Book: Impressive by Kirstie Clements

Do you remember what you wore to your first “serious” job interview?

Kirstie Clements famously began her career as a receptionist at Vogue Australia and over a 25-year career worked her way to the top job as Editor-in-Chief. So what did she wear to that first interview that she saw as her foot-in-the-door into the glamorous world of high-fashion?

“…the most fashionable outfit I had, which was a black cotton full skirt, a long sleeved striped T-shirt, ballet slippers and hoop earrings (okay, it was the nineteen eighties, but I would employ someone wearing the same outfit now)…” – Kirstie Clements, Impressive: How to Have a Stylish Career (Melbourne University Press)

I was a guest of Westfield Southland where I had the chance to meet Kirstie and congratulate her on her new book.

kirstie clements and cheryl lin rodsted at impressive launch westfield southland

Meeting Kirstie Clements at the launch of her book, Impressive: How to Have a Stylish Career Photo: Westfield Southland

Impressive: How to Have a Stylish Career (Melbourne University Press)

Impressive: How to Have a Stylish Career (Melbourne University Press) is Clements’ third title since she left her post at Vogue and is an insider’s account of how to break into the fashion industry. Most generously however is the knowledge shared not only by Clements herself but the lessons and perspectives shared by her own “black book” of colleagues and –friends who have each worked and learned their way to top jobs.

“I have never been interviewed without being able to clearly verbalise why I want the role. It’s been surprising to me how many people I have interviewed over the years who cannot answer me when I ask them why they  want to join my team and the business.” – Julie Otter as quoted in Impressive: How to Have a Stylish Career (Melbourne University Press), chapter on A Very Stylish Foot in the Door: Preparation and Research

While this book has been written by a former Vogue EIC, those who wish for a career in fashion may be surprised to learn that appearance is just one part of the arsenal they will need. Rather the emphasis of the book is on cultivating the manners, body language, poise and attitude so that you are remembered well; whether that’s by your colleagues or in the case of a job interview, negotiating a job offer or promotion.

Impressive consists of candid anecdotes from industry insiders and stories of all kinds of career faux-pas which range not only from the deliciously schadenfreuden-ish “so here’s what not to do” to the highly insightful “what I wish I had done done instead.” It is exactly this level of refreshing insight that makes Impressive an invaluable read for those interested in starting and building careers outside the world of fashion as well.

Learning to listen is code for not arcing up when someone is being critical. It’s about suppressing your immediate defensive reaction and accepting that someone in authority may just have a point. – Naomi Parry as quoted in Impressive: How to Have a Stylish Career (Melbourne University Press), chapter on Poised for Success: Learning to Listen

I spoke with two other attendees at the event and asked them for their key take-ways from Clements’ talk: for Penelope from South of the River who had won VIP tickets to this event, it was that “fashion isn’t just about clothing, it’s about pop culture, current affairs and having a 360-degree view of the world” while for her mother it was “the emphasis on good manners – that the title of the book is that you want to leave the impression that you are impressive.”

Victoria Tomaro wears Laura Ashley at Westfield Southland 010

Westfield Southland Stylist Victoria Tomaro was on hand to MC the event, here she is rocking a Laura Ashley frock (I can’t believe this is Laura Ashley!) in front of the work wardrobe staples recommended by Clements in her new book.

Impressive: the blue-chip investments pieces for your work wardrobe

“Grooming is essential. You do not have to be a supermodel or a fashionista but cleanliness and attention to personal appearance suggests pride in your self and, therefore your work” – Janet Muggivan as quoted in Impressive: How to Have a Stylish Career (Melbourne University Press), chapter on A Very Stylish Foot in the Door: Personal Presentation

Don’t fret – there is still talk about what to wear to work (only one of my favourite things 😉 )and a whole chapter has been dedicated to Dress Codes. I thought it interesting to note that it doesn’t make an appearance in the book until Chapter Seven, whereas Personal Presentation – which is different to what you wear – is one of the first things mentioned in the first chapter.

When it comes to work attire, Clements advocates investing in a tailored pantsuit, trench coat, white shirt, black dress, blazer, sweaters as well as a gorgeous coat “what is underneath can be absolutely basic, such as a simple sweater and a pair of pants” and a signature skirt, “assess your body type, and try on skirts to find out which shape flatters you the most.” For Kirstie who is “tall and have never had a waist, a A-line midi that sits on the hips works best…” while I am on the short side and do have a waist so I prefer pencil skirts. Have you worked out what your signature skirt is?

“In my job I would often find myself on the road for weeks on end, and found that a great pair of black pants in cotton blend or lightweight wool were a lifesaver… Each season I would buy a couple of new pairs, with a nod at the current trend and season, whether they were a cropped cigarette length, or a more sporty elasticated style.” – Kirstie Clements

Save on things that you will wear every day and need to replace because they are looking tired or need an update like pants and “quality T-shirts with good necklines.” Clements advocates for basic tops in timeless shades of black, white and the creative world’s favourite, “long-sleeved blue and white stripe matelot.” That’s Breton stripes, people, and for those in more conservative environments, simply seek out these quality items in dressier fabrications.

Other items on the list which include a leather or suede jacket, jeans and wait for it – silk pyjama pants. The latter is a rather inventive inclusion that has fascinated me – “fashion insider says that silk PJ bottoms are an invaluable addition to your wardrobe!” Clements advocates wearing your silk bottoms with “sweaters and ballet flats in the daytime, and with a jacket and heels at night.” And when I think of all of the printed bottoms that are abounding in casual workplaces (and not to mention weekend-wear) I find myself seeing her point!

As for shoes? “Every woman needs a pair of chic black high-heeled or medium-heeled pumps, a great ankle boot, a pair of ballet flats and a pair of evening sandals.”

impressive launch westfield southland team 019

The Westfield Southland team with Kirstie Clements. Long-time BusiChics may remember Melissa aka “The Glamourista” whose self-described “pyjama chic” I featured in this street style post.

Q&A with Kirstie Clements

So what do you once you have landed your dream job? I asked her to troubleshoot another conundrum that professionals might find themselves in. I hope that this is useful to you!

What would you do if you found yourself landing a dream job, only to discover that your boss was a bully or that the company didn’t quite operate the way you thought it should?

That’s not uncommon. I had a boss who was sociopath and it was absolutely difficult but you learn to still get your work done.  And there is always something to learn that you can use for your own development. You can learn just as much from “good” bosses as well as from the “bad” ones. The thing that is kind of valuable about having a “bad” boss is being able to realise what sort of boss you don’t want to be.

Does seniority in your role influence how you would deal with a difficult boss? 

Yes, it absolutely does. The first time, you do have to put up with it a bit but when it happens again, you really should know better and don’t have to put up with it.

What qualities do you think make a good boss?

Everyone has their moments but ultimately a good boss shows respect, listens and walks the floor – getting to know staff and paying attention to what’s going on.

–thanks for your time, Kirstie!

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Impressive: How to Have a Stylish Career (Melbourne University Press) by Kirstie Clements is out now and would make a wonderful gift for new starters in any industry.

Thank you to the team at Westfield Southland for having me at this event. If you would like to hear about their upcoming events, make sure that you have “liked” Westfield Southland on Facebook and ticked that extra box to ensure that you”get” their updates!

Comments

  1. “When it comes to work attire, Clements advocates investing in a tailored pantsuit, trench coat, white shirt, black dress, blazer, sweaters as well as a gorgeous coat”

    Great advice.

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