Sunday, January 13, 2013

How to dress "strong" at work?

When I began my career in the late 80’s it was easy to dress “strong” at work. I would wear an expensive freshly dry-cleaned power suit, a pair of tan colored nylons, along with matching pumps and I was out the door. Whether I was at work, lunching with my co-workers or running errands after work I always felt strong in this outfit. Then along came the 90’s when many companies adopted relaxed workplace dress-codes. Currently, it is not unusual to see jeans, capris or even flip flops at the office. The problem with this relaxed-style is I no longer feel “strong” as I walk into meetings wearing a polo shirt, khakis and flats.

For suggestions on power dressing in a business casual environment, I turned to executive styling consultant expert Catherine Storing who agreed to be interviewed on this topic. Catherine Storing can be found at

Several years ago, I attended a two-week workshop covering communication skills for women. The first week I wore a purple suit, the second a pink one. After the last session, the instructor pulled me aside and told me I dressed too pretty. She recommended I wear grey or black if I wanted to be taken seriously in the workplace. Ironically, just prior to my interview with Catherine I came across a photo of myself wearing a lavender jacket and tan slacks at a work function. I sent the photo to Catherine asking her to critique my outfit:

 Catherine was much kinder than my former instructor instead of blurting out my outfit was all wrong she complimented my smile and offered the following suggestions:

You want to stand out.

You want to be the first thing people see when they walk into the room.

Don’t be afraid to wear color.  The lavender jacket I was wearing in the photo muted my appearance. She recommended I not wear pastels unless I contrasted them with color.

Here is more of my interview with Catherine Storing:

Do you have any recommendations for dressing casual at the office?
Business casual was meant to relax corporate dressing and give employees a little more freedom to express themselves through their clothing.  Business casual should be professional only a little more relaxed. My motto is comfortable = confident. Clothes should be loose and comfortable; they should fit well and be designed for your body type. If an article of clothing bothers you when you put it on, take it off.  It will bother you all day.

Here is an example of appropriate business casual attire:

Just because your office has a business casual dress code, it doesn’t mean you have to adhere to it, at least not completely. If you’re looking to get promoted, you need to dress seriously. And you have to dress the part-as if you already have the part you want and have earned.

Suits are very important. If you own two suits including a jacket, skirt and pants you should be able to create ten different outfits. Wear them with a colorful funky blouse that is form fitting. The jacket should hit right below your waist and shouldn't cover your butt completely.

Purchase one or two charcoal separates because they are so easy to pair with something else.

Dresses are also a good choice because they eliminate the need to find a matching blouse to wear with them as you would with a skirt or pants.  They can also be dressed up or down.

What about accessories?
When done right accessories compliment and elevate corporate attire. Just remember you are going to work and not to a party.

Earrings are a good choice because they frame the face. Wear small hoops.  Over-sized hoops do not belong in the office.

Necklaces – layer medium size bangles of like colors and textures.

Watch – every career woman needs a good timepiece.  No girlie watches and never one with rhinestones. She recommends Michael Kors for affordable style.

Rings – wear one or two that compliment your outfit.

Here is a photo of Catherine having fun with accessories.  Also, I love her shoes:

Speaking of shoes, can I wear high heels to the office?
It is fine to wear 3-1/2 inch heels, but don't wear black and never skinny. Wedges are easier on your feet, as are platform boots. I recommend wearing heels because you want to be at eye level to be seen and heard. For comfort I like Naturalizer and Rockport.

What current trends do you recommend?
Color - I prefer solids. If you want to wear a pattern make sure the pattern is small.


Awesome wrap around sweaters

Jeans - trousers are amazing. Wear them with a little top for a polished look.

Capris are fine as long as they are form-fitting. They shouldn’t be short.

Tights off black or black are great for winter.

What stores do you recommend?
Talbots – for dresses.

Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft – for your power suit.  Watch for sales.

Banana Republic – for pants. They also have a great selection for petites.

TJ Maxx – for accessories especially watches. Also, good for undergarments, tights and socks.

Make sure your style is age-appropriate:
For the 30 – 50+ crowd you should not wear low riser jeans. Do not show your stomach or wear really tight clothes.  When I talk about form-fitting clothes I mean tailored to you, not tight.  Forever 21 is a store for teen girls, not for adult women.
What are some of your business casual don’ts?
No flip flops ever.

No sweats.

Never go sleeveless.

No cleavage. You want people to notice the color the color of your eyes.

No miniskirts. Your skirt should fall either right below or above the knee.

Never wear nude nylons. Unless nylons are the right color they don't look natural. Instead she recommends shaving and not showing too much skin.

For more tips on dressing appropriately for work please see Business Casual Dress Code Done Right.
What should a woman wear to a meeting where she is the only woman in attendance?
She should wear her favorite outfit or power suit, the one that fits her well and is comfortable.  This is not the time to go out and buy something new.

 What should a woman wear to a conference attended almost entirely by men (all wearing blue oxford shirts and khakis)?
A dress and don’t be afraid to wear red.  She should also wear make-up.


