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Dressing the part.

ONE SPRING EVENING earlier this year, 80 female attorneys from some of Dallas, Texas' premier law firms gathered to listen to me preach the gospel of dressing for success. The problem was, few in the audience were believers. When I asked who thought that what she wore to court or a client meeting could influence her career success, only one hand went up. Despite their sophistication, most of these women did not understand how much looking sophisticated mattered.

Gentlemen, if you think this applies only to women, think again. A tale I recently heard from a male executive with one of the world's top financial consulting firms tells the same story: an important client meeting did not go as planned when the gentleman addressing a roomful of potential investors showed up in less-than-appropriate attire.

This same career faux pas occurs on a daily basis. I have had banks, real estate companies, and law firms ask me to help get their employees to dress appropriately for work. In fact, this has become a growing concern among companies in every business category. It applies to all of us who would like to be taken seriously at wore Moreover, do not assume you are exempt if every day is "casual Friday" in your workplace. Every work environment calls for certain sartorial standards.

"Dressing for success"--we all have heard this phrase so many times it almost is a cliche but, for those of us who adhere to its principles, this maxim can be a life- and game-changer, especially for those in the business and corporate world.

As a fashion stylist, I have dressed some of the world's wealthiest men and women and worked for leading fashion houses. I have been an independent fashion consultant for more than a decade and amassed a global clientele. Throughout my career, I have learned that the best approach to building a high-end business wardrobe is to focus on timeless style with a twist.

Why should you be motivated to invest the money in a high-quality wardrobe? Quite simply, dressing for success makes a statement to the world that you have arrived, that you are a person of consequence who needs to be taken seriously. The flip side to this is that colleagues and clients often immediately dismiss those individuals who dress poorly. You only get one chance to make a first impression.

If you arrive for an appointment looking "less than" and think it does not make a difference, keep in mind that it takes seven positives to overcome one negative. Have you ever met someone--a senior executive, another associate, a potential client--who, because of your attire, immediately perceived you as "less than" professional and dismissed you on first glance? Suppose you are lucky and get another chance --remember that, with seven positives to overcome one negative, you now are playing catch-up.

Dressing for success entails quality--true designer-grade. For men, it is about "made to measure" suits and shirts from custom tailor houses or from men's design houses. For women, it also is about serious designers. For shoes and bags, you will want the same designer quality. Both men and women should keep this in mind: you invested in your education; now invest in your future with the proper wardrobe.

Dressing for success also entails acquiring key pieces--timeless, classic items--that will maximize function. If you purchase high-quality designer goods, you will be finished shopping for many a year once your wardrobe is complete. Once a man has acquired the right pieces, he will be able to move through his daily dressing regimen with ease due to the simplicity of the wardrobe. The same holds true for ladies. Ultimately, when you are getting dressed for the day, you simply will grab any jacket, pants or skirt, and top--and off you will go, looking like a million bucks.

Your morning "what to wear" decision is simplified greatly when everything in your closet coordinates with everything else. The savings you will see in both time and money is huge, and the confidence your new wardrobe will inspire ... through the roof.

The following lists include "must haves" all high-level executives, professionals, and business leaders need to showcase in their closet. Those of you with a more casual agenda may need fewer from each category, but you will want to own one of each item regardless.

For men, custom tailored suits (in gray and navy), sport coat (navy), trousers (gray and taupe), custom-tailored shirts (solid white and solid light blue are all you need), expensive ties; and lace-up dress shoes (black and brown); alligator belts (in both black and brown with sterling silver buckle--real alligator and real sterling are absolutes and lifetime investments); an investment watch (it is critical to the entire look; if this is not in the budget, do pre-owned); and a quality wallet, business card case, and sunglasses (plus, get your nails done).

For women, you only need black pants, skirts, and dresses--paired with black jackets. All of these pieces work with each other, thus stretching the use of each item. Remember, black is the key (or midnight navy if you are among the one percent or less for whom black is not flattering). Rather than shirts, I believe simple knits are the way to go. The necklines are conservative and simple (crew necks and turtle necks are the styles you want). Purchase black patent or suede pumps--you need the finest in shoes. People begin and end with your feet when checking you out, so this is the first "tell" in where you fall on the success ladder. Buy more than one pair of pumps so you can extend their lives.

Handbags are your second "tell" on the success ladder--black and brown are your basics. Remember, go with a serious designer. Do not cut comers trying to make due. Your jewelry should be minimal: pearl, small gold, or diamond studs are perfect. Also, be sure to have an investment-quality watch--another big "tell." As with men, if it is not in the budget, do pre-owned.

Most of us live on budgets, and the idea of spending this kind of money on clothing can be daunting. However, this is an investment in your career that will guide you to be solution-oriented in acquiring your "success wardrobe." Keep in mind that purchasing simple, classic pieces that you can mix together can be a huge factor to saving on your wardrobe in general.

Strategize as you build; part of that strategy is looking for sales or special offers from the retailers who carry the labels you are seeking. You will want to establish a relationship with a salesperson who will look for the items you want and will stay in touch to notify you of money-saving events. Make your list of what you need to acquire. Provide that list to your salesperson, requesting that he or she keep you informed.

Sales occur at specific times of the year: fall/winter in November-January; spring/summer in May-August. In addition, get placed on the e-mail list not only for the mainline stores, but their related outlets. These discounters can be a gold mine. An important note: not all of these discounters carry designer goods, so you will have to check. It is, however, important to remember that even the outlets that do not carry designer brands offer what is known as "the designer caravans," where shipments of designer apparel for men and women come to the store temporarily. This information will not come through e-mail, so you must ask a salesperson to put you on the call list--which he or she will be happy to do.

Another possibility is designer resale, for both men and women. You would be surprised at the barely worn or not-worn-at-all pieces you can find at a high-end resale shop.

If you work in a casual-attire culture, you still want to up your game. The principles are the same, even if the dress code is slightly different. You still need to make powerful impressions.

Let me share an experience that speaks volumes on this subject. I worked as a regional merchandiser for a sporting goods company with around 30 stores. In this region, I was the only female in management and, believe me, it was definitely a good old boys club (no offense, gentlemen). The company uniform was khakis and a white polo. I wore a suit to work every day--and my numbers were through the roof. Two years into my job, the company had a regional meeting where they honored my performance. One of the managers stood up and said: "I knew the minute she stepped into my store ... just get out of the way and let her do her thing." My success was due to my performance, but being able to perform--without meeting resistance at every turn--was due to dressing for success. They all took me seriously.

In the casual dress environment, I recommend the following daily "must haves" (remember the previous list as well, because you will need those items at some point).

For men, dress pants, alligator belt, slip-on dress shoes (driving mocs or loafers), dress shirt (solid white or solid blue with the cuffs rolled), sport coat (if you wear it in then immediately hang it up); and investment watch.

For women, dress pants, simple solid knit top, ballet flats or short kitten heel pumps (one-half to one inch), jacket (wear in then hang it up--unless you are freezing), and the same simple jewelry and watch as mentioned earlier.

If you now are a believer in the power of the dress for success principles, you will be amazed at how simple acquiring the right wardrobe can be. More importantly, the difference in your career climb will shock you.

Bobbi Schwartz is an independent fashion consultant and the author of Everyday Essentials: Building the Foundation for Your Ultimate Wardrobe.
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Title Annotation:Business & Finance
Author:Schwartz, Bobbi
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2013
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