My first trip to New York was in my early 20’s. My flight landed in JFK, and I went straight to a lunch meeting in Manhattan. I’ll never forget that meeting because in the middle of it, one of the most sophisticated-looking women I’ve ever seen came in and sat at the table next to us. I zoned out for the next 15 minutes staring at this woman and surveying her hair, her bag, her clothes and her shoes. She was in her late 40’s or early 50’s, and in my mind, she was the epitome of refinement. She was “put-together”, as we’d say down South, and the kind of woman who makes you instantly aware of the things you are not.
Many of us have those moments. But I’ve realized over the years that developing a personal style, and looking put-together, means something different to every woman.
In a recent article by the fashion site Who What Wear, they asked 100 women what they would change about their style, and a whopping 17% of them said they would want to look more polished or professional. That means that in every group of ten women, 1-2 of them feel like they don’t look _____________ enough. Like I felt that day in the cafe. Whether it’s “polished”, “professional”, “refined”, “sophisticated”, or any synonym you can think of, the desire to present ourselves in a certain way is still there.
This tells me a few things about women and how we see ourselves in our everyday lives, and, most importantly, in the workplace. Mostly, that there are some universal truths that women need to know when it comes to looking “put-together”.
5 Universal Truths of Put-Together Women:
- Universal Truth #1: The women who look put-together invest their time to look that way. This is probably the truth that makes most of us uncomfortable. I’ll never forget the article I spotted this past January that said the biggest trend in spring hair is “looking like you give a sh*t”. It has become quite fashionable to roll out of bed and “wake up like this”. But the truth is that most of the time, the women who look put-together spent some time and concerted effort on looking that way, whether it’s by caring for their clothes or taking their time with hair and makeup or investing in a long-term skincare strategy.
- Universal Truth #2: The women who look put-together probably had someone show them how to look that way. It could have been a mother, an aunt, a sister or a mentor, but somewhere down the line, the most put-together women have sought the help of others. And have taken their advice. Some have even invested in professional stylists or image consultants. YouTube and Pinterest are great for some things, but finding a real person to help you develop your personal style is a much better way to spend your time.
- Universal Truth #3: The women who look put-together have an inner confidence, or glow, that’s hard to ignore. Most of the time, the most polished women we see also happen to be extremely smart and successful. That’s no coincidence. There’s an inner confidence that has spilled over to the outside. There are no quick fixes for this one. It only comes with age and experience.
- Universal Truth #4: The women who look put-together dress for the body they have. Clothes should fit your body exactly the way it is now. Not the way it looked 20 pounds ago. Ask any stylist or professional organizer, and they’ll tell you: keeping smaller clothes around to “motivate you” does more harm than good.
- Universal Truth #5: The women who look put-together invest in pieces that aren’t too trendy or won’t go out of style anytime soon. I bought a dress fifteen years ago that I still wear today. Many of the most put-together women could probably say the same about a few pieces in their wardrobe. The polished woman has an eye for quality pieces that can live in her closet for many years. She knows how to accessorize them. She knows how to rock them. They’re her go-to pieces for important days. And (see UT #4): they always fit impeccably.
Looking polished, professional and put-together can do wonders for your professional self, but you have to be willing to push yourself into being more self-aware. In a world where it’s cool to be flippant about your looks, challenge yourself to take your appearance more seriously in hopes of presenting your best, most professional self.