Multicultural Executive Style and Appearance

Multicultural style in business

What you need to know about getting it right. (And how corporations can support it)


There is no controversy around the importance of getting executive appearance right to advance your career goals and fulfill your aspirations.

The way you show up is not neutral. It sends a message, it is your voice. Popular ideas like “dress for success” are based on an awareness of the communicative power of clothes.

Yet, understanding this importance still leaves us with two crucial interrelated questions:

1.   What is the role of executive appearance in our career advancement?

2.   Is there really a single way to “dress for success” that applies to all groups?

The answers to these questions have significant implications for individuals’ career advancement and corporations’ talent retention.

The role of executive appearance

According to the Center of Talent Innovation, executive appearance is one of the three elements of Executive Presence, together with communication and gravitas (leadership qualities).

Research shows that of these three components of executive presence, appearance is the least important in the US for career advancement. But this finding conceals the fact that even if getting appearance right is not a deal maker getting it wrong is a deal breaker.

So what does it really mean to get executive appearance right?

Frst consideration:

Appearance, believe it or not, is that your audience doesn’t get distracted from valuing your communication and gravitas.

This more than anything is why appearance matters so much – anything off will sidetrack your audience, and if your appearance is really bad (too tight of a dress, dirty or wrinkled clothes, for example) it is bad news no matter how strong your communication skills and gravitas.

It is worth noting that women are judged more severely when it comes to appearance, being subjected to higher and sometimes ambivalent standards (to appear feminine but not sexual, to appear “professional” but not masculine). And a similar thing can be said for members of minority groups, especially when  an inclusive workplace environment is lacking.

Tip 1: observe professional dress standards. Seriously.

Second consideration:

That appearance is about respect for others, and this involves dressing appropriately for the context.

A board meeting is not the same as a team meeting, happy hour with peers at a bar is different from a happy hour with the C-suite at a hotel.

Tip: Find a mentor or someone who can serve as a model of appropriate dress in different situations. Seriously.

Third consideration:

Even if you must conform to expectations, it is important to convey something of who you are individually and culturally in order to communicate  self-confidence and integrity, and generate trust. This is where executive appearance overlaps and reinforces gravitas – leadership qualities.

Tip: Choose a signature item or a dash of color that conveys your personality. And own it.

Next- The right balance - the limits of dress for success? and The challenge


About the author

Mara Kolesas

Mara Kolesas, Ph.D., is a style with substance expert, based in Berkeley, CA, who provides intelligent styling for professionals. She grew up in Buenos Aires where she breathed style from an early age. She went on to a career in political science, studying for a doctorate in New York City, and later lived in Florence, Rome, Berlin and Beirut, where she pursued my two passions: she studied and promoted citizen empowerment, diversity and inclusion, and she explored small boutiques, helping friends find outfits that gave them joy and confidence. Along with her artistic eye and knowledge of fashion, she brings analytical and social expertise to a field with superficial associations. 

Website Facebook Twitter