You’re three weeks – or is it six weeks? – into the pandemic. You’ve been working from home and helping your kids with school, and, well, the days run together. It’s Monday. Or possibly Tuesday?
The date? Forget about it. If somebody literally offered you a million dollars on the spot to tell them the actual date, you’d be no richer.
But your calendar app just binged to let you know you’ve got a Zoom meeting with work in 10 minutes.
There’s no time for a shower. Maybe not even to brush your teeth. You run your hand through your hair and look down at your shirt. No stains. Great. You’re good to go.
After a last quick look in the mirror to make sure you’re acceptable looking, if not exactly glowing, you sit down cross-legged on your bed, laptop propped on your knees, only slightly off balance.
Your sly smile? That’s because nobody will know that you’re still wearing your pajama pants. Suckers! They can’t see you from the waist down!
According to a recent NPR article, Walmart’s end of March sales numbers showed increased purchases of shirts and tops. But not bottoms.
Dan Bartlett, VP of corporate affairs, told NPR that the increase in people teleconferencing from home while sheltering-in-place means they’re dressing to impress, but only from the waist up. If colleagues will only see your top, you can wear a jacket and tie, or a tailored blouse, but pair it with a pair of sweatpants. Or not.
But Suze Solari, professional stylist and brand expert for the River Forest, Oak Park and Forest Park crowd, insists that you shouldn’t skimp on personal style when you’re on a video conference call. Or, to break it down to the basics, even if you’re simply working from home and talking on the telephone, when nobody can see you. It’s important, she says, to look your best so you can feel your best.
Solari is a consultant who helps people develop their own personal branding. Right now, she said, is an especially interesting time for her business, which she’s run for 10 years, because while so many people are shifting the way they work, the basic objective is still the same: “To look and feel your best so your brand is on point.”
Right now, Solari focuses with her clients on how to put together comfortable and stylish work from home outfits that make you feel good and look good on camera, since so many people are doing Zoom meetings and other virtual online conferencing.
“Just because you’re at home, it doesn’t mean your goals have changed,” said Solari. “You still want to be successful. And you can still have a wardrobe that supports that.”
How you dress – and dressing for success – works in two ways, says Solari.
First, the initial physical impression we make is important in the way others perceive us.
On video, this means, obviously, the basics, said Solari. “Brush your teeth! Don’t wear pajamas to that online meeting!” She urges people to ask themselves the question, “How are you showing up?”
She acknowledges that people shouldn’t judge by appearance. You should be able to wear a stained shirt to a meeting and be evaluated only for your brilliant mind and world-changing ideas. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.
“Judging on appearances is in our DNA,” said Solari. “Long ago, it’s how we chose a good mate. If a guy looked like he could bring back a good bison, he’d be the top choice for the women.”
And although we’re not generally choosing people based on how capable they appear to be at bagging wild game or birthing babies, our physical appearance is still vitally important in how we’re perceived by others.
Second, said Solari, how your clothes make you feel can completely alter the way you present yourself. If you’re wearing something that boosts your confidence, you’ll come across as more self-assured, even over video.
“Clothing affects our brains,” said Solari. And during these times of unknowns, it’s important to feel as strong and positive as possible.
“Shower,” said Solari. “Get out of those pajamas.” She focuses on something like a travel wardrobe, easy pieces that hold up well, ideally sourced locally. “It’s important to support our local economy,” she added.
In addition to what you’re wearing, how you set up your physical space for Zoom meetings or conference calls makes a big difference in how you look, said Solari.
On a video conference call, “you don’t have the luxury of body language,” said Solari. “You’re more flat.” Thus, you need to make up for that in the way you come across physically.
Wearing black, said Solari, washes people out in video. She recommends brighter colors and, for women specifically, a V-neck, which elongates your look. “It will instantly bring more color to your face,” said Solari.
Makeup is good if you’re accustomed to wearing it, and even if not, a little lipstick and mascara or a tinted moisturizer can heighten your color and bring out your features, it can keep you looking vibrant instead of washed-out.
On a technical level, Solari recommends that your camera be at eye level. Ideally, you should use a laptop, but a phone can be used if placed on a tripod or something steady. Look straight into the camera, not down or up, which can create shadows that obscure your face.
Forward facing light is best, rather than an overhead lamp or light source. Natural light is good, especially if you have a north facing window.
As for backgrounds, although Solari advises against a busy wall with personal photographs, she also says a completely blank wall isn’t a great idea.
“It will make you look like you’re in prison,” said Solari. “It’s like a mugshot.”
“Try to set up a pleasing background like a neat bookshelf with curios or a candle,” she advises.
As for pants? It’s ultimately your choice. But as Solari says, “Always wear a complete outfit; it’s tempting to just dress from the waist up, but when you pop up for a coffee or pee break, you’ll undo all your hard work!”