Dress for suc­cess

Sonya Len­non on what to wear to work to­day

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Front Page -

SONYA Len­non is a busy woman. She is a stylist, broad­caster, au­thor and de­signer with over 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in the fash­ion busi­ness.

One half of the Len­non Court­ney la­bel for Dunnes Stores, she founded the Dublin branch of Dress for Suc­cess, an in­ter­na­tional char­ity that pro­motes eco­nomic in­de­pen­dence for women by pro­vid­ing ca­reer de­vel­op­ment ad­vice along with pro­fes­sional cloth­ing and styling prior to a job in­ter­view.

Dress for Suc­cess is on the verge of go­ing na­tion­wide in Ire­land with the roll­out of 10 pop-ups in the com­ing months, some­thing she is very ex­cited about. There is also a Dress for Suc­cess of­fice in Cork, al­though this is a sep­a­rate or­gan­i­sa­tion.

A mum to 12-year-old twins and a self-de­scribed fem­i­nist, she says equal­ity is at her very core. But is wor­ry­ing about how we look at work anti-fem­i­nist?

“No, ab­so­lutely not, and the rea­son is be­cause it’s the way we are hard­wired to think. Just look at na­ture and how things are de­signed to be at­trac­tive so that they are ef­fec­tive. It’s about be­ing fit for pur­pose but it’s also about tick­ing a box so that it ceases to be an is­sue.”

She points to An­gela Merkel as an ex­am­ple of some­one who has made the de­ci­sion to don a uni­form ev­ery day. Same suit, just dif­fer­ent colours, giv­ing a clear mes­sage that ‘this is how I look and you may ex­pect me to look ex­actly like this for the rest of my days’, thereby tak­ing how she looks off the agenda.

“That is one ap­proach,” says Len­non. “The other tack is to per­haps be a bit more strate­gic about how you en­gage with the work­place and I don’t think there is any harm in that be­cause when some­one looks good, there is a sub­con­scious as­sump­tion that they are con­fi­dent and with that comes a sense of abil­ity and com­pe­tence.”

She calls this “join­ing a load of as­sump­tion dots” be­cause “if you wear some­thing that makes you feel good, you will be more con­fi­dent”.

A kind of sar­to­rial ‘fak­ing it ’til you make it’.

Is it more about be­ing com­fort­able as op­posed to con­form­ing to a par­tic­u­lar uni­form?

“It’s re­ally find­ing the sweet spot in be­tween those two things. You might look like Lady Gaga and feel fab­u­lous but if you are go­ing to work in the bank it may not be the right way to go.”

For years we’ve heard about the must-have sta­ples in our work wardrobe, but ac­cord­ing to Len­non, it’s not so much about a ‘cap­sule wardrobe’ as about un­der­stand­ing your body shape. And there is a sim­ple for­mula that works re­gard­less of your size. It’s all about pro­por­tion — cre­at­ing equi­lib­rium be­tween your top and bot­tom half with an in­dent in the mid­dle. “What you are do­ing is try­ing to cre­ate two triangles tip to tip, whether you are a size six or 26,” she says. In other words, if you are bot­tom heavy you will need to ex­tend your shoul­ders and vice versa, thereby cre­at­ing all-im­por­tant bal­ance.

Once you un­der­stand your body shape, the next thing is to work out is your colour pal­ette.

“You wouldn’t dec­o­rate your liv­ing room with­out hav­ing a colour pal­ette in mind. You wouldn’t go out and buy lots of coloured stuff and fling it all to­gether and think it will be grand. You would have a scheme. And the same is true of your wardrobe.

“Many of us take the easy op­tion and buy lots of black, es­pe­cially for work, but it’s not very friendly or ex­hil­a­rat­ing. Colour has a huge ef­fect on our mood and we need all the help we can get, es­pe­cially in our cli­mate,” says Len­non.

She ad­vises that in­stead of black, look for some­thing more del­i­cate, like dark grey, brown, or navy, which will add el­e­gance. Lighter colours for tops and shirts un­der­pin the darker key pieces such as jack­ets, trousers, and skirts.

But again, she sug­gests that in­stead of white, why not con­sider cream, ivory, or a soft grey. Ac­ces­sories com­plete the pal­ette and are an op­por­tu­nity to use splashes of colour which you can change ac­cord­ing to your mood.

The fi­nal piece of the dress­ing jig­saw is to as­sess our needs. Many of us in­vest the most time and money into oc­ca­sion wear but we have a blind spot when it comes to dress­ing for work.

“We spend most of our day in work, so why not feel as good as we can and in­vest in our work wardrobe,” says Len­non. But most women have a lim­ited bud­get to spend, so can a great look be achieved with­out it cost­ing a for­tune?

If you don’t have much money to in­vest then in­vest time in the plan­ning.

“Fig­ure out your body shape, and what you like. Use Pin­ter­est. Check out peo­ple whose style you ad­mire, build a lit­tle se­lec­tion of in­spi­ra­tional peo­ple. Do your re­search, build up a clear idea of what you want and what you think will work.”

She ad­vises hit­ting the char­ity shops and is con­fi­dent that it’s pos­si­ble to find ev­ery­thing needed for a good work wardrobe.

De­vel­op­ing your own style in­volves let­ting your per­son­al­ity shine through — when it works it should be fun. Len­non of­ten works with new re­cruits in large cor­po­rate or­gan­i­sa­tions, who have just come out of col­lege. “They are called ‘the pen­guins’ be­cause they all come in in their black suits and white shirts and they don’t re­ally know what’s what,” she says.

Work­ing in a con­ser­va­tive pro­fes­sion doesn’t mean you can’t in­ject a bit of per­son­al­ity into your wardrobe. “If you are in a sea of black and navy maybe just move the dial a lit­tle bit. By all means, choose clas­sic and el­e­gant clothes but maybe in a slightly un­ex­pected colour.

“Or per­haps ac­ces­sorise with a brightly coloured hand­bag or scarf or even a colour­ful coat that looks amaz­ing when you walk into the of­fice. It’s about be­ing a bit clever.”

Ev­ery Novem­ber, Dress for Suc­cess holds a month-long equal pay cam­paign to raise aware­ness of the gen­der pay gap and raise money to sup­port more women back to work. For fur­ther de­tails of this year’s cam­paign and events, check out dress­for­suc­cess­dublin.org

Sonya Len­non on her way to the of­fice. Pic­ture: Moya Nolan

WORK STATE­MENT: Left, green Grace bell dress, €119; above green printed dress, €99 (avail­able late Novem­ber); wide leg trousers, €79, Len­non Court­ney ex­clu­sively for Dunnes Stores.

Pic­tures: Moya Nolan

FIN­ISH­ING TOUCHES: Shoes by Len­non Court­ney and leather change purse by Len­non Court­ney

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