STYLE THAT WORKS
Dress to mean business and still make a statement. By Lisa Armstrong.
Every job, from buyer to banker, has its own version of the Too Corporate Look. And every rookie has a story about the time she wore it. Mine involves an interview at the BBC in London. I was an English undergraduate, and for reasons best known to my career adviser (who clearly wasn’t an expert on sartorial matters), I wore a suit. That was bad enough. The
shoulders could have poked your eye out. The skirt reached Toronto. We didn’t get the job. The buzz-phrase back then was “power dressing” – conservative, no-nonsense, authoritative. Now, though, dressing for work is about soft power – the ability to co-opt rather than coerce – which translates more or less into the (far more tempting) assortment of work clothes that are available. Stella McCartney, Dior, Joseph, and Alexander McQueen are always good starting points. Gentle contrasts such as grey and cream, navy and olive, and chocolate and khaki can look more striking (and creative) than a predictable head-to-toe approach. Suits are much cooler these days, especially those patterned or colour-blocked shirts and tunics and their coordinating skirts or trousers – which have been a hit on and off the runway for the past few seasons. The newest offerings feature slouchy, wide-legged trousers, but if you look better in cigarette pants,
then cigarette pants you shall have. And don’t assume that the constituent elements all need to match. Pair your (soft) power suit with the new, office-appropriate (but still leg-slimming) three-inch stacked midi heel. If that sounds a little staid, try a gold one – from Marni or Dries Van Noten. But remember, there’s nothing powerful about a woman who can’t walk or who looks trussed up. Sometimes it’s okay to evoke the spirit of a suit without actually wearing one. Miuccia Prada almost always wears dresses – full-skirted shirt-waisters – but somehow they act as her unofficial power suit. A softer, girlier woman might look more potent in trousers and heels, or a jumpsuit. Today, successful workwear isn’t about following a set of prescriptive rules as much as it is a manifest self-awareness – and finding your own soft-power signature. It could be as simple as Miuccia’s fabulous antique drop earrings or CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour’s crisp white shirts accessorised with bold neck pieces. Hillary Rodham Clinton – whose wardrobe is a testament to the progress that women’s work clothes have made in four decades – does a slash of vibrant lipstick,
and always, always, a smart jacket.