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Dress like you mean business

Date
Well-suited ... dress for success.

Well-suited ... dress for success. Photo: Michele Mossop

The styles and colours of the suits worn by people in upper management are often the same, no matter what the industry.

Similarly, there are seemingly universal rules for what shouldn't be worn in the office. However, there are ways to discreetly perk up pinstripes and dark suits.

Managers, both male and female, prefer anthracite and dark blue because they want to appear serious. They are right to do so, says Berlin-based style consultant and psychologist Lisa Zimmermann.

"Business attire is rooted in uniformity. It should have a neutralising affect and allow things and ideas to be in the foreground, not the person presenting them," says Zimmermann.

It's no wonder that there is little leeway for experimentation in the wardrobes of people in classic professions such as banking, insurance and law.

There are many rules that apply to the way female business managers should dress.

One absolute no-no is any fabric that has a transparent quality, says style expert Andreas Rose. Ulrike Mayer, who runs a textile operation in Germany, says the long-standing rules against extremely high heels and tight clothing also still apply.

"We women must always make sure we don't appear too sexy and, at the same time, we don't look too severe in a pantsuit," Mayer says.

There's also only a little bit of room to play with colour when it comes to business attire. The less colour, the more serious the effect, goes the rule of thumb. But a spot of colour can be integrated into a classic business outfit.

"A colour that is currently in style, or a blouse with a graphic pattern that is currently in can be worn underneath a suit or outfit," says Zimmermann. "Ideally, the pattern begins under the breast so that it disappears when the blazer is buttoned."

Generally, colours that work well are nudes, pastels and sorbet tones. Firetruck red and grass green usually don't work. Those colours that work well are especially elegant in fabrics such as silk, as they also are when care is taken to match them to the complexion, says Rose.

"Less is more" is a rule that also goes for choosing jewellery, says Zimmermann.

Ideally, only one piece of discreet jewellery should be worn.

Rose also suggests some jewellery can be used to accent office attire. "Now and then a woman can wear costume jewellery, but it shouldn't be too conspicuous." He advises against heavy bracelets and bands because they can clank against each other and on the desktop during conversations.

Fashion experts agree that a basic business wardrobe should start with a few high-quality pieces that can be mixed and matched and varied. For women, this includes blouses with various necklines. Rose says the collars of classic blouses shouldn't be worn over the blazer.

Female managers who are not the chief executives can wear a cardigan or twin set. The currently fashionable box jacket in a Chanel style offers an attractive look for a somewhat informal business meeting.

Another hot style is a classic pencil skirt with a high waist. Stay away from skirts with fringed seams, says Rose, adding that women should always wear stockings when they wear skirts in the office.

"And in the summer, shoes worn by women who work in classic industries may be open at the back, but not at the toe," says Zimmermann.

Shoes, belts and scarves can also be used to accent office attire. "Highly fashionable trends are usually misplaced in an office setting, especially in upper management," says Rose.

That is, unless a woman is very high up in a corporation. "She can then afford to be a little extravagant, but not in every industry."

DPA

64 comments

  • So sad to see people are still judged by what they wear rather than the quality of work they do.

    Commenter
    Magsin
    Date and time
    June 20, 2012, 11:54AM
    • The Business world is no longer interested in serious, competent and performing people nor is quality of work highly regarded. What seems to be well regarded are people with charisma, good communicators, bubbly & positive personality (often revealed in work dress) and many other moronic traits; mere return to mediocrity.

      Commenter
      Dan
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 12:13PM
    • Did you consider the possibility they might be judged on both grounds? And why shouldn't they be?

      Commenter
      rudy
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 12:54PM
    • Why on earth should good communication skills and charisma be considered a "moronic trait"?

      Commenter
      James
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 3:08PM
    • Same idiots that espouse that ''perception is reality'

      Just like a peacock that fans its feathers, to distract from the reality it is an otherwise unimpressive bird.

      Peacocks also mimic sounds they hear, like buzzwords, I think I'm on to something here.

      I better take this discussion off-line and dovetail the results by grasping at the low hanging fruit

      Commenter
      El Diablo
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 4:25PM
  • What is this? The 1950s? The 1850s? Stockings with skirts in an Australian summer when public transport is not air conditioned or poorly so? Twin sets for non CEO women? Slingbacks but not toe peepers? Sure, thongs and bare midriffs have no place in the office, but the advice offered here just sets both men and women back 100 years.

    Commenter
    Rubylou
    Date and time
    June 20, 2012, 12:14PM
    • ...but, this advice reflects exactly the corporate environment and culture as it is today...conservative, conservative, conservative...

      Commenter
      mama
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 12:47PM
    • @Mama I work in the legal industry, one of the "classic professions" mentioned in this article and which is widely thought to be very conservative. I've worked in small, mid- and top-tier firms and haven't encountered dress standards as restrictive and old-fashioned like those set out in this article. In fact, the mid-tier firm I work at now allows all staff to dress in 'corporate casual' if they want.

      It might be different in other corporate environments, but the perception that law offices are super conservative is outdated.

      Commenter
      JEM
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 1:44PM
    • @ JEM
      ... "...but the perception that law offices are super conservative is outdated."

      ...if you read more carefully (...and did not just jump to defensive conclusions), you might have noticed that my comment concerns a general attitude in corporate culture... worldwide...

      Commenter
      mama
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 2:59PM
    • I have worked in professional offices and as a senior executive in an international professional service company.I have never been required to dress as conservatively as in this article and have often been praised by my bosses for my excellent dress sense and grooming. The days of funeral attire for the office are well and truly over.

      Commenter
      Rubylou
      Date and time
      June 20, 2012, 5:40PM

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