The PA/EA profession struggles from a visual brand identity crisis. The outdated idea of a subservient female, attending to the needs of a powerful suited man, has been a hard one to shake off. The 60’s saw mini-dresses and thigh high boots, the 70’s saw freedom of dressing and the 80’s moved towards ‘power dressing’- high heels, boxy jackets, shoulder pads and big hair. The prevailing and incorrect perception of a glamorous and sexy ‘secretary’ walks before us, refusing to die in the fashion closet. When in the work place, you should be dressed appropriately for the environment and for your role- suits would be inappropriate on a construction site, and construction site work wear would be inappropriate in the corporate boardroom office.
Dressing professionally can be a minefield. Not only do you have to dress to reflect the company, the dress code (if you have one), and your boss (particularly if you meet and greet regularly), but you also have to find something that is comfortable, wearable, that fits your body shape AND that you enjoy wearing.
You know your body type and what looks good, and what doesn’t. If you don’t, then do consider the use of a personal stylist for a one off advisory session. Consider what image you want to portray. Clothes speak volumes about you, and are the first way that, anyone clapping eyes on you, will form an opinion of you. If you wear sloppy shapeless clothes, or a worn or outdated outfit, or something that simply doesn’t fit anymore- what impression are you giving? Are you in a very corporate environment? Or a media/creative workplace, but you still need to convey a level of authority and responsibility? How about dress down Fridays? Jeans and flip flops just aren’t going to cut it. But tailored or fitted jeans with a jacket, and some other accessory to show your character, will look far more appropriate.
Most importantly, don't wear the little black skirt and white shirt, and then be surprised when you are continually called upon to make the teas and coffees. If you dress like a member of the wait staff, then that will be the role that assigns itself to you. Take the workday wear challenge- take a full body selfie of your work outfits, every day, for one week. If you can, do it for 4 working weeks. This way, you will see what outfits you use the most, and what clothes lie dormant in your wardrobe, languishing unloved. And most importantly, you will be able to look more objectively at what the ‘work you’ looks like. What would you think if you saw someone wearing the same outfit? Are you representing the “best” you? Taking pride in your appearance does not make you vain; it means you are confident enough to show yourself respect.
Abigail Jones is a career Executive Assistant, with almost two decades' of experience. With three degrees in the Arts, she started working at the V&A Museum, Tate, Christies, Sotheby's before moving into Healthcare, Charity, Fashion/Luxury Retail (L'Oreal) and is currently working for American Express Global Business Travel as EA to the MD.