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Summer is here! For some that means sleeveless frocks, sundresses and frothy, floating sheaths; tissue linen blouses with crisp cotton pencil skirts, capris or walking shorts; strappy stiletto sandals—and not a pair of pantyhose in sight! It’s a different closet, a different mind-set, a different feel on the skin. And yet, we still have to get up and go to work every day. Is a frothy sheath or a sleeveless frock the most professional look for representing your job status? And, more importantly, your age? And what about your company’s dress code—do you adhere to their guidelines even when the temperatures soar? Are you a customer-contact employee that understands the importance of dressing one step above the customer? Summertime ROCKS, as far as I’m concerned. But let me tell you the difference between a day at the office advancing my career and a day at the park on a picnic.

I call it Investment Dressing—putting your best foot forward—building a professional wardrobe with your hard-earned money that puts you one step ahead of your competition. It gets you noticed at the office in the right way, it teaches how very important a first impression can be, it builds upon classic attire year after year that favors your personal best style, and can indeed get you promoted even in the most trying of economic times. Your presence at the office goes beyond your expertise, your skill-set, and your ability to multi-task. Your attire speaks volumes about your self esteem and self confidence. It speaks for you even when you aren’t uttering a word. It garners respect or it makes people wonder how one so talented could look so brash. A mad scientist inventing a new widget can look like a disheveled mess as he hides in the back room of his laboratory. But most of us have to interact with management, fellow employees, and customers. There is absolutely nothing more important than professional presence through attire.

When did lingerie become acceptable out of the house? Do spaghetti straps, cleavage, and whale-tails really have a place in the executive office at the bank? At the risk of sounding extremely old-fashioned I think there is a right way and a wrong way to get noticed at the office. I really don’t want to see what color underwear you have chosen for the day; I don’t think there are many women who can pull off a bare arm unless they have Madonna’s biceps; tattoos don’t interest me; one pair of earrings seems sufficient for an outfit; and sky-high shoes that can’t get you up the stairs and to a meeting in a timely manner really need to be saved for a Friday night date. Instead, let me see a beautiful khaki cotton suit with a crisp white blouse; a pair of solid, spunky patent pumps; a fabulous pair of pearls or earrings or an exceptional watch—whatever represents your personal style; and an incredible tote that shows me how organized you are and helps me remember why I hired you in the first place. Let your work attire bring all the attention up to your beautiful face and your lovely smile! An office wardrobe is merely to enhance one’s beauty and brawn, not draw my eye to places meant only for after-five galas. There’s a time and place for everything.

This is the power of the first impression! Let me tell you a few little secrets. Here is what I know about you based on your appearance—
• If you wear a suit, you are a professional—period.
• If you carry a small handbag, you are an organized person. You’re not schlepping around some gargantuan handbag digging into “the abyss” looking for a pencil!

• If your shoes are shined, you pay attention to details—you’re a responsible person.
• If your hair is clean, your face is softly made up, your fingernails are neat and trimmed, and, especially with summer footwear, you have a perfect pedicure, I know that you hold yourself in high regard—you are both trustworthy and reliable.

• If you wear color, perhaps interesting and fun prints, then I know you have a sense of humor—you are a friendly person.
In economic times such as these you may have only one shot at a job opportunity. On the day of the interview you may be one of fifty applicants that show up for the position. Why not put the odds in your favor by dressing like a professional? Especially if the job is in a law firm, accounting office, brokerage, or bank. These are conservative industries requiring conservative attire. It’s a bit different if you’re working for a PR firm, an advertising agency, or in fashion or retail. You can get away with more trendy attire. But keeping an eye toward cleaned and pressed clothing and simple yet current styles will possibly make you stand out in a sea of rumpled slacks and midriffs! Again, your attire speaks volumes about your self esteem and self confidence.

You have some thirty-plus years to work in your chosen career. Building a work wardrobe out of classic styles and colors that fit your budget will always keep you looking your best. Let’s say you set aside $150.00 a month for your professional clothing—that’s $5.00 a day or around $1800.00 a year. You select three colors to build around—black, white and red; navy, cream and yellow; brown, ivory and black—the best hues for your coloring. To this you add trends as they come and go each season—a leopard print scarf, a skinny black patent belt, a platform pump, a plaid skirt, or patterned legwear. You buy classic suits that never go out of style. Good pieces generally last at least ten years. Do you know that is an investment of only about $180.00 a year or 49 cents a day for the life of your career? And what could be more important than your livelihood? You are investing in yourself. And if you don’t invest in yourself, why should your employer? Truly these are thoughts to ponder.

I have worked in many diverse managerial positions in my career. It is my belief that if an applicant has a positive and cheerful attitude, shows a great aptitude for learning, and presents themselves professionally both in manner and attire, that they will indeed make a loyal employee and are worth the company’s investment. These attributes have even taken precedence over a college degree or time spent within a given field. Because I believe that if you do all of these things then the rest can be taught.

So what’s hot, hot, hot for summer fashion this year?
• PINK! Be it magenta, cherry blossom, cotton candy, fuchsia, or lipstick—PINK is in!
• RUFFLES! Wear a beautifully trimmed blouse inside a suit jacket; flounce them around a skirt hem; adorn them on the top of a shoe, or maybe down the front of a purse. They are a feminine touch needed in a tough environment. Wear them with a power suit to show the world you’re made of both beauty and brains!
• BOLD GRAPHICS! Remember the geometric prints of Emilio Pucci in the ‘60’s? Well, they’re back. What fun to wear a black and white printed dress with a skinny black patent belt under a white cotton three-quarter sleeve jacket. Crisp and cool for work; and then take the jacket off after 5:00 p.m. and you’re ready for a poolside cocktail party.
• COLORFUL CARDIGANS! If a suit jacket doesn’t fit your summer heat wear a twin-set—a sleeveless shell with a colorful cardigan. Pair it with a pencil skirt and snakeskin sandals—another hot trend for this season.
• SHOES! Make a statement with your shoes either in color, adornment such as metallic or gemstones or ribbon, snakeskin, or patent; and pair them with a solid suit. Platforms, gladiator sandals, ankle straps, or peep-toe pumps. Keep them lower-heeled for work with small platforms, wedges, or simple strapping—vamp them up for after-five!
Remember this—trends come and go but personal style stands the test of time. Find your own style and stick with it regardless of what’s “in vogue” for the season.

Such wonders fashion can create! And such wonders there are to avoid! Dressing oneself for work is a real statement about these times we live in. We work hard to fulfill our destiny, stay current within our industries, and remain knowledgeable and proactive with an eye toward advancement. If dressing inappropriately could take one point away from our success why would we risk that chance? We need all the help we can give ourselves when jobs are scarce and long careers can be lost. Take the high road! Put your best foot forward. And adorn it in your very best stiletto!

By Lisa Duncan

Lisa Duncan teaches individuals and corporate clients retail merchandising secrets, workplace dressing, and the lost art of customer service. She can be reached at www.lisaduncan.com.