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There are countless reasons why you may be missing the mark on job interviews, or being passed up for more visible positions within your current workplace. You may be lacking credentials, experience, people skills, or “professional maturity.” It can take you months or even years to overcome such objections, but HYGIENE—the silent career killer—is one obstacle you can overcome in as little time as it takes to brush your teeth. Yet so many people would sooner get a PhD than address their VbBO (Very bad Body Odor). While travelling into Manhattan today in a not-so-well air-conditioned train, with 100 degree weather outside, a wretched human stench brought Phoebe Buffay’s (played by Lisa Kudrow on NBC’s ‘Friends’) rendition of ‘Smelly Cat’ to mind. If you don’t know who you are (you never do), the safest bet to avoid being crowned “Mr./Ms. Stinky” is to take a preventive approach. Unpredictably, seemingly innocent odors or flakes are liable to turn into near-suffocating and stomach-turning obstacles in your career. Following are three of the most common hygiene offenders and ways to dramatically improve your hygiene scorecard in business and beyond.
As our body temperature rises, our sweat glands come to rescue by secreting fluid, known as perspiration, to cool us down. It’s our built-in sprinkler system, if you will. Yet, if you are someone who tends to perspire a great deal it does not automatically mean you should not smell fresh. Surprisingly, the clear secretion produced by our glands is actually odorless. It’s only when the bacteria found in our skin and hair takes over the secretion that odor is emitted.
Combat body odor by bathing once or twice a day with an antibacterial soap rather than a lavender or musk scented bath gel that will only disguise your smelly syndrome. Pay close attention to areas like your neck, underarms, groin, feet, toes, and just about everywhere there is a crease or a skin fold for bacteria to linger. If you like particular floral or woodsy scents feel free to apply them after the use of antibacterial soap. You may also consider hair removal options to deter bacteria from finding a cozy home.
Nicotine breath, empty stomach breath, sick breath, tuna fish sandwich breath, or poor oral hygiene breath will surely keep you at more than an arm’s length from a potential employer, co-worker, or client. Avoid thinking that chomping on a stick of gum will fix oral smells. It will only temporarily mask the problem and create bigger issues down the road (i.e. cavities and TMJ or lock jaw). Also, as far as business etiquette faux pas go, gum chewing is at the top of the list.
Combat offensive breath by flossing and brushing after every meal. Arrange visits to your hygienist every six months, even if your insurance only covers going once a year. You, your breath, and your teeth will be rewarded tenfold for doing so. Examine food choices that may be the cause of gastric issues which permeate through your breath. A tasty and practical solution if you’re rushing between interviews, appointments, or meetings is to eat a whole apple on the go. It will not only satisfy your appetite; it will also act as a natural flossing agent to dislodge food particles from your teeth.
Aesthetically unpleasing and embarrassing, dandruff is an uncomfortable condition that is often exacerbated by weather changes (cold to hot or hot to cold) and high-pressure situations like interviewing, or dealing with stressful deadlines. Poor food choices, lack of sleep, bowel dysfunction, and excessive use of hair products may also be responsible for aggravating dandruff.
Combat dandruff by choosing shampoos meant for dislodging the dry skin cells from your scalp. Maintain a balanced diet and choose high-fiber foods that help cleanse your system. Experiment with home remedies such as adding cider vinegar to your shampoo for cell removal, or massaging mineral oil into your scalp before washing your hair to help restore moisture. Regularly brushing your scalp also helps stimulate it and removes flakes. A combination of shampooing, conditioning, and eating right will alleviate this ever-frustrating challenge that may be branding you as the office outcast.
Use hats to…
• Beautify messy, limp, or unshampooed hair
• Hide dark or gray roots
• Add height to your body as usually done with high-heels
• Emphasize your eyes
• Incorporate personality and flair into an otherwise ‘blah’ outfit
• Create a signature look for yourself
• Balance the look and style of your shoes for a complete & polished look (think of hats and shoes as bookend accessories)
Choose hats to accentuate, balance & camouflage…
• Wide Brimmed & Oversized Floppy hats offer the most protection from weather elements, but also camouflage large ears and long necks. Glamorous, dramatic, and voluminous in shape and size, these are a perfect option for balancing curvy silhouettes. Choose wide brim hats for lounging by the pool while sipping a frothy drink. Wear oversized floppy hats under long, loose curls with flowy maxi dresses for a romantic, retro-chic look.
