Women, Wardrobe, and Work

First, let me just say that you wouldn’t even be reading this if you were a man.  Depending on your profession, your wardrobe choices would be:

-suit and tie

-sport jacket and khaki pