Fast Company

The Devil May Wear Prada, But I Wear Old Navy

Thanks to movies and TV shows about the fashionistas in the corporate world, styling has become as important as doing the job itself. Two tiny problems seem to arise when you put young women and labels together in an office setting. One: The outfit is not considered appropriate for the workplace; Two: On skimpy salaries, women can look great while accruing debt.

 

Let us look at each of these issues in further detail. Sorry men, we'll save your dress habits for another day.

 

Item One, being the inappropriateness of an outfit, can have a disastrous effect on the productivity of an office. An example might be employees cannot concentrate on work when Casual Day has turned to Cleavage Day. Or in a client-facing situation, a deal could be lost due to the length of a skirt.

 

Then comes the awkward Dress Code conversation with your boss, and often (if there is a generational difference) the cause for concern is overridden by the idea "She is so frumpy, doesn't she understand young people?" So the message is lost, and eventually bust-lines and skirt-lengths start creeping towards the center again.

 

What happens is a failure to see it from both sides, the Gen-Yer being just as guilty. The message may come out as "That top is too low, start dressing more conservatively," when really the goal of the conversation is "You make yourself look unprofessional in that top, you will have a hard time gaining credibility with customers and coworkers."

 

Let's take this out of the office for a second. In any magazine, what are the first things women (tend) to think about? Why so-and-so wore that to a premiere, and oh my gosh she looks so good, and I can't believe she's showing all her business for the world to see.

 

I have an announcement for you: Business people are just as shallow about appearance. Which means the only "business" you should be showing the world is how your company could improve another's performance (or whatever it is you do).

 

What both sides need to learn though, is that you don't have to be scandalous or frumpy to look professional and feel great. Many clotheslines provide perfect office ware that stays current with the fashion trends. So strike a compromise: trade your deep v-neck for a crew neck and help your boss buy some Nine-West pumps. This brings us to issue Two.

 

Two: Debt is not fun, even in the name of fashion. Remember that episode of "Sex and the City" where Carrie gets her credit card cut in D&G? Do you remember what happened later? When the French architect left her money by the nightstand?

 

Even Carrie had maxed out credit cards well into her 30s. And do you really want to be left money on the night stand...when it's not someone you will ever see again? Not everyone can have a Mr. Big, so we need to be smart about our labels and our debt.

 

Everyone can have couture when making good decisions about a wardrobe. This is just like making good decisions in a company: what makes the most financial sense? An example might be, purple glittery stilettos might totally go with that one outfit, but striking black pumps could be worn almost everyday. A classic suit with multiple tops can go a long way. And as Tim Gunn would advise, find a good tailor. Then your clothes will look like they've been made for you.

 

Another thing to remember is quality. A brand name could be expensive because of the designer, but often it is also because the materials are high-end. This means they last longer and fit better. So again, a smart choice might be a designer dress that is great under suit jackets but can be worn for cocktail functions. You could save on one perfect dress rather than buying ten so-so cheap dresses.

 

So ladies, you do not have to sacrifice fashion in the name of work. And I'm talking to all of you. Women can be women and climb the food chain, just remember what your business is...and who should or should not be seeing it. 

 

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