How to dress for the promotion you want… and level up your look for the promotion you just got

Courtesy Fotini Copeland

Today, you might be the junior sales assistant, but you have ambitions for more. Until you get there, however, how do you signal that you’re ready for a promotion? Through your impeccable work, of course – and how you present yourself, says fashion designer and personal brand consultant Fotini Copeland.

Dressing a notch or two above your colleagues can be tricky, especially when so many workplaces are business casual. But Copeland told Ladders about a coterie of classic pieces that will have you outfitting yourself for the job you want and broadcasting your intentions clearly. No more summer dresses and sandals – you mean business.

A tailored trouser. Get it professionally altered if you must – it makes a difference. “ I think it’s really important to remember that fit is really key to everything that we have,” said Copeland. If it fits your silhouette, “your body can you look like you spent a lot of money.”


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A nice blazer.I think that is something that one needs to understand right away,” Copeland said of the versatility of this classic piece. “I think a really nice blazer and pant can look fantastic. If the work environment permits denim, that’s a gorgeous look.”

It can also be paired with a dress or skirt, she said. “Whether it’s a pleated maxi or midi-length. Just be mindful of the skirt length.”

A shift dress. A lovely sheath looks different ways depending on your choice of footwear. “A shift dress is beautiful to wear… you can wear those with a really nice flat. If you want to put on a high heel, it makes it an entirely different look.”

Polish, polish, polish. If you have your sights set on better roles, your look should be extra-finished. “It’s not just fashion. Your nails and your pedicure should be done. Being mindful of your hair and make sure that it’s polished – whether it’s a great ponytail, a nice updo, or beach waves.”

If you want to get to the next level, Copeland told Ladders, “you want people to, once they’ve met you, to walk away with that self-respect that you have communicated, that empowerment.”

Help, I did get the promotion – and I need help taking my look up a notch!

This problem has two sides – many people, both men, and women – find themselves getting a promotion and then finding their wardrobe or personal presentation isn’t as quite up to snuff now that they’re in senior-level meetings with a whole new group of smartly-dressed people.

The Ladders asked Copeland how someone could level up quickly and stand out in the right way.

New shoes. There are key pieces to invest in, and “your shoes always say something about a look,” said Copeland. “Investing in your shoes is sort of like the finishing look. It says something.”

Make sure your dress or suit are always pressed. You don’t always have to be running to the dry-cleaners. “One of the best things that you can invest in is a little hand-held steamer. There’s really no excuse for not having pressed clothes today.” Having neat and wrinkle-free clothes will add an extra level of polish.

Accessorize tastefully. It doesn’t need to be a big statement necklace – in fact, watch out for that (“Trying too hard, you immediately send out a message”). Instead, a nice accessory “might be that great tote that you want to carry.”

Whether it’s a bracelet, a new purse, or a scarf, “You want to make sure you’re always classy,” said Copeland. “You’re always telling that person, ‘I deserve that promotion. I am worthy of that promotion.'”

Pay attention to details. Even your eyeglasses might need replacement. Are your frames out-of-date and unfashionable? To look your best, said Copeland, “make sure that the frame really is suited for your face.” A trip to Warby Parky might be due.

Yes, you should wear makeup. Makeup is important,” Copeland insisted. In today’s business environment, it’s simply part of looking put-together, especially after you reach a certain level. “A lot of people say, “‘Well, I don’t wear makeup, or, “I don’t really know how to wear makeup… the thing is, that you don’t even have to wear a lot of makeup. If you don’t know how, today you can walk into most stores, and there is someone that can help you.”

Finally, if you’re in the mood to break out a power look, Copeland said it’s as easy as wearing time-honored silhouettes and avoiding trends. “It’s always a matter of just keeping it classic,” she said. “That little black dress silhouette. That can mean many different things today, but I think just that classic sheath… Or you could be wearing it with a faux leather jacket; that also commands and gets the message of power.”

Ultimately, it’s about you.

“It’s about how you look in the mirror, and what that mirror is saying back to you. Do I feel great?”