Ask Tracy: Dressing for Success

by Tracy James

Q: I am female professional working in a conservative banking environment. I have trouble being creative with my wardrobe and end up wearing pantsuits everyday, usually in navy, grey, black, brown or taupe, with a solid shell underneath. What else can I wear but still maintain a professional image?


A: No offense, but your work wardrobe sounds rather, well, "snore." This is 2013! We are no longer in the days of "to compete with a man you must dress like a man." No need to hide your femininity or shy away from color, print and pattern. One of the first things I do when reorganizing a client's closet is I separate the suits: jackets in one section, pants in another, to encourage mixing and matching. Changes in one's style can be difficult, so weening into a new look is often best. Since you seem to be comfortable with the jacket and pant formula, start there. You have all of the neutral basics, so now look for what I call novelty jackets - jackets that are just a single piece and offer some sort of interest, whether it be via a print, texture, shape or detail. Stay traditional by pairing a Chanel- style black and white tweed jacket with your black suit pants. Try bold color by pairing a coral or color-of-the-moment orange jacket with your grey pants. 


You can also mix and match in reverse: wear your taupe jacket with ivory herringbone weave pants or your brown with glen plaid pants, all you need is a hint of brown in the pattern to tie the two together. Then you can start thinking about wearing your jackets over sleek sheath dresses (preferably patterned sheaths, but start with solids if need be). And finally, especially in the dead of summer, consider dropping the jacket idea all together from time to time, and when it is 98 degrees outside, choose a clean-lined dress. There are plenty of professional looking dress options, like those from Kay Unger, David Meister, Elie Tahari, Banana Republic and Ann Taylor. In all cases, never underestimate the importance of great shoes and accessories! Even with the most conservative clothing, both should be current (not necessarily trendy, just not dated) and in good condition. As designer Kate Spade said, "Accessories are what make an outfit a little bit more you," thus differentiating you from all of the other suits out there.