influenced with two highly memorable, not to mention embarrassing, instances at school where my coat and trainers were mocked because they were not from a well-known brand.  It just stuck and provided further reason to me that I needed to wear designer brands and no less.  

So, therefore, that became my goal and I suppose the expectation I had of myself.  Although for the mean time my fake Louis Vuitton had to suffice, it was poorly made and the colour transferred onto my clothes but it was the closest I could get to designer and everyone else seemed to have one, so it didn’t feel too shameful.  Somehow though it did niggle me that it felt like a lie.  

Although it has to be noted, recently we have seen a surge in high street.  Fast fashion brands such as ASOS, Pretty Little Thing and In the Style seem to have created a culture which has diffused the focus from the status of the label to the ability to have freedom to express personal style with affordable pieces that can be interchanged.  Praise for fashion seems to be more about putting pieces together in a stylish manner, rather than where it’s from.  Bargains are often celebrated between peers now, not hidden.   

High end ‘designer’ labels soon noticed this shift, they shouted a little louder.   With a nod to the nineties the trend for bold, heavily branded pieces returned.   Many classic labels often associated with a more polished, professional look, such as Gucci and Chanel, left all subtlety and the phrase “less is more” to diminish, much like my dream of owning a Patek once I realised the cost.  

An explosion of flashy logo covered pieces unsuitable for workwear emerged.   Sportswear became a focus for many luxury designers, Yeezy landed with a bang and Stella McCartney became more synonymous with sportswear than her trademark elegant, simplistic design.  A quick Google of her name and trainers are the first thing to show up these days.   

This has given high street the opportunity to monopolise on the ‘working wardrobe.’  Zara, ASOS, H&M and others have included ‘Premium’ items within their ‘Office Wear’ ranges, featuring a slightly higher price with greater attention to fit and fabric quality. I don’t know many women who don’t own a pair of H&M’s printed cropped trousers for £12.99, mine have been worn to death and still look brand new.  

Inspiration to suit all budgets can now be found in abundance through Influencers, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.  The truth is you can now look stylish without breaking the bank.  Many high street brands can look ‘designer.’  If perception can truly become reality, the lines between designer and high street is much more blurred than ever before. 

The ‘successful career woman’ I had imagined for myself felt excited to own those designer items but the woman I have grown into feels so much more excited about having enough ambition, drive and success to be able to afford such indulgences. When I look back my measure of career success was never really how I looked in that image but how I felt, to hear the clicking of those shoes knowing I was walking with confidence and more importantly, purpose, that’s what I craved.   

I can’t deny some outfits give me that superhero strut of a Virgin stewardess but in there lies my belief and my message to you; fashion whether high end or high street is about how you feel in it.  

Confidence should not be dependent on the label it bares but the way it inspires you to feel about yourself. 

Don’t dress for the job you want, dress for the woman you want to be and truly are.  Success can be measured in many ways but it can’t be denied there is nothing more intriguing and impressive than the walk of a confident woman, just like the stewardess my daughter saw. 

It could be said Richard Branson had the same belief using fashion to encourage a feeling of empowerment that success can be built upon. 

Maybe that Rolex the wedding planner wore was something she had bought for herself or possibly a treasured gift from a loved one, either way, it may have made her feel more self-assured and therefore appear more successful. 

The customer’s perception will always be based on their own experience and beliefs, when using fashion help create your own reality, use it to inspire yourself to feel successful in your own right because when you walk like a superhero people will think you’re one whether they are 5 or not.

As far as designer and success for me, the only success that clothes make me feel nowadays is when I know I’ve grabbed a bargain and it’s coming next day delivery.

I won’t deny I still have my list of ‘iconic’ designer pieces and the ones that have been ticked off and I have treated myself to, I cherish. Although they won’t ever be a measurement of my success, for that little niggle of a lie to myself would surely return, even if my bags are no longer fake.  

Author – April Sky Børjesson

Illustration by Sam Baguley

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