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Self Groom: Etiquette

The word "etiquette" means applying the correct rules of behavior in society and amongst members of a profession.

However, if you don't consider yourself to be a professional -- such as a lawyer, banker, management consultant, etc. -- don't fall into the trap of believing the rules don't apply to you, because they do. Whatever your job, we all have to co-exist in society and in the workplace no matter our career paths. So applying good manners at all times should ensure that both your career and social life run more smoothly.

That said, even if you believe you've successfully cultivated good manners, offering up a dirty hand to shake or wearing a food-stained outfit at work will instantaneously diminish the positive effect of your firm handshake and will taint the other person's opinion of you.

The visual impression you present is both immediate and permanent. Obviously this is particularly crucial in a business setting, as nobody will object if you're in the middle of weeding your garden or feeding rambunctious children.

Personal taste also plays a role here, so a safe bet is to decide upon a working wardrobe that corresponds to the same level of formality as your superior's.

However, this doesn't mean you have to dress in the same style. It's helpful to view your business clothes as you would a school uniform. That's because though nobody really likes them, they serve a useful purpose. They level the playing field, minimizing distractions, and help to keep one's mind on one's work.

Outside of the workplace, dress as you like. But here's a caveat -- it won't enhance your professional image to be seen in public by a business colleague/client looking like an unwashed grub or as a 30-something posing as Britney.

Assuming that you care what others think of you, and assuming you want to advance your career, here are some guidelines that will ensure your personal grooming complements your excellent manners:

Always have clean, well-groomed hands and fingernails. If your nail polish is chipped, remove it. This also applies to pedicures if your feet are on display, ladies.

Gentlemen, keep nails short and clean. In both cases, keep rings to a maximum of one per hand.

Wear clean clothes to work. This includes shoes, which should never be down-at-heel or scruffy. If your work is dirty, cover yourself up with appropriate outerwear.

Be aware that in a business environment, very tight clothing on anyone is inappropriate and looks suggestive. Also be aware that if you have a larger build, tight clothing will serve to make you seem even larger. Avoiding short, clingy outfits that have horizontal lines traversing your widest parts will help to reduce the overall impression of largeness.

Vertical lacquered bangs and mullets are not only pass but look ridiculous. Hair should be neat and natural for both sexes. I recommend visiting a reputable hairstylist who will tell you the truth about your choice of hair style and color. Take their advice and abandon the style and color that everyone said suited you when you were 20 years younger.

Ladies should avoid piling on thick makeup. Keep it subtle for daytime. If you wish to trowel it on in the evening, that's your affair, but remember that you don't want to be deemed schizophrenic by a superior whom you accidentally meet. It may reduce your promotion prospects if you're seen emulating Elvira.

Perfume should be discreet. Lightly spray the space in front of you and walk into it. That is quite enough. If colleagues object to your fragrance, stop wearing it. That goes for both sexes.

It's in poor taste to wear your entire jewelry collection at one time. A good rule of thumb is that when you're tempted to pile on an extra piece, take a piece or two off instead. Remove all but a couple of ear piercings and cover tattoos.

Personal hygiene is a sticky subject. If you have any doubts regarding your own aura, ask someone you trust to tell you the truth. You may consider asking if colleagues continually flinch away from you. Make it easy on them by asking if they think your current antiperspirant or mouthwash is effective.

If you're the one having to answer this question and the person clearly needs advice, simply recommend a good alternative while making a slight self-deprecating comment to prevent any possible hurt feelings. "I had to change mine a while ago" will suffice.

The person who doesn't ask yet needs to be fumigated should be left to the ministrations of the Human Resources department; notify the appropriate person that someone needs guidance and let them handle it.

Finally, just because no one comments on the fact that you dress like a biker chick at work when everyone else is sporting Brooks Brothers doesn't mean it's acceptable. They may be too nervous to confront you. Revert to the school uniform rule and you'll blend in nicely.

Besides, it's much better if people notice you for your excellent work instead.

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