September 16, 2010

Dress for Success

copyright Nancy Keene, 1983

Have you ever heard of John Malloy's Dress for Success bible? 
When women were gaining higher stature in the workforce, he espoused in 1975 a set of rules for professional attire -- spawning minions of man-suited females and likely inspiring the entire Liz Claiborne category of fashion for working women at the time, launched in 1976 with great success. 

Malloy's message, at heart, was pretty sensible.  Be conservative. Be classy. Don't make fads and fashion your focal point. To some extent, the principles still apply.

Why do controversies constantly erupt on aspects of female attire?  It's been widely discussed this week, due to the hoo-hah of the New York Jets coaching staff and television reporter Ines Sainz. See link to NFL story here
I did an interview today on the topic with MSNBC "career diva'' Eve Tahmincioglu.   See link here

There are many reasons for confusion.  More flexibility exists in what you can wear today, as there are companies that favor old-school, traditional corporate attire.  Others go the business casual route.  Then you add the complication of home offices -- occupied by entrepreneurs as well as Fortune 500 company sales forces seeking real estate savings on the bottom line. 

There are no real rules.  And no singular expert upon whom women today rely.   
copyright Nancy Keene, 1983

I wrote a blogpost last year on the dilemma.  Here is the link

Generally, you are in charge of your own brand.  You get to choose your own packaging to showcase your  fashion sense, career image and life purpose. 

Here are some principles for perpetuity: 
  • Dress for the job you want, not just the job you have now
  • Watch for visual cues from those you admire
  • Consider your personal brand and how your attire transmits signals
  • Be appropriate for your role
  • If you are going to multiple venues during the day, dress for the dressiest. 
  • You can always remove a jacket or alter accessories to suit the more casual setting
  • Who you want to be and how you look must be congruent
Some comments on Ines:

There was an early role model in sports broadcasting who was also a former beauty queen.  The elegant, classy Phyllis George.  But she was pioneering in a U.S. media market, which favored attractive, but conservative females, albeit with a touch of sass.   The female on-air TV talent in Latin America has a distinctive aspect of va-va-voom. is important to view Ines in the context of her home market. 

Photo commentary:  A video shoot at D/FW Airport to promote voice mail technology for VMX, my first high-tech ad/PR client.  I was cast as a busy, traveling businesswoman who wanted an easy way to stay in touch with her office and clients.  Even in the 1980s, they wanted the Dress for Success look and there was one little John Malloy silk neck bow in my wardrobe -- added to a demure silk tweed suit with a wrap skirt. Vintage, anyone? 

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