• Fedora hats gained their name from Sarah Bernhardt’s 1882 play ‘Victorien Sardou,’ in which she also starred as the heroine, Princess Fedora. The narrow (2-2.5 inches) brim of a Fedora makes it a classic, understated hat option. Wear your Fedora tilted to one side in order to camouflage asymmetrical features or eyebrows. Tilt it forward for a mysterious and seductive look, as well as for camouflaging a protruding nose. Pair a Fedora with a tailored suit, dress, or trench coat for a perfectly refined image.
• Cowgirl hats are worn by women who choose to accentuate strength and ruggedness— though they are ironically interpreted as sultry and sexy. The high-crowned structure of this hat adds inches to your height, thereby accentuating slender physiques and balancing molded ones. Throw on a cowgirl hat whenever you want to kick your t-shirt and jeans up a notch or with a cami-top and tiered skirt for a look that is edgy yet relaxed.
• Baseball Caps & Visors are the natural choice for hat atheists. Baseball caps and visors are easy to throw on for a quick supermarket run or trip to the hairdresser. Gender-neutral and universal for pairing with casual wear or active wear, these are flattering for all face shapes and silhouettes. Baseball caps and visors are ideal for comfort, protection, and versatility. Invest in baseball caps or visors without emblems or sports logos in denim and velour fabrics or classic plaid and tartan prints to combine a bit of urban with upscale.
• Cloche hats emerged in the 1920’s and gained popularity alongside flapper dresses. The bell shape and snug fit of a cloche hat make it a perfect solution for camouflaging ears and foreheads that protrude. Short hairstyles can be neatly tucked under this hat and paired with a drop-waist dress to achieve a roaring 20’s vintage feel. Cloche hats complement women with fine facial features and petite silhouettes. Add a gemstone or floral pin to accentuate and personalize this classic feminine look.
• Bucket hats are soft with a downwards sloping brim which offers moderate shade from the sun. Favored by competition archers and fishermen, bucket hats provide a cool and sporty option for wearers who prefer to do without the fussiness or drama of wide-brimmed and floppy hats. Typically constructed from heavy-duty fabrics like denim and canvas, bucket hats are a great option for adventurous or outdoorsy women looking for protection and flair. Bucket hats accentuate a camo-safari look with simplicity and comfort.
• Beret hats associated with French culture are flat-crowned, soft, round, and moldable caps that are transportable and easy to wear. Berets soften angular features, elongate round faces worn tilted, and balance oblong faces worn slightly off-center. Hand-knitted, crocheted, or woven berets may also be dressed up by adding a decorative pin. Berets complement just about any outfit, and look especially chic with military jackets since they originated as uniform headgear for soldiers during the seventeenth and eighteenth century.
Keep fashion hats on whenever…
• The national anthem is being sung or played
• A national flag is raised or exhibited in a parade or funeral procession
• Attending a religious service
• Dining at a luncheon, wedding, or garden party
• In a residence
• Sitting at an indoor performance or event
Remove fashion hats whenever…
• Interviewing for a job
• Working within a professional environment
• Dining in business
• They obstruct the view of a person sitting behind you
• Wearing unisex hats such as trendy baseball caps/visors or stylish cowgirl hats during: formal introductions, funeral/processions, flag raisings, mealtimes, religious services, indoor performances, work environments, or while entering public buildings or restaurants.
*Cancer patients and women with Alopecia Areata are exempt from these hat removal etiquette guidelines
✓ White Collared Shirt
A blank canvas waiting to be painted is what a white collared shirt is within your wardrobe. It instantly brightens your eyes, skin, and teeth; and it epitomizes meticulous grooming when worn pressed and stain-free. The white collar of a shirt highlights your face the way a picture frame accentuates a beautiful painting. On its own or layered under a jacket, cardigan, or colorful scarf, a white collared shirt is the universal staple of every career wardrobe.
✓ Sheath Dress
Classic and chic, with a simple silhouette and tailored fit, the sheath dress is an indispensable piece that magnificently transitions from daywear to after work cocktails wear in a flash. Choose one with a neckline that compliments your face shape. “V” and cowl necklines elongate a round face and short neck. Round, mock, and turtle necklines camouflage a long neck. Bateau necklines balance oblong faces. Accentuate with an oblong scarf to kick up the style factor. Works well under a suit jacket for a formal office look.
✓ Suit Jacket
Impeccable fit, construction, and fabric are essential to this focal point garment in your wardrobe. The suit jacket formalizes any outfit and transforms it into a professional ‘power’ look. A suit jacket worn over your shirt, collared shirt, or camisole commands status and attention. Solid colors and tone-on-tone patterns are most practical as your first or only suit jacket option. Since it is the most ‘influential’ career wardrobe staple, you should invest in the most timeless and well-constructed one you can afford.
