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The power suit: What women wear to work

The power suit: What women wear to workAs fashion evolves and changes over time, so to our perceptions of what is deemed a ‘work appropriate outfit’ and what is considered ‘fashionable.’  Have you ever wondered what your work ‘look’ says about you? We give you three distinctive daytime looks from the latest book from UK fashionistas Trinny and Susannah and how to achieve them. Then we asked five Aussie businesswomen what they wear to work and why.

Assured and stylish

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a sophisticated person as “showing wordly experience and knowledge of fashion and culture”.

Trinny and Susannah say: If you are in your mid-forties onwards and you want to exude a clean, confident look, try grown-up sophisticate rather than girly gamine and you will never look like mutton dressed as lamb. The mark of the Sophisticate is her classically timeless way of dressing. We wouldn’t know if you bought your suit or trousers last week or in 1946.

White shirt: A classic white shirt is one of the staples of a Sophisticate wardrobe. You know better than anyone how to dress it up or down. If you wear jeans, for example, it is never with a t-shirt but with a crisp, well-cut white shirt.

Jackets: The Sophisticate is definitely a jacket-wearer. You understand smart separates better than anyone. Whether your jacket has a princess collar or a v-neck, it is fitted at the waist with a neat shoulder, never a large shoulder pad. Your jacket is integral to completing your look.

Trousers: You wear a lot of trousers, always tailored in classic fabrics. Your trousers are beautiful classics that will last for decades.

Jewellery: A Sophisticate rarely wears stand-out jewellery, with the notable exception of the chain belt, a favourite since Sophisticate Coco Chanel made it synonymous with chic dressing. Otherwise, your jewellery is confined to a delicate pair of drop earrings, a wedding band and a functional yet chic watch.

Calm and authoritative

The Oxford English dictionary describes minimalist as “deliberately simple…in design or style”.

Trinny and Susannah say: The simplest of separates are all that is needed for a Minimalist outfit during the day. By keeping the colour uniform and the lines clean, you are halfway there. What takes the outfit from neat secretary or therapist to Minimalist, is the addition of just one or two strong, sculptural accessories.

Stripping back: The art of Minimalist dressing is very much about creating a sculptural feel. A Minimalist doesn’t believe in soft, diaphanous wafts. Your clothing is always quite protective, like a modernist suit of armour.

Textures: You break up your outfit not with pattern, but with texture. It’s always a modern fabric, whether it’s sheer, shiny or rough. Details such as cuffs, trim or print are in same-on-same colour.
White shirt: A superbly tailored white shirt is one of the key foundations of a Minimalist look. Wear it buttoned up, either with or without a tie.

Coats: A sculptural statement coat is great for evening, perhaps with exaggerated sleeves.

Innocent and childlike

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a Gamine as: “A girl with a mischievous, boyish charm”.

Trinny and Susannah say: The Gamine look is sweet, neat and petite. You are vulnerable, girly and feminine in a playful way. Your look relies on shape and colour rather than obvious labels.

Blouse: A cotton blouse with a pretty collar is the backbone of the Gamine’s wardrobe. She usually teams it with a neat cardigan or sweater.

Skirts: Gamine clothes always have a little girl quality. Skirts are flared or A-line, never bottom-hugging.
Dresses: Every Gamine needs a cute, tunic dress. The skirt is flared and the hemline should be just above the knee.

Accessories: Belts are delicate and slim. Find one in a vintage market to be sure that nobody else has the same one.

Shoes: A Gamine girl cannot skip to the park in spiked heels or Doctor Martens. The perfect Gamine footwear is a pair of flat ballet pumps.
What women really wear to work

Sharon Williams, CEO, Taurus Marketing, Sydney

Do you think what you wear to work is important and why?
Absolutely. Whether we like it or not, people make an assumption about us immediately based on sight (as well as by language used, hearing the tone we use, our body language etc) so it’s vital. It’s really important you match your brand, whatever that is.

Do you have a favourite work outfit and why?
My favourite work outfits are easy to wear trouser suits, usually Escada. You can just throw them on and look corporate with little effort.

How would you describe your work wear style?
Corporate, smart, professional and feminine. I am comfortable looking the part of a female CEO, enjoy smart and chic corporate dress, and see no reason why I have to look like a man.

