Polly McMaster shares her insights on the transformative power of clothes

Here at Smart Works, partnering with those who understand the importance of confidence and self-belief is key. That’s why we love working with The Fold London, who share our passion for helping women feel empowered in the workplace.

This week we caught up with Polly McMaster, Founder and CEO of The Fold London, who spoke to us about the power of clothes when dressing for success, the evolution of women’s workwear, and The Fold’s own community of extraordinary women.

What was it that inspired you to start The Fold?

“When I got my first job, I was surprised and disappointed that the choice for professional women was so limited. I found that I didn’t feel like myself in my work clothes and inspiration on how to dress was even harder to come by, there weren’t many senior female role models and fashion brands and magazines never offered any style inspiration or advice for what to wear to work (that was actually wearable for a smart environment!).

I strongly believe that what you wear to work can help build your confidence and become part of the perception and impression others have of you – so it was important to get it right!

At the Fold, we recently conducted a report – The New Workwear Code, surveying over 8,000 businesswomen. 70% feel their personal dressing style helps them achieve certain objectives at work, and 74% admitted that they assess an individual’s ‘executive presence’ based on their outfit.

The idea for The Fold was to create a stylish, feminine, and empowering workwear brand that would deliver beautiful high-quality workwear that would help women to feel their best. I also wanted to create a community of like-minded women that could facilitate networking and a forum to share advice, support and inspiration. We shine a light on some of these extraordinary and remarkable women in our Fold Woman features.”

2)     How do you think workwear has changed for women since you launched The Fold, and how has it evolved in recent months in particular?

 “It has been exciting to see that workwear has evolved from the manly, frumpy suits that were around when I started working into something much more expressive and feminine.  We’ve seen a work dress become a staple in many working women’s wardrobes, and colour and pattern become acceptable in the workplace.  That has helped women to embrace their individuality while still being professional and appropriate for their work.

During lockdown, inevitably people have been dressing to their needs – whether they’ve been working on the front lines in healthcare or juggling kids and work at home. Interestingly we’ve seen really strong demand for colour and print – helping women stand out on calls in front of a screen, and also give them a boost of positivity every day. In our current survey 54% of women have said they are dressing to their schedule and 70% felt that the way they dressed was just as important now when it comes to perceptions and achieving certain objectives at work. 70% felt an individual’s dressing style can have an impact on executive presence. With some women now going back into the office, they’ve also started to embrace that as a chance to get dressed up again and make the most of it! 73% of the women in our survey use their clothing choices to get into a particular mindset or portray a certain image at work.”

3)     There are many women potentially facing unemployment after an uncertain few months, what tips would you give them when dressing for interviews?

“We know from our research that first impressions really are important. A few tips would include looking put together – looking neat, tidy and considered is just as important as what you are wearing, it shows that you have prepared and taken the interview seriously. This can help to convey that you are someone who will take care in your role. 

The most important thing is to wear something you feel really comfortable in. If you don’t feel like yourself and you end up fussing and fiddling with what you are wearing that will be a huge distraction for you and the interviewer. 

Don’t be afraid to be yourself and show your personality. This could be through wearing your favourite colour, or signature red lipstick (facemasks allowing!).  Leave plenty of time to check your look and pop to the loo when you get to the interview – you can change your shoes if you need to, straighten out your clothes, check your hair and makeup, wash your hands and take a deep breath. 

This still holds true if you are doing an interview via Skype; wear something you feel comfortable in. Even if it’s tempting to only dress from the waist up, still consider the impact what you are wearing from head to toe and the effect this will have on your mood, mindset and the way you sit in the chair (sit up, shoulders back, be open) a statement brooch, bright lip or bold colour still translates on Zoom and could be the conversation starter that kicks off a great first interview! As one woman in our survey states, ‘clothes really do put me in the right mindset’.”

4)     Once they’ve got the job what would your advice be for putting together a work wear wardrobe, whether they’re working from home or returning to the office?

 “It sounds cliché – but you need your clothes to work as hard as you do!  I’d say flexibility is the absolute key if you are putting together some pieces for work.  Think about what kind of days you will be having and what you need to cover in a working week.  I’d go for some basics like black or navy trousers and one jacket that you love the cut of, and which can also go over a dress.  Then a few colourful blouses to pop underneath or wear on their own, and finally I’d also pick one dress that fits well and can be worn with the jacket or on its own.  A jersey dress would be a good choice as they are comfortable, easy to care for, don’t crease and will look fantastic!

So about 5 items to mix and match should cover every day of the week and include an “everyday” work look as well as something more special for a bigger meeting or if you need a confidence boost.  That should be enough to get started and give you an idea of what you like wearing the most.  When budgets are tight, be a savvy shopper and go for the best you can afford – whether it’s spotting something in a sale, or an outlet, it can help you get something better quality that will last you longer.”

5) If you could one piece of advice to Smart Works clients what would it be?

“When you get dressed for your interview, think about how someone at Smart Works is behind the scenes as your own personal cheerleader.  Let that give you a burst of confidence, take a deep breath and give whoever you meet a big smile even if there are a few nervous butterflies hiding beneath the surface.”