Your image: when distracting isn’t detracting

Personal brand stand out from the crowd with your imageYears ago I read a book about how to dress for success, written by an image consultant in America.  In it she laid out her rules for getting it right – and gave numerous examples of how, if you didn’t follow them, you’d get it wrong.  And while I agreed with much of what she wrote (let’s be honest, bad hygiene is never going to be a winner) there was one rule that I fervently disagreed with: if it distracts, it detracts.

I was reminded of this when an executive approached me after a recent presentation. He said he’d once been at a workshop run by an image consultant who had pointed to the red handkerchief displayed in his top pocket and told him to get rid of it.  She said it was distracting for the eye and therefore was detracting from what he was saying.  He, however, was having none of it, basically telling her to get stuffed as he’d been wearing a red handkerchief that way for years and it was now a ‘signature piece’ that people knew him for.

When he told me that do you know what I said?  Bloody good for him!

And here’s why…she was right that something distracting a person’s attention means it will be detracting from the message you’re trying to get across.  Like when someone has spinach on their teeth and the more they talk the more fascinated you become wondering how long it’s going to stick there, so you stop listening to what they’re saying.

But what if the thing that’s distracting is actually adding to the message?

What if it’s giving fantastic clues to your personal brand that will say more about who you are and what you’re all about that your words ever could?

I’ve said before that my personal brand style is ‘City with a twist’ – I’ll wear a smart dress but then add something like a cocktail ring or an oversized corsage to let people know my big motivator: I’m different and I like being ‘me’ (although let’s be honest, there’s not much competition from anyone else wanting to!)   People then pick up on those clues and that forms the basis for listening to what I have to say.

Jonathan Straight - a memorable personal brandAnd if you’ve not come across him before, let me introduce you to Jonathan Straight, founder of Straight Plc which specialises in recycling products.  As you can see, Jonathan is a fan of the strong image because, as he told me when I spoke to him about personal brand, the whole idea is to be memorable; it’s easier to run a successful business if people remember who you are when they’re ready to buy.

Statement shoes can give strong clues to your personal brandOr to give another example: who can forget the media furore that happened when Theresa May MP wore leopard print shoes to the Conservative Conference?  Everyone said her shoes gained so much attention no-one could remember what she’d said.  But what did that matter?  She was speaking volumes about the kind of woman she is, making herself memorable and associated with a strong brand.  And look where she is now, compared to everyone else who took to the podium that day!


Do you agree?  And do you have a ‘signature piece’ you wear to promote your brand… if so, leave a comment!  And please help me to spread the word using the buttons below.  Or if you’d like to learn more, check out my other blogs and follow me on Twitter.  Or drop me an email at  Thank you! 

Spark specialises in branding, but not for companies – for PEOPLE, helping clients to market themselves so they stand out from the crowd, building a reputation that enables them to be even more successful just by being themselves.   Spark delivers personal branding to executives and senior managers in Leeds, Harrogate, Skipton, York, Bradford, Wakefield and the Yorkshire area, as well as in London and other UK cities. The company was founded by Jennifer Holloway and her 15 years’ experience in PR coupled with several years as an executive coach means she delivers a personal brand service unlike any other. 

8 Comments to “Your image: when distracting isn’t detracting”

  1. I believe a strong signature is an excellent way of others remembering who you are. However, it is difficult for everyone to come up with a statement that represents them, perhaps that is when they should seek your advice.

  2. Hi. Can personality be a ‘signature piece’, or does it have to be a ‘visual’? Love the blog, keep it coming girl! Sue

  3. As the US writer Gore Vidal famously said “style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn”.

    Despite living through one of the most eclectic periods of fashion and self-expression, we live in strangely conformist times at the world of work. Maybe it’s the fall out from the recession where we feel the need to look smart and responsible again. However this has led to an unfortunate obsession with us and the fashion industry for pressurising us to either look like over styled extras from Mad Men or anonymous corporate dress dummies trussed up in parodies of Prada, Gucci and all the other Italian style houses.

    As a silent revolutionary refusnik (sounds like a reluctant Russian cosmonaut) I like to display a patina of conformity with something resembling a suit while showing my true colours, in every sense, with hideously coloured socks. Likewise, my underwear (is this too much information) is as colourful, but the palate is largely determined by price. Today I am wearing a very fetching pair of D & G boxer trunks in red with a green elastic waistband – spotted for just £5.99 in the clearance section at TK Maxx. So, there we go, the happy serendipity of style, economics and what Gore Vidal so aptly puts it – not giving a damn.

  4. Thanks for all the comments – this has obviously struck a chord! And yes Sue, your signature piece can be your personality ie a distinctive laugh would fit into that category. I’m just glad we’re a bunch of mavericks who say ‘two fingers’ to the rules!

  5. Hi Jennifer
    Not so long ago, I bought myself of pair of very high heeled black suede boots!! These were partly a reaction to 18 years in a primary classroom (although i still do some part time tutoring and take great delight in wearing them), and mostly because they completely change the way i stand, walk and feel about myself. I am a different person in those boots, and I think as I work with others who want to do things differently, I hope i am a role model! You are so right, your clothes and image cannot be underestimated; in fact when i do my tutoring now, teachers often comment on how i dress…
    Fab posts, I love reading them :)

  6. An interesting topic on a day on which the Times reports on its attempts to help six unemployed young people to get jobs. The first is a young woman with dyed red hair and facial piercings with metal jewellery; after she was advised to get rid of the metal and wear a white blouse and black trousers she became employable, much to her delight and surprise.

    So, my take on this is it does depend on where you are and what you do. It’s fine for you Jennifer and Jonathan Straight to have distinctive personal appearances but doesn’t work at lower rungs on the career ladder. As a bearded (my signature piece!) male I fought the system ithrough the 1970s and 1980s by making sure the rest of my appearance was as immaculate as I could manage and in the style my employers and clients expected.

  7. I don’t wear a tie but to me that says modern insurance practice rather than traditional insurance broker! Very good article! Thanks. Mick

  8. Absolutely agree! Its not distracting in the slighest in fact it adds to your brand and whatever may be coming out of ones mouth is enhanced by a red hanky, shoes and perhaps at times a little spinach !

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