Monday, 8 April 2013

Dressing stature

Elegant couple: China’s President Xi Jinping and wife Peng disembarking from a plane on arrival at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, recently for a two-day visit. – EPA
 
JUST when you think there are no new personalities projected into the spotlight, comes the debut of the First Lady of China (Peng Liyuan) last week. Her first foreign engagement was accompanying the president on an official visit to Russia and a few countries in Africa.

When the plane doors opened, people saw a modern elegant lady, unlike her predecessors.

She took the husband's arm when walking down the stairs from the plane instead of walking behind holding the rails. Most unconventional.

Everyone knows that no matter how independent we are, we need to hold on to our man for support when we are navigating steps on high heels. Especially where there is an audience and we cannot afford to trip.

It took a couple of days before people could figure out what “branded” items she was wearing. The bag she was carrying looked nice but did not have the conspicuous logos of a luxury brand that one can spot from a distance.

Throughout the whole trip, there was only a pair of modest pearl earrings. There were no necklaces, strings of chunky pearls or big and flashy stones.

It was just so refreshing. Now wonder there was incessant news about her in the foreign and domestic media in China.

Given her stature, she did not need to dress to scream, “look at me”. People will be looking and scrutinising her. It reminds me somewhat of Adele. If you have a great voice, you can just sing. You don't need all the massive accompaniments.

When you are in London or Paris, the crowd who buy designer bags like they are free, without needing to think long and hard over which one to buy, are from China. Here is now someone who has shown that you can look elegant, fashionable and well put together without the need to carry expensive brand names.

I can understand the need to dress up. When one is a young up-and-coming executive, one has to drive a nicer car and carry some expensive branded items to show either taste or success. But as we progress in life, the need to create an impression dissipates.

I like this interesting story about dressing and change in a CEO interview. To change the work culture and have people take pride in their work, the new CEO initiated a “dress like you are attending a wedding” campaign as his first project.

His message was simple. Be bothered to dress up for work because it is important. Let your dressing be a reflection of your professional attitude. When you are a slob, you will be sloppy.

Have you noticed the ladies selling snacks on the Shinkansen? Their hair tied up neatly and makeup immaculate. Uniform is neat, tidy and clean. They wear black cord shoes with heels. They might be pushing a trolley and selling snacks but they are professional and polite. They have their processes. Before they leave the compartment, they bow and say goodbye.

Have you seen the lady who welcomes you as you drive into the shopping centre in Seoul? She is in a black formal looking suit, looking immaculate and welcoming you as you drive into the car park. She does this with pride, like welcoming a VIP. I thought it was too much.

We did try once to dress with the times. During the initial dot-com days, we thought we could dress casual and carry a backpack. After the dot-com craze fizzled out, so did our dressing. It was very difficult to go into a boardroom looking like you are better suited for a different place. You can dress what you like at your office but when you are with clients or in their office, you need to dress suitably so that clothes are not the distraction or the talking point.

As a consultant, I always felt the need to dress well enough to look professional and carry the right demeanour to inspire confidence. Somehow, in the early days of a client relationship, casual just don't cut it.

It is not right to judge someone by their dressing. However there are many studies that show the impact that dressing and appearance has on the first impression.

Coming back to Peng Liyuan. She impressed on the world stage with good taste, projecting a unique personal style. Let's hope she is able to sustain the excellent dress sense by not having to wear chunky and expensive branded items.

TAKE ON CHANGE
By JOAN HOI 

Joan Hoi is the author of Take on Change. She is hoping that the trend for “no brand” high fashion has been sparked!

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