Mary Henderson, CEO, GeekIT Group, Melbourne

Do you think what you wear to work is important and why?
What I wear to work is a total reflection of my personality and my self worth. Our business is technology, specifically programming. When I meet clients the first thing they say to me is: “You don’t look like a geek!” I think this is a great conversation starter. I have always been renowned in this industry for my fashion sense, in particular my killer stilettos!

Do you have a favourite work outfit and why?
I don’t have a favourite outfit because what I wear reflects how I feel about myself. I don’t wear power suits, I wear clothes that are comfortable, savvy and contemporary. I can’t live without wearing my five-inch stilettos every day!

How would you describe your work wear style?

Contemporary, fashionable and minimal. I accessorise with my shoes and jewellery. I think there’s nothing worse than wearing over the top “look at me” clothing. I would prefer to be elegant and fashionable.

Suzi Dafnis, National General Manager, Australian Businesswomen’s Network and panellist on Channel 7’s Dragons’ Den

Do you think what you wear to work is important and why?
When I first started my business (at age 26 and with no business credentials) I wore suits and power dressed to hide my inexperience behind a professional look. The more confident and successful I’ve become as a business owner, the less I feel the need to dress corporate. My dry cleaning bill is much lower!

Do you have a favourite work outfit and why?
I love dresses. They’re easier to manage than separates and often more flattering for me. I have a few favourite designers like Leona Edmiston and Diane Von Furstenberg. I also have a few good pairs of jeans. Jeans dressed up with a beautiful top can and do look professional if worn with good shoes and jewellery.

How would you describe your work wear style?

I definitely have my own style, and it’s more fun and casual today than it used to be. I think two things make a difference to your presentation: good shoes and jewellery. Buy the best you can afford of both. Good quality will serve you better than shoes that may look terrible after a few wears. And nothing says unprofessional to me like scuffed shoes. With jewellery, women can really say a lot about their personality in a subtle way.

Yasmin Dale, MD, REC Headhunters, Sydney

Do you think what you wear to work is important and why?
Absolutely, irrespective of the industry and the position you hold. First impressions do count and in fact within the first 30 seconds a person will summarise up to 20 things about you, from your clothing style, haircut, perfume aroma, style of shoes, handbag brand and jewellery.

Do you have a favourite work outfit and why?
My all time favourite suit that I have worn to death is black and from Cue. I feel like a woman when I slink this on coupled with a bright blouse and stunning yet simple jewellery. The suit gives me confidence therefore I feel powerful and unstoppable.

How would you describe your work wear style?

I have an array of clothing, essentially to match the activities of the day and, more importantly, the type of clients that I’m meeting with. A highly polished corporate look may suit a professional services client, but not go down too well with a PR or multimedia business partner. I basically dress to impress and in accordance with the type of personalities I’m meeting. I like to always look feminine, fresh and appropriately dressed.

Melissa and Caroline Shawyer, directors, The PR Group, Melbourne

Do you think what you wear to work is important and why?

First impressions really do say a lot, so if you want to be taken seriously in the workplace and build trust and confidence, you need to pay attention to all aspects of your presentation. We are in the business of communication, so for us projecting an image that is confident, creative but above all ‘real’ and reflective of our personality is important, to allow us to build trust and connect on a personal level with our clients.

Do you have a favourite work outfit and why?
Comfort is a big factor as we work long  hours, as well as versatility: outfits that can take us from day to night. We both love dresses and look for simple cuts with interesting fabrics and details. Marc Jacobs is a favourite designer of ours; simple dresses teamed with ballet flats and of course, interesting accessories.

How would you describe your work wear style?
Contemporary, simple and elegant. We tend to invest in great jackets and accessories as these can really transform  an outfit and keep it looking fresh from season to season. Power suits are not our thing, or the traditional black and grey colour pallet that dominates Melbourne’s workplaces. Once again it comes down to first impressions and adding some colour and a degree of informality conveys warmth and communication.

So, what does your work look say about you? Are you a sophisticate, minimalist or gamine?

Coming up next: What men wear to work

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Jen Bishop

Jen Bishop

Jen was the publisher at Loyalty Media and editor of Dynamic Business, Australia's largest circulating small business magazine, from 2008 until 2012. She is now a full-time blogger at The Interiors Addict.

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