Dressing up to avoid the public service axe

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Pop stars like Justin Bieber have one and now public servants should turn themselves into a personal brand if they want to survive, says an experienced Canberra image consultant.

Stylist Lizzie Wagner has a secret client list made up of business people and, because she is based in the territory, politicians.

She has the job of telling round men to wear clothes with vertical stripes and larger patterns on their ties and informing the uneducated to sport maroon, not pink, when they're walking into a power meeting.

“Maroon shows that you will be around forever,” she said.

As thousands of federal bureaucrats face job cuts and a labour market filled with former colleagues made redundant, Ms Wagner said public servants must remember basic dress sense and interpersonal skills if they want to beat the competition.

This meant polishing shoes, making sure there are no pie splodges from yesterday's lunch on your shirt and, for women, not wearing skirts above knee height.


“To go up in the public service today you need to stand out,” she said.

“You want someone healthy and fit with a good work-life balance.

“This is the message sent by Tony Abbott and Barack Obama when they wear those very fitted suits – it says we can take care of ourselves and we can take care of the country.

“There's huge competition in the public service and it shouldn't come down to the way people dress but it does.

“People do not understand they need to brand themselves.

“A lot of people look around the workplace, look at middle management, and then dress below.

“It's not good enough to say, 'well I don't deal with the public', because you're dealing with your colleagues.”

In her words, it even meant avoiding the heating up of an offensive smelling lunch in the microwave and eating it in a small cubicle surrounded by colleagues.

It is an example she gives to drive home the point professional boundaries needed to be maintained at work, crossed potentially at the person's own peril.

“Your work colleagues are not your best friends,” Ms Wagner said.

Basic etiquette in the workplace as well as at home and online is receiving a refresher with The Agony of Modern Manners airing on the ABC in early April.