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How to Dress the Part

By Zoe Wilde, New Zealand Real Estate Magazine, Feb. 2004.

Somewhere along the line a person coined the phrase 'dress for the job you want, not for the job you've got.'

That person knew the truth about how people relate to others in a business sense. They realised that image is very important, and that those around you take stock of how you present yourself and judge you accordingly.

Susan Axford is an image consultant. Formerly fashion editor with the New Zealand Herald, she now runs Your Style, and helps those who need a bit of assistance with looking great.

Her definition of image isn't about being self-obsessed, she explains. But if you have the right wardrobe, and a hairstyle to suit your face, you can leave home with confidence knowing you look good and concentrate on doing your job.

Susan says that it takes less than seven seconds to make a first impression. Once set, it's hard work to re-make that impression, so better to get it right the first time.

"For most people, their home is the biggest financial commitment they will ever make. They want to deal with somebody who appears reliable and successful. When somebody is well-groomed you get a sense of professionalism about them."

Susan says that you don't need to spend a lot to look a million bucks, so long as you have the right wardrobe systems in place to support you.

The most expensive things in our wardrobe, she says, are the items that we don't wear, such as the mistakes - things that we buy and then never put them on.

That can add up to big dollars. But if you have garments that function well together, your wardrobe will work for you, and it won't break the bank.

What should real estate professionals bear in mind when planning their wardrobe?

Susan herself says she visited hundreds of open homes in the course of buying her own property. Some agents wore suits and ties, others were casually dressed.

Both dress codes are equally relevant. What is more important is attention to detail. "Look after your clothes in the same way you keep your house upgraded," advises Susan.

In real estate, she says it's likely you are seeing different people all the time. Therefore, you can get away with a smaller range of items that fit well, are flattering, and in a good state of repair.

Susan believes that a jacket is a really key piece for women and men. "It makes you look like you've dressed for the purpose."

Susan also advises that clothes should generally be neither loose or tight - they should skim the body. "When women put on a bit of weight they often make the mistake of wearing layers of floaty garments, and that can be aging. It is better to wear clothes that just skim the body, certainly not tight, that is a no no."

Image and appearance is far more than the clothes you are wearing. "Your handshake, posture and eye contact are equally important to present a professional image."

Most importantly, she says is do things that fit in with your lifestyle. "Nobody has time to spend hours in the bathroom, so make sure your hair and make up is simple. Learn the short cuts."

Men should pay particular attention to their extremities - shoes, fingernails, and hair. A well-ironed shirt and a smart pair of trousers are a great start, although hairy-chested men should make sure their shirts aren't gaping.

If you are a flamboyant person, then you will be able to dress flamboyantly. "But if you haven't got the personality, be careful - you won't wear it well. You must be comfortable with you look."

Susan would have to agree that fashion trends are great - she made her living as fashion editor of the New Zealand Herald for eleven years. But she says you do not need to follow the trends if they do not suit your body shape.

"Just modify the trends to suit you," she says, advising those on tight budgets to purchase classical pieces such as pants and jackets in neutral colours that will look excellent for years. "But never skimp on jackets or a classic white shirt."

Susan perceives that the move to more casual dress in the workplace has caused some confusion. However, even on Dress Fridays people should dress appropriately. That means covering up and avoiding the likes of shoestring straps, but it doesn't mean being boring. "You can still wear interesting colours and patterns, but not beachwear," explains Susan.

Susan has dressed hundreds of people. Her services include analysing people's wardrobe to see what is working, where the gaps are and fresh ways of putting garments together or taking you shopping (or bringing clothes to you if required) to ensure that your wardrobe meshes with they way you like to live.

"Shopping with a professional trained dresser is different from with a friend," she explains. "A dress consultant will determine what works for your body shape, colouring, personality, job, and work within your budget."

Remember, as a real estate professional you are marketing a product - yourself - to potential customers. Will dressing properly get you the listing or the sale? Maybe not. But it will give you a competitive edge and a positive first impression.

Grooming Tips for Real Estate Professionals


  • You don't necessarily need a suit, but a jacket will give you an edge
  • Never skimp on jackets or classic pieces such as a white shirt
  • Take care with your nails - no chipped nail polish or dirty nails
  • Apply makeup with a light hand - get good advice on how to do this if required
  • If you are wearing hosiery, ensure your shoes have a closed toe. Sandals are okay in summer, providing they suit the mood of the outfit.


  • Open necked shirts are fine - just ensure they aren't gaping, particularly if you have a hairy chest
  • Shoes are particularly important for men - ensure they are kept clean and not down at heel
  • Learn how to deliver a confident, hand shake
  • Keep your hair trimmed - make a regular appointment with a barber

To contact Susan Axford, telephone 0508 YOUR STYLE


"Thank you so much for everything today, it was wonderful.  It has given me so much confidence and started me off in knowing what will work and what wont! You are so lovely and warm.  I felt so comfortable with you."

- Lisa, Pakuranga

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