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McLEOD: Can cool clothes make you more successful?

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Do clothes make the man? Or in this case, the woman?

We can talk all day about how brains and work ethic are more important than looks and fashion. But humans are visual creatures by nature. Like it or not, we make instant assessments of people based on what they're wearing.

It's not just a chick thing. Male wardrobes may be less complicated, but they're no less relevant.

My father, who spent 40 years in banking says, "The people with the good suits are always the ones who get promoted."

The question is, do they get promoted because they look like leaders? Or does looking like a power player inspire you to act like one?

It's both.

Have you ever watched a young man try on his first real suit? There's a moment when he sees himself in the mirror and he transforms before your very eyes. He stands taller, he squares his shoulders, and he juts his chin forward as he realizes that he looks strong and competent.

The same thing happens to women. I remember the first time I tried on a fancy black cocktail dress. As I gazed at the grown-up looking girl in the glass, it suddenly dawned on me that I might be pretty.

When I was a college senior my grandmother offered to buy me an interview suit. From the moment, I slipped on the jacket, I felt smarter. As I stood in front of the mirror practicing my imaginary interview handshake, I thought, "Wow, that girl looks like she could actually get a job."

It's an odd paradox. When you're wearing the right clothes, it becomes less about the clothes and more about you. The right clothes can give you a visual jolt that awakens you to your own possibilities.

I've always believed that my brains, spirit and ethics are more important than my clothes, shoes and jewelry. Yet as a professional speaker, I know that first impressions are important. So I've always paid some level of attention to my wardrobe.

But as my life got busier (and my body got lumpier) looking decent became yet another item on my seemingly endless to-do list. Good suit, check; brush teeth, check; back-up batteries, check.

However, I had a recent experience that reminded me just how much clothes can matter to your career, and to your own self-confidence. I spent an afternoon with some stylists from Ann Taylor, and I have to say, it was transformative.

When I put on of their stylish sleek suits and looked at the dressing room mirror I didn't see an overworked woman who worries about her business, her payroll, her weight, and her kids. I saw a confident person who could walk into a room and own it.

It was that magic moment in the mirror when you quit worrying about how you look and start thinking about what you can do.

Ironic isn't it?

Not surprisingly, I bought several suits that day. The next week I went on the road and had three of the most successful professional engagements of my entire career.

Coincidence? Probably not.

The image you see in the mirror matters. It's not shallow to care about how you look, it's smart. Because when you feel better; you do better.

Cool clothes aren't a substitute for kindness, curiosity, competence or compassion.

But sometimes it takes a killer suit to remind you just how fabulous you already are.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, consultant, and the best-selling author of "The Triangle of Truth." Sign up for her newsletter at www.TriangleofTruth.com.