A-line skirts for women with rounder derrieres and stomachs work best, while pencil or straight skirts compliment sleeker physiques. Matching a skirt with your suit jacket works well for a job interview, but choosing a skirt in a complimentary color and fabric will give you a polished look with a modern edge. Reveal a youthful image with a hemline that brushes the top of your knee cap. Show a more conservative appearance with a hemline that falls right below your knee cap. Look for one with a front, back, or side slit for a hint of feminine flair.
Find a pair of ready-to-wear slacks that fit well and you will live in them (a hint of spandex—about 2%—often helps with proper fit). Choose a straight leg for a traditional look, tapered leg for a contemporary look, or a wide leg for more a glamorous look. Vertical patterns lengthen your legs, while plaids shorten your legs. Select slacks that match your suit jacket so you have the flexibility of wearing them as a suit or as separate pieces.
✓ Cardigan Sweater
What’s not to love about the cardigan sweater? It is your ‘all-occasion’ friend. Select a cotton or cashmere cardigan over your collared shirt or camisole for a polished year-round look. Add energy and excitement to your wardrobe with a vibrant-hued cardigan that becomes your favorite transitional garment. As a layered piece or on its own, the knit cardigan sweater withstands the test of stretch-n-grow; especially if you’re one whose weight tends to fluctuate with office picnics and holiday parties.
✓ Camisole Top
Camisole tops are a necessity in your wardrobe regardless of your size, age, or style. I really can’t say enough about them since I own one (or more) in just about every color. For the purpose of this blog post, we’re trying to keep it simple so one will have to do. Camisoles are amazing as they add a layer of support, comfort, protection, texture, and color. Sport one under your white collared shirt, cardigan sweater, or use a dressy silk one under your suit jacket. Select a ‘cami’ with compression qualities to smoothen and slim your bust line and midriff area.
✓ Mid-heel Pump Shoes
Invest in quality mid-heel pump shoes that you can presumably wear every single day. When it comes to a work shoe, comfort trumps glamour. Think of shoes as you would car tires—they must fit and be in great condition for reliability and speed. I can’t stress the importance of being able to walk gracefully in heels. Observe yourself or ask an honest friend to watch how you walk in up to 3 inch heels. If you feel wobbly or insecure, reduce the height by half inch increments. Your confidence and poise should be communicated through your gait. Therefore, avoid awkwardness. A note about color: regardless of the color the value (referring to the lightness or darkness of the color) should be similar to the value of your hair. Think of your hair and shoes as bookends which securely hold the complete you.
✓ Tote Bag
A roomy tote is your cost-effective answer to staying organized with one main bag for work and play. Totes come in a variety of styles, shapes, materials, and price points. Also, in case you were wondering, tote bags needn’t match your shoes, belt, or other accessories. Totes are sort of an upgraded retail store shopping bag so they don’t really have to even match your outfit. Show your artistic side with a mixed media tote or your conservative side with a traditional choice.
✓ Oblong Scarf
Even if you’re normally intimidated or can’t be bothered with scarves, you should incorporate at least one into your wardrobe essentials. An oblong scarf can easily replace a belt, a long necklace, or tote bag charm. In addition, a scarf will add flush, flair, and fusion to any dull outfit in need of a jolt. Scarves with geometric patterns will offset curvy body types, while scarves with swirl motif designs will balance angular body types. If you prefer to accentuate your body type, choose a pattern that replicates your natural body lines.
Refer to this list of career style essentials whenever you need guidance on assembling or replenishing your mainstay wardrobe items. If you’re downsizing your overloaded closet, these 10 fundamental pieces will turn your morning dressing into a worry-free practice you’ll never dread again.
Kay Unger’s talent as a fashion designer and shrewd entrepreneur are heightened by her gracious demeanor, flair, and generosity. Currently, the Chicago native and graduate of Parsons/ The New School for Design in New York is creative head and public face of Phoebe Company LLC and its brands: Kay Unger New York, Phoebe Couture, Unger by Kay Unger, Career Separates by Kay Unger, and Kay J’s by Kay Unger. She is an active member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), Board of Directors and participant in the education program in the Dominican Republic for her alma mater (Parsons). Kay is also a board and founding member of The Committee of 200, an organization that advances women’s leadership in business, and the Women’s Campaign Forum. As a cancer survivor, she has taken a personal interest in funding cancer research and has raised over $250,000 for the cause while serving as the president of the Fashion Group International; continues efforts with Stand Up To Cancer, an initiative dedicated to bringing advanced therapies to patients more quickly, by raising funds and awareness in the fashion industry. In 2009, Kay Unger was recognized by City of Hope as “Woman of the Year,” an honor bestowed for notable contributions to her profession, her community, and her charitable causes. I recently had the pleasure of meeting with the incredibly dynamic “Dress Queen” known for her vibrantly hued classic dresses, who shared many of the little known facts owing to her personal and career success.
