FIRST impressions are important, with more than half the initial impact of a first-time meeting made by appearance. More specifically, the memory of the brightness and colour of clothing, shade of eyes and tint of hair will outlast any recollection of what was said at a first encounter. Studies have shown that 55 per cent of a first impression is visual. Body language, such as eye contact and gestures, accounts for 35 per cent, and only seven per cent is determined by what people say. The remaining three per cent may be put down to mystique. Jacqueline Comyn, who runs First Impressions, a business dedicated to helping people avoid becoming fashion victims, said simply: ''If you want to be treated like a managing director, dress like one.'' Often when introductions are made at a gathering, people afterwards remember what colour the others were wearing, but not their names. ''Colour is all-important,'' said Ms Comyn, but the good news is that more than 50 per cent instinctively wear the right shade. The benefits of wearing the right colours to complement skin tone, hair colour and body type are enormous. ''You radiate confidence, you just know you look your best and people tell you so - but they say you look good, not 'what a nice dress' - that's the difference,'' explained Ms Comyn. Some rules are obvious - tall women built like rugby players should avoid fussy Liberty-style prints, just as short people should steer clear of thick heavy squares or stripes. ''It is a matter of scale, playing up your best characteristics and not dwelling on the bad features which cannot be changed,'' she stressed. Whatever people wear, the eye is drawn to the brightest feature. ''Wear a black dress and white shoes and what stands out?'' asked Ms Comyn. Ironically, she said, most people knew instinctively what suited them, but their taste was ruled by others from an early age. ''Your mother buys your clothes, then children want to dress like their friends, and teenagers want to follow fashion, no matter what it is,'' she explained. By adulthood, we are confused further by seasonal changes in style in the shops. ''Don't dress to be trendy - you get compliments by wearing what suits you, and it does usually need someone to be objective.'' Dressing for one's lifestyle is important, and a common mistake women make is to buy a pricey little black evening dress because everyone else does, when money would be better spent on work outfits worn every day. ''We wear only 20 per cent of our wardrobes 80 per cent of the time - that's a lot of expensive clothes unused on the hanger,'' she said. Once you decide on your image, impulse buys are out. ''You only need 12 items of clothing. Correctly chosen, they can add up to 52 combinations,'' she explained. The essential wardrobe should have two suits, one two-piece, one casual and one smart pair of trousers, one evening dress, three plain shirts or blouses, two sweaters or cardigans and a coat.