As Cambodia attracts more and more international businesses, dressing appropriately for the workplace has never been more important. We found out how to build up your work wardrobe to maximise success: Simplicity is the key.
We spend a vast amount of time at work, yet the hunt for office clothes often falls behind the more glamorous quest for the perfect party outfit or a cute pair of shoes. So why are work clothes important? A veteran of the styling business, Sapor Rendall, managing director of modelling and PR agency Sapors Group, believes that your outfit doesn’t just affect how you are perceived, but also how you perform.
“A good work outfit gives you a sense of power and self-respect,” she tells Management Insider. “It helps you to concentrate on what you have to get done. If there’s part of the outfit that doesn’t work or is dirty, you’re distracted and you worry about it. You don’t feel comfortable.”
Studies have consistently shown that what you wear affects how you view your own productivity, creativity and authority – it may not seem immediately important, but the right outfit could end up giving you an all-important boost in the workspace.
Simplicity Is the Key
Understatement is crucial to a good work outfit. Drawing on her 18 years’ experience in the industry, which has included advising hotel and office staff on personal presentation, Rendall advises office workers to keep it simple. “It depends on where you work, but a skirt and a shirt tucked in generally works for women,” she says. “There should be no wrinkles or frills, and the skirt should be knee length. Avoid bright colours or patterns.”
Jean-Benoît Lasselin founded the Cambodian tailor and styling business Colorblind in 2011, and has since worked with restaurants, banks and hotels to customise appropriate work outfits for their staff. For him, there is no one- size-fits-all solution to dressing for work.
“Everything depends on the workplace – try to be faithful to the company’s values,” he says. “For example, if you wear a very fitted shirt with very fitted trousers, people expect a very fitted service. A general rule is stick to three colours or less. You just need to look clean and stylish: the simple goal is always the right goal. An outfit is like a cocoon: a way to protect you and let you do your job properly.”
Looking professional from the neck up is just as important, with subtle make-up and natural hair preferred. “Cambodian women should avoid very blonde hair, or too many highlights,” says Syna Leang, who began her career as a make-up artist, before starting her own successful styling business, Syna’Styling. “Women in Phnom Penh love to make their hair really big, but they should wear it up as it’s more clean, natural and professional. No crimping hair – I see a lot of that!” Syna advises women to tone down make- up, making it “very soft in daytime. For most people, eyeliner, mascara, and sometimes powder eye shadow is OK. Keep it very neutral, plain and clean.”
Creativity vs Conformity
For people in a creative industry, dressing for work can be even trickier. In a more informal environment where fashion and individual style are highly valued, the balance between personality and professionalism can be easily skewed. “Bosses can allow their staff to be free with what they wear, but they should give them a frame,” says Lasselin. “There was a company we worked with that told their front desk staff to wear whatever they liked, as long as it included a white shirt. It worked really well. At the same time, if you are a creative company but your designer is turning up in a three piece suit, it’s not matching what you are doing.”
One way to ensure staff present themselves in the fashion of the company is to provide them with uniforms. “Work uniforms can be good because it shows that the company is taking care of the staff. It also shows their rules and regulations, and their brand,” says Rendall. “It doesn’t work in all situations though. I like to wear a suit, just so I can play with details and have flexibility.”
With Uniforms, Comes Confidence
Colorblind often works with companies to design uniforms; the Phnom Penh International Airport was a recent client. “Since we made their uniform, the personnel feel more confident when they meet with clients,” says Lasselin. “We added some details – red elbow pads to make them visible, but not too loud. It made them change their behaviour – they felt less shy. It’s one more tool they can count on.”
“It’s common to see staff behaving differently when they understand they are wearing a corporate uniform,” he continues. “They get a feeling of pride in belonging, and to become ambassadors of the company they work for. It creates a big change; the company is investing in the staff, and the staff is representing the company, so everyone is satisfied.”
If a full uniform isn’t appropriate, Lasselin advises businesses to provide written guidelines for staff to follow. “If a staff member wears something wrong and a customer is disappointed, it’s not the staff’s fault. It’s the company’s fault for not guiding them,” he says.
The Face of Your Business
While small business operators sometimes ignore staff presentation, they should be doing the opposite, says Lasselin, and using customer interactions with staff as a chance to spread their brand. “When you have a small or medium sized company, you don’t have the push that a major company has in mass communication, but you can make your staff your communication tools. It’s a visual representation of your business,” he says. “Customers are really happy to come to a business where everyone looks chic.”
Words and photographs by Eve Watling