Upon graduation from The Parson’s New School for Design in the late 1960’s you worked for Geoffrey Beene. Was it difficult for you to land that job?
Actually, I had landed a paid assistant position at a sister company of Geoffrey Beene’s right after I graduated from Parsons. A year later, when the company closed, I landed the job as a designer with Geoffrey Beene.
After a year at Geoffrey Beene you decided to develop your own line, modeling the client after yourself, filling the void for “clean dinner dresses.” How were you able to do this in such a short period of time?
It was something I felt passionate about doing. My dad passed away around that time so I inherited some start-up money which afforded me the opportunity to launch The Gillian Group. I started it in 1972 along with two business partners, Howard Bloom and Jon Levy.
Who were your inspirations for design?
My mom had wonderful style so she was my first source of inspiration. I also loved the designs of Traina Norell (a manufacturer of high-end clothing for sophisticated women) as well as the luxurious fabrics Liberty of London.
Your dresses were sold under the Gillian label, where the group and its many divisions grew into a $125 million company which went bankrupt in 1994. How did such a successful company go bankrupt?
One of my partners embezzled a great deal of money so we had to close our doors. Fortunately, just fifteen days after closing the Gillian Group, Rob Feinberg (former President of Gillian Group) and I launched Phoebe Company LLC where we established the line bearing my name, Kay Unger New York.
How did the dresses produced under Kay Unger New York differ from the dresses produced under the Gillian Group LLC?
We became more quality conscious rather than volume conscious. We didn’t want to fill tons of floor space in our retail stores. We focused on customizing the dresses to fulfill our clients’ lifestyle.
In 2005, you launched Kay J’s, a whimsical print pajama brand. What made you decide to expand from dresses to pajamas?
Kay J’s was created exclusively for Neiman Marcus. They approached me and I thought it would be fun to develop—and it was. Given my background as a painter, it allowed me to explore color and prints in a quirky, fanciful way.
Phoebe Couture is a youthful, edgy line of dresses for day and evening. How do the Phoebe Couture silhouettes differ from those of Kay Unger silhouettes?
Phoebe Couture is a “Younger Unger.” The silhouettes are less tailored—more A-line— than Kay Unger silhouettes. That said, “Young” is not defined by age, but by how you feel. For instance, I happen to be wearing a Phoebe dress (as she points to her modishly striped dress with hem above the knee).
In 2008, Kay Unger New York Eyewear and Phoebe Couture Eyewear were launched. How did this venture come about?
This is a licensing agreement and the eyewear is sold solely through opticians.
Can your dresses be purchased through your own e-commerce site?
No. We found that our stores (Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales,’ and Lord &Taylor) do a better job of selling our dresses on their e-commerce sites. They do what they do best and we do what we do best.
How do you build a relationship with your customers?
I love to make appearances at the retail stores where my dresses are sold. I am very “hands-on” with my customers. I’ll often go into the dressing rooms and personally choose and fit the perfect dress for them based on body type, natural coloring, and personality.
Which top 3 dressing tips would you share with career women?
1. Visualize yourself as powerful and feminine and choose a dress that enhances those positive qualities.
2. Remember to incorporate color— it will instantly make you look and feel great.
3. Think about where you will be wearing the dress and choose one that will be multi-functional so it doesn’t just hang in your closet.
How did you balance your career with motherhood?
I was lucky to be able to afford domestic help and nannies, but I often sacrificed going to all the fun industry parties and PR events because I wanted to be with my sons. That’s how I was able to do it. I cut out a lot of the extras so I could juggle my parenting and career responsibilities.
What advice would you offer women entrepreneurs looking to launch a business?
Do not underestimate the importance of a business plan. It is the blueprint to any well-thought out business. Joining trade associations and organizations within the industry you are looking to start a business is also vital for networking and credibility. I would also say to avoid taking on partners unless you absolutely have to and if you take on a partner, insist on being a 51% owner. It gives you an edge on decision-making.