What Is Office-Appropriate?

The May 2013 issue of People Style Watch contains an excellent guide to office style in a piece entitled “Tips for a New Job!  Follow this expert advice and you’ll always look office-appropriate–whether you’re just starting out or mid-career.”

The advice is spot-on, the kind of advice you would receive from a professional image consultant. The advice includes such recommendations as “make sure your clothes fit well” and “dress like it’s interview day.”  With photos of Dianna Agron, Mandy Moore and Pippa Middleton illustrating appropriate professional wear, the article is helpful to every woman who works in an office setting.

Contrast the People Style Watch advice with the following, which stopped me in my tracks. “Who Says You Can’t Wear Color to the Office?” asks the January 2013 issue of Lucky magazine, which continues: “Give the black and navy a rest and try these classic, work-appropriate looks in bright, bold, gorgeous colors.”

I shudder to think how many human resource directors need to counsel young women as a direct result of this remarkably bad advice suggesting that wearing stripes, sequins, friendship bracelets and neon nail polish together in starting combination is work-appropriate. It may be loads of fun on the weekend, but it reflects a complete lack of professionalism in an office environment. This is a look guaranteed to take one OFF the fast track to success.

Vogue Gets Real

If you’re one of the fashion magazine fans who has felt that Vogue magazine has little relevance to the real-life needs of the vast majority of women, you may be intrigued and delighted by a new feature that the magazine introduced with the August 2012 issue, “What to Wear Where.”

Here’s what the magazine says about the new content, calling the development “Keeping it Real”: “we introduce WHAT TO WEAR WHERE, a new monthly feature of practical solutions to those SPECIFIC SARTORIAL CHALLENGES we encounter in our WORK LIFE (slick envelope clutches and portfolio bags transport papers and iPads with EFFICIENT PANACHE) and our everyday family ménage.”

The first installment features six looks and  “six supersleek, superchic handbags” that “speak to how efficient and modern you can be,” whether you’re dealing with a job interview, television pitch, lunch with investors, or other work duties. Some of the looks shown are so fashion-forward as to be more appropriate for creative fields rather than conservative businesses, but none of the looks push the inappropriate overt sexiness that sidetracked Marie Claire magazine in its efforts to create an “@ Work” spin-off supplement.

Here’s a skirt look from Sacai worn with a leather bag from Derek Lam, pumps from Calvin Klein Collection, and a statement cuff bracelet from Abraxas Rex by Paris Kain. About the bag, Vogue states: “An earthy, neutral bag (no hardware, no nonsense) sends an elegant but warm message when you’re making the sales pitch. . . .”

A jacket and pants ensemble from Max Mara, worn with a calfskin bag from Emilio Pucci, a statement necklace from Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci, and a pair of rings–a signet ring from Mannin Fine Jewelry and a Hoorsenbuhs ring from Barneys–create a blueprint for success, says Vogue:  “Akin to the scarlet power ties of the 1980s, royal-blue accessories today are a clear statement of confidence–just the right tone when you’re asking the CEO for a promotion.

These descriptions are spot-on, as if vetted by, if not actually written by, an image consultant. This is genuinely practical advice, the difference between pushing trends and helping women find fashions that meet their needs. I am eager to read more in coming months.

Styling Perfection: Nuances of Color

Every so often I come across a photograph of a fashion styling that stops me in my tracks. Savannah Guthrie, NBC-TV’s Today‘s new anchor, looks phenomenal in this photograph published in People magazine, wearing a dress by David Meister and earrings by Kimberly McDonald, styled by Stacey Kalchman.

The color of the dress is perfection with Guthrie’s eyes, bringing out their arresting color. The vee of the neckline of her dress is an ideal depth, coming to Guthrie’s first balance point. The subtle weave of the dress repeats the nuances of color seen in Guthrie’s hair, the warm yellow being a near-complementary color to the blue hues.

And the earrings — if you ever wonder why I encourage my clients to seek the perfect pair of earrings, here is a demonstration of why. The colors of the earrings pick up the hues from Guthrie’s eyes as well as those in her hair. The shape of the earrings subtly reflects the vee neckline of the dress. The center stone is an eye-catching natural beauty, full of mystery and nuance. The earrings sit on her ear lobes in an appropriately professional style, bringing attention up to Guthrie’s face. And the diamonds surrounding the center stone add a touch of dazzle, the perfect accessory for a rising star.

Watch for opportunities to attend jewelry trunk shows, where you can see the full line of designs and colors from a designer. Try on different designs and observe what styles are most flattering to you. If you’re not sure where to start, engage the services of a professional image consultant to help you determine your best colors and to point out the nuances of design in your own person. It is those nuances that make you individually and beautifully you.

“Marie Claire @ Work” Still Not Grasping the Concept

The second edition of “Marie Claire @Work,” supplement to Marie Claire magazine, is out, showing a picture of actress Salma Hayek on the cover. Unlike actress Katie Holmes, who appeared on the cover of the first edition in a bathing suit, Hayek is dressed in a fashionable version of a suit. She looks spectacular in a cutaway jacket and  tight skirt from Alexander McQueen and “her own” low-cut vest that flaunts her cleavage.

The look is entirely appropriate for a mega-star known for her sex appeal. However, posing in a look that draws all eyes to her breasts and the rest of her extraordinary figure, she is not a role model of how to dress for women who want to succeed in the corporate world. There is a time to look breathtakingly sexy. While at work is not that time.

