Women, in theory always more obsessed with looks, have been inundated with articles on the importance of image and first impressions for years. To read half of them, you wouldn’t believe it possible to start, leave alone run, a business without having the style and flair of Michelle Obama.
My parents were desperate for a boy and dressed me accordingly when I was young. I grew up on a farm, so tomboy antics suited me until these were curtailed by a spate of childhood illnesses. For some strange reason, this caused my parents to reverse their decision and send me to a very girlie boarding school, filled with debutantes of the future. The combination of being convinced I was overweight and unattractive post-illness and the lack of any female guidance on style in my formative years put me at a chronic disadvantage to my peers, all of whom already seemed able to chuck their velvet Alice bands and Hermes scarves together perfectly and arrive at any occasion with un-laddered tights and un-scuffed court shoes from the age of 12 onwards.
My confidence was damaged. And yet, in spite of my total lack of style, I still managed to start my own business. Granted, my work with customers was 95 per cent telephone-based and, in very dusty manufacturing conditions, smart clothes are a waste of time. If I had been meeting customers all day, then yes, the story might have been different.
When my son came into the business, some of the clients were sufficiently intrigued to ask him what I was like. Nearly all thought I was tall, thin and dark (the reality is that I am blonde, dumpy and somewhat stunted). I assume the tall represents a moderately large personality, the dark is for someone efficient, and thin immediately goes with successful. All these images, however, are preconceived and fake. To this day, I am still finding most people, when introduced to me, immediately go “you are not at all what we expected”.
I have some immensely glamorous friends who don’t work at all or work in industries where style is relevant and important. They point out that taking time to make themselves look gorgeous takes time away from making money. I equally have some high-powered friends who, like me, have just about mustered the art of dressing up – but are more prone to appear in jeans and a t-shirt in the office.
For those of you who don’t feel that stylishness ranks in your attributes, chuck out the articles, ignore the courses. In the end, it is your business acumen that will make the difference to you succeeding – not your designer gear.