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CREATING A WARDROBE THAT WORKS.

Lisa Herzlich clogs through Cherry Creek shopping center, hauling clunky signs announcing new stores or events. Later, she tosses dozens of tote bags over her shoulder to deliver to a charity fund-raiser. Later still, a TV reporter calls for an on-camera interview about the center's 10th anniversary.

It's all in a day's work for the marketing director of Denver's No. 1 shopping mecca and top tourist attraction. And her wardrobe, built around a business-casual style, has to be able to handle everything, from climbing a ladder to hang holiday decorations to holding a business meeting with the CEO of a major new tenant.

Since the early 1990s, when well-meaning managers introduced "casual Fridays" as a way to lift worker morale, the American workplace has been in a state of confusion about how to dress. Some Coloradans hire fashion stylists such as New York City's Annie Brumbaugh to help plan their wardrobes. Others attend seminars put on by menswear shops. There's even a business casual homepage at Nordstrom.com. But most people just wing it.

"Business casual has a fuzzy definition," said Herzlich. "But for me it means I have to be ready to schlep stuff or go in front of a camera to do an interview and represent the shopping center in a manner in which they would be proud."

She has a few basic rules: rubber-soled shoes, generally flats, to cover the miles she logs trekking through the shopping center; basic suits topped with a sweater instead of a jacket; and relaxed blazers.

"If you want to be casual, you still have to be classy," said Herzlich. "Being in a fashion environment, I get to be a little more funky in what I wear and what I mix and match."

Neiman Marcus spokeswoman Nancy Sager said that for women, the sweater set is a favorite for the business casual look. "Pair it with a great pair of trousers or skirt and you can't go wrong," said Sager. "Even though the style might be business casual, it still is a pulled-together look."

Often people confuse casual with dressing down, even baring arms and necklines. "Business casual should never include bareness, things that are too tight or too provocative," said Sager. "You're dressed casually but professionally rather than being in the traditional suit."

Personal stylist Brumbaugh, who visits Denver to advise clients on their wardrobes -- tossing out old, rarely-worn items and buying anew on shopping trips -- attributes the changing fashion landscape to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs whose youth and casual style have made a mark on today's business culture.

"Even on the IBM Web site, business casual is sanctioned," said Brumbaugh, pointing to a 1995 memo from CEO Louis Gerstner who calls business casual attire "acceptable" at the company long known for its blue-suit uniformity "Now nobody knows what's going on," said Brumbaugh. "Every individual has to figure out their own story and their costume for the drama called, 'My Life.'"

Brumbaugh's advice? "Dress casual but businesslike; pay attention to detail; have a look around and see how others dress; keep it simple," said Brumbaugh. "Casual has created a lot more possibilities for people than the 'Dress for Success' look in the '80s when women were willing to do anything and wear anything to get ahead."

At The Bridge, a high-end menswear store at 1033 Broadway in Denver, owner and image consultant Corey Kemp said that not a week goes by that a businessman doesn't come in waving a memo saying his company has gone corporate casual. "That's what they're calling it now, 'Corporate Casual,'" said Kemp, who regularly puts together looks for her customers and even hosts seminars in her store on how to dress corporate casual. "Our Golden Rule is that you dress for the job you want, not the one you have."

Kemp keeps customer credit card numbers on file and sends over clothes for men to try on, a system she calls "a quick and painless way to put a look together.

"Businessmen start with a breakfast meeting, might have a two-martini lunch, are in their clothes all day and then meet someone for dinner," Kemp said. "Their clothes really take a beating. But today we have some great fabrics; (we) even have Teflon-coated pants by name designers which work well. Corporate casual needs to offer men more than just the business suit."

Lawrence Covell, owner of the tony Lawrence Covell shop in Cherry Creek North, said the corporate casual look has been good for his business despite a trend away from expensive suits. "Our business is not hurting because we sell sweaters that cost as much as suits," he said. "We definitely sell a lot more casual stuff than we did five years ago. We also sell sport coats that have higher prices or are from more expensive lines. A lot of our customers are entrepreneurs and can wear what they want -- and they don't want to look like everyone else."

Covell attributes some of the casual trend to the labor shortage sweeping not only Colorado, but the nation -- even prompting staid Wall Street firms to go casual.

"It's the only way they can attract employees," said Covell. "But it all depends on the company and what they perceive as casual. At some companies anything goes, and on Casual Fridays no work gets done."

Covell also ties the casual movement and its golf-attire look to ill-fitting dressier clothes.

"Some people don't buy their clothes to fit," he said. "A collar on a shirt, or a tie -- you shouldn't be able to feel it. If you do feel it, your shirt is too small, or must not fit very well."

And while the pendulum has swung to what Covell calls a "dressed-down look," he said it can swing back just as quickly. "We have customers who have been doing this casual look for awhile and now want to dress up again," Covell said. "The suit still has a lot of persuasion."

CORPORATE CASUAL DOS

Sport shirt or dress shirt with jacket

For women, sweater sets with trousers or skirt

For men, pleated trousers with sweaters

Wear comfortable rubber-soled shoes Clothes tailored to fit

Accessorize - even down to stylish eyewear

Look for fabrics beyond khaki cotton

CORPORATE CASUAL TABOOS

Capri pants

open-toed shoes

Anything too tight, too provocative, too bare

Golf attire

T-shirts without a collar

Tattoos -- cover then up

Facial piercings

Denim
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:business casual look in clothing
Author:BRONIKOWSKI, LYNN
Publication:ColoradoBiz
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Words:1064
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