Even though I pride myself on being pretty stylish, from time to time, I let function overrule fashion. I sacrifice cute for the sake of comfortable. I go for practical instead of pretty. (Shoot, why do you think I keep myself anonymous? Between my intense work schedule and the – perceived – limits on what is acceptable in the workplace, there are just some days when no one would mistake me for a fashion blogger.)
Last November, I had one of those days. I had a Very Important Meeting and felt that a dark, conservative suit was the most appropriate thing to wear. So, I pulled out the one dark suit I have that still fits – the one that I almost never wear because it is a horrid, boxy, schlumpadinka-lookin’ mess. But because of my Very Important Meeting, I reasoned that it was more important to look appropriate than to look attractive.
The meeting went well, but overall I had a very long, very tough work day. I was all set to go home when I remembered about an event I had signed up to attend that evening . . . a “dress for success” seminar featuring a professional stylist. I was dog tired and feeling rather unpretty. But I had already paid my money to attend, so I just went ahead and went.
I figured it would be a rehashing of all of the same tired advice most women get about trying to look professional while climbing the corporate ladder. Wear dark, muted colors. Don’t draw too much attention to your curves. Select tasteful, simple (i.e., BORING) accessories. Blah, blah, blah . . . .
Boy, was I wrong!
By the end of the evening, my world had been rocked. Seriously. Like, I-practically-bought-a-whole-new-work-wardrobe rocked. (Thank goodness for all of the Christmas and after-Christmas sales!)
I knew I had to share with you all. So, as we move into the new year and many of us (myself included!) are working to take our style game to the next level, I hope that you will benefit from this in-depth interview with the guest speaker of that evening – Lauren Rothman, founder of Styleauteur and DC’s premier fashion stylist, personal shopper and image consultant.
Talk to me about your company, Styleauteur. Styleauteur is a fashion consulting company that works with individuals, companies and the media to help people manage their fashion. I call my business a “fashion therapy practice” – I work one-on-one with individuals who are looking to manage their style. I do image management more than personal shopping.
Who are your clients? I work with a lot of people who are high profile or in senior management. Many of them are being professionally viewed . . . the stay-at-home mom who is married to a CEO and needs to be at corporate events, rising stars in companies, someone who is going to be in the public eye, like an author about to go on a book tour. My list of clients also includes Fortune 500 companies, high-end department stores like Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdales, boutiques. I’m also a contributor for media outlets like the Huffington Post, Politico, Glamour, Real Simple, Fox, and so on.
What is it like working with clients in DC, where people have a perception that style isn’t that important? The overarching word is “image” as opposed to “fashion” and “style”. When I get brought into a company to help their employees, the message that I get from top-tier management is that people aren’t reflecting the image of a rising star or professional . . . not that they don’t like their clothes. It might be that a person just looks messy and unkept. Certain things – visible bra straps, unpolished shoes, stained clothes – are perceived as a lack of respect. Just the same way you would check the spelling in an email before sending it off, people need to look in the mirror before they leave the house and go to work.
That makes a lot of sense. In the professional arena, is there a danger of being TOO stylish? You do want to be careful about not outshining your boss – but if you’re confident about your look and if it’s appropriate for your body type and your shape, that’s to be applauded. So long as you stay within the bounds of appropriateness, you are fine. Be who you are.
But, if you’re in a business casual setting, wearing a suit makes you stand out just as much as a tight red dress. When people dress inappropriately (for example, in short skirts or low-cut blouses) they usually do it out of a lack of knowledge, not because they’re trying to stand out.
What are some of the most common problems you find among professional women? The most common problem is just finding your way. I get calls all the time from women who are re-entering the professional workforce in need of help. A woman who is 35+ has been through a few changes (like having a baby, changing jobs, etc.) and the biggest problem is that she does not have a style identity.
Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. A lot of women want permission to know that it’s okay NOT to conform . . . you need to dress for your body type . . . . [P]lus size women in particular, they feel like they have to dress within a certain confine . . . I say, change the confine.
Define “style identity”. ”Style identity” is simply understanding what looks good on you at that time. So, what looks good on you in your 40s versus what looked good on you 20 years ago. It’s also knowing what you like, what looks good on your body type and what makes you feel good.
Taking it a step further, what are some of the most common problems you find among plus-size women? Finding clothes that fit in all the right places – but this is a challenge for all women. There’s also a hesitancy to wear something fitted, showing off a waist. I often encourage bringing out the inner diva . . . drawing attention to your best assets.
What is the most important advice you would offer to plus-size professional women? Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. A lot of women want permission to know that it’s okay NOT to conform . . . you need to dress for your body type. The boxy jacket doesn’t work for a lot of women, but for plus-size women in particular, they feel like they have to dress within a certain confine . . . I say, change the confine. If a suit doesn’t work, don’t wear a suit. Try a cardigan with a belt. (SIDEBAR: Little bells started going off in my head right about here. Buh-bye, schlumpadinka suit, hello belted cardi!)
Do you think that plus-size women face greater challenges when it comes to finding clothes that work for them? I have styled women from a size 0 to a size 26 and I’ve found that very few clients can fit in something right off the rack. Society might offer us more options in certain sizes, but it’s not always good and not always flattering. I spend a lot of time dressing “typical-sized” women than a woman who is a special size (very small or plus-sized) and a lot of stuff that’s in “everyday sizes” isn’t good. But, when there’s less to choose from it’s sometimes better. So, I say find those four stores that work and shop the hell out of them.
People might see themselves as a “challenge,” but I’ve never found a body type I couldn’t work with and couldn’t dress. I empathize with the difficulty of shopping for every size. When I look at someone, I see a blank canvas of possibility.
What are some basic do’s and don’ts for all professional women?
Do dress for the job you want.
Take an extra second to tame your hair and make sure you’re skin is flawless.
Don’t overlook the power of makeup.
Do recognize when a hem might be too short or cleavage is too exposed. (SIDEBAR: When it comes to cleavage, Lauren advises that a shadow is okay, but a line is too much.)
Don’t just say, “Well, this is what I have” and take it. Employers want to see that you’re taking care of yourself. It reflects how you will take care of their business.
Well, there you have it. Here is to throwing out the confines that bind us in unattractive clothes!
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