The “@ Work” supplement is a publication targeted to professional and other working women, self-described as “Your Get-Ahead Guide for Career, Style & Success.”  The rest of the “@ Work” supplement is a combination of good advice and some very misguided ideas. Among the features is a six-page spread entitled “Office Supplies” purporting to demonstrate: “Style investments inspired by yesteryear’s essentials” including “rings the size of paperweights.”

This photo from the ”@ Work” supplement demonstrates Marie Claire‘s idea of how a work look might be accessorized, putting together five wristwatches, a bracelet, and eight cocktail rings. The appropriateness of the styling has as much credence as the likelihood of finding the pictured powder blue manual typewriter at a place of business.

Another photo from the same feature shows an open-weave lace skirt accompanied by bracelets and rings that almost certainly would catch on the weave of the skirt. The peek-a-boo style of the skirt, as attractive as it is, presents another office no-no.

In choosing work wear, it’s important to consider the image one wants to convey. Overtly sexy fashion choices and an over-abundance of jewelry do not support a professional image. There are all manner of ways to adapt current fashions so as to look stylish and yet be office-appropriate in dress.

It’s time for fashion magazines that purport to provide style guidance to working women, to employ stylists –  or to engage image consultants – who have spent time in the corporate world outside the realm of fashion, and who can provide the magazines with a reality check.


The Power & Practice of Suits: Situational Dressing for the Professional Woman

Generally speaking, professional wear and high fashion looks are on two different tracks, with barely a nod from the fashion press to the needs of professional women for office-appropriate apparel. I was delighted, therefore, to see the April 2012 issue of Elle profile in its Elle Fashion Workbook a 33-year-old New York City lawyer, Candice Cook, who explains the facts of legal style to readers: “When clients come to my office, they expect to see me in a suit.”

Cook chooses blouses, bags, shoes and jewelry that make her professional wardrobe interesting and reflect her fashion savvy. The photo center right below shows Cook in an all-black ensemble of jacket and top from Dice Kayek. Cook comments: “This silk blouse has beautiful, feminine details while perfectly blending into a conventional attorney ‘uniform.'”

Cook explains to readers that she adapts what she wears to the clients with whom she is meeting, often comparing her work wardrobe to a strong opening argument: “The right outfit can set the tone and assist me in stepping into character.” Elle notes that no matter the setting, Cook always accessorizes with an oversize handbag and “sentimental jewelry–whether it’s diamond stud earrings from her parents (a law school graduation gift) or an Hermes bracelet from her boyfriend. ‘Personal accessories help me tap into my identity–even if I’m wearing a black suit!”

The jacket shown above right is from Willow. Cook comments: “I love anything with clean, tailored lines. A well-fitted jacket is like the holy grail for a lawyer!”

This is all remarkably conservative stuff for a fashion magazine, although I can say from personal experience that Cook’s fashion philosophy is spot-on and reflects a well-reasoned strategy for dressing professionally.

Alas, turn the page – just one page – and the two founders of Gilt Groupe, the “members-only sample-sale juggernaut,” as described by Elle, who just penned a business advice book, seem to take quite a different view. Elle asked Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, this question: “You’ve interviewed hundreds of applicants [for positions with your company], so you know the toughest part: What to wear?!” The responses:

“A.M.: Don’t shy away from the things you feel good in, the silhouettes and the elements that make you stand proudly with your shoulders thrown back. For me, those are four- or five-inch heels. ”

“A.W.W.: For me, it’s a blazer or a jacket with color or embellishments, whether it be lace or fun buttons.”

“A.M.: In many areas, the kiss of death is the suit. [When I worked in] Silicon Valley, the only people who wore suits were the bankers who were trying to get your business or the salesmen trying to sell you something. A sign of ‘I’ve made it’ was if you didn’t wear one.”

While Elle ends the interview with that quotation apparently dissing suits and taking a poke at bankers and salespeople, Wilkis Wilson is actually saying something quite similar to what Cook says above: Your situation  determines what is appropriate for you to wear.  In the language of image consulting, this is known as situational dressing. In a creative field, a suit is likely to be too conservative and not edgy enough. But, as Cook demonstrates and Elle magazine reports, even in a conservative, professional work environment, there are ways to make suits chic.

I am still trying to wrap my brain around the suggestion that it is appropriate for a job candidate to wear five-inch heels.

Clueless as to What Works at Work

I was excited to see the brand new, recently published supplement to Marie Claire magazine, Marie Claire @ Work.”  This might provide a wonderful resource for my blog readers, I mused.

Alas, the first impression given off by the magazine supplement is one of cluelessness. Actress Katie Holmes is the cover model, not exactly the archetype of a working woman, although goodness knows, in-demand actresses with children and high-visibility celebrity husbands no doubt work very, very hard.

Holmes appears to wear a sleeveless garment, seemingly uncomfortably  crisscrossed over her breasts with gold metallic strapping that then fastens around her waist. What manner of professional work apparel is this?

A quick peek at the credits reveals that the garment is a belted swimsuit. Yes, a swimsuit. Belted. From Michael Kors. Something NO professional woman will be wearing to work unless, of course, she’s a swimsuit model.  (And hey, it’s not like Michael Kors doesn’t design all manner of beautiful looks perfectly appropriate for the professional woman at work. He does.) Articles about brilliant career women juggling their home lives and professional successes cannot make up for this inexplicable faux pas of a first impression.