What should I wear when I need to make a quick run to the store? More than once, I’ve run into a colleague wearing sweats and no makeup.
Wear a trench coat. Close it and it automatically dresses up whatever you are wearing. Also be sure to wear a bra.


How should I dress for my body type which is athletic?

By athletic do you mean flat chested?

Yes, that is what I mean?

For the athletic body type:
Your look should be feminine. You should wear dresses and skirts. Wear necklaces and scarves to draw attention away from a smaller bust.  Opt for fitted clothing over clothes that are loose.  Make sure your bra maximizes whatever there is. You do not want your bra to separate, but to lift.

Are there any books that have influenced you or that you recommend to others?
The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen is a mom and business owner who promotes balance and forgiving yourself for not getting it right.

Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work
by Steve Pressfield

What do you know now that you wish you’d have known when you were 18?
What I wanted at 18 will change over time and that is okay. Study what you want in college don't care what your major is. Go for what you love.

What is the most important advice you give to clients?
I believe I am an amazing person and everyone else is too. Everyone is so judgmental about what they look like and can't take a compliment. Just say thank you.
Is there anything else we should know about you?
We are a work in progress.  and  Where we are is where we need to be.

Thank you, Catherine Storing for an enjoyable and informative interview. In addition to Catherine Storing's website, She can be found on twitter and pinterest.  To learn more about Catherine's services, please visit:


  1. Very thankful that I don't work in a corporate environment and that I'm tall - I can't do suits and I can't do heels.

    There is a bit of pressure to be stylish, but I don't mind being on the plain side.

    I try not to be too casual, but I probably fail from time to time. I am often surprised at just how trendy a lot of people in my industry dress.

  2. Adding a blazer or jacket to almost anything else dresses it up - one of my favorite tricks!

  3. Wait a minute--I started my career in accounting in the late 80's too. Aren't you missing something in that suit? Don't forget that matching bow-tie!

    Thank goodness those are gone . . .

  4. Hi! popping over from the aloha blog hop. Great advice on how to dress for success.

  5. Thank you for posting this. I loved it, it's needed, and I could just hug you!
    Seriously, though. I really appreciate this.
    I'm a new follower.

  6. Thanks so much for posting this! I bookmarked it earlier in the week and just keep coming back to it! Visiting today from SITS!

  7. I worked all through the 80's and 90's in fields basically filled with men. I wore suits and dresses, but with a feminine style. It worked for me. I got lots of compliments on my outfits. Now I work at home as an author and I'm usually in capris and a t-shirt or no sleeve blouse. I only dress up when we are having dinner with friends or I go to a meeting. I'm glad I don't have to dress up every day anymore. Having fun on Saturday Sharefest!

  8. Wow what an informative post. I'll be passing it on to my corporate sister. I'm more than happy to work in a uniform since clothes shopping is one of my least favorite things to do! Happy Sharefest.

  9. Interesting information. Thanks for sharing.

    Visiting from SITS.

  10. Stopping by from SITS sharefest. Great information.


  11. Anonymous6:01 PM

    This is great! We are business casual at work but no jeans. We also have less than 20 women out of 350 people. The no jeans rule is ignored and there are several women in the summer who come in wearing too tight mom jeans, too tight ill fitting cardinals t-shirts, and flip flops. It makes me gag and I'm totally embarrassed because we have customers in the office. Not only do I adhere to the corporate rules (granted my boss is the CEO) but I also try to dress one step above. I will say it's hard not to look girly in a dress and skirt all the time when you work with all men.

  12. eemusings,
    I think you can still dress professionally even if you don't work in a corporate environment. I am not talking about dresses and heels, but a sylish pair of jeans and a jacket would be appropriate.
    You never know who you work with today that might move on to better opportunities and think of you when they hear of a job opening. At the very least I would dress up a bit when you have visitors.

  13. Webb,
    I love the jacket idea. Keeping a versatile jacket at the office for thosen unexpected meetings or times when a surprise guest pops in is a great idea. Men have been doing this for years.

  14. Retired Syd,
    I think I had one blouse with a bow-tie, but hated is. I paired my suits with a basic shell. I actually preferred the suits of the 90's to the suits of the 80's. I wore them long after everyone had gone business casual. Once I switched I have a hard time going back. I haven't worn a dress or suit - with a skirt to work in years.

  15. Emma,
    Thanks for stopping in.

  16. Martha,
    Thanks for the kind words.

  17. Martha,
    Thanks for the comment and the follow. Have a great weekend.

  18. Melissa,
    It is always a pleasure to have you stop in.

  19. Vickie M. Taylor,
    It is nice not to have to dress up, but I think if I worked from home and lived in yoga pants I would miss it. It is cheaper though.

  20. c@annuarychit,
    Working in a uniform - what a time and money saver. Hopefully this post helps your sister.

  21. Carli,
    Glad to hear you dress one step above your position. I know what you mean about looking girlie wearing a dress or skirt all the time. I also work in a male-dominated industry. After feeling, so uncomfortable wearing a dress and heels to an open house attended by our customers I now wear pant suits or slacks exclusively.