The New Business Professional Dress Code

The NEW Professional

Women, particularly those multitasking Amazons who need smart clothes for a smart job, cheered: in the wake of all the economic turmoil, there’s been a sea change in fashion.

Where three years ago, women wanted to look pretty and sparkly, now they want to look smart and polished. Suits are back, hemlines are longer, button-down shirts are de rigueur. The minimal arc has even extended to accessories — sensible shoes have supplanted their unwieldy predecessors. Now it’s about pumps and loafers. As for handbags? Well, they mean business too. Envelope clutches and flat, zippered portfolios that fit an iPad, and smaller pouches that tuck into bigger totes, make for streamlined, and stylish, compartmentalization.

Though the nouveau pantsuit telegraphs “I mean business,” it doesn’t have to convey the message that you’re trying to be a man. And if it is cut beautifully, there’s a way of being really feminine in a suit. Numerous female designers have gone all-out to create versions that are real head turners. Now they go day to date, desk to dinner. You’ll see a more casual element, but it’s always sophisticated. The pantsuit is just one pillar in the new workwear construct, but it isn’t right for everyone.

Conversely, this new freedom comes with a downside: exponentially increased opportunities for making faux pas. Having to select a personal uniform from the staggering array of options available to working women may make some professionals long for the days of requisite nude hose and shoulder pads. Aside from the obvious rules (nothing too sexy or too “weekend”), today’s guidelines aren’t as concrete as those of yesteryear. So how do we synthesize?

The perception of women has changed, sure that your clothes convey the message of how you want to be perceived.  If you walk into a room, be honest: What impression are you giving? Getting it right means asking these questions for your particular role and industry.

There are also myriad suiting alternatives that preserve the polished spirit of the classic look. The jacket-over-a-dress approach, a fitted pencil skirt, a crisp white or cornflower blue button-down, and a long cardigan in a rich color.

The most modern styling tip is to freshen up serious staples with a panorama of colors, be they neon twinsets, brightly hued pumps, or oversize clutches in rainbow shades. These imbue any look with a certain amount of bravado, which lends an air of confidence — a necessary weapon in any boardroom.

For the color-averse, there’s a way to keep monochrome from looking dull. A beautiful white silk blouse tucked into a black skirt always works, but adding something personal, like an interesting shoe or a great pair of earrings, really takes it to the next level. And these days, personality counts. To me, a boring outfit shows a lack of creativity — a woman doesn’t need to look like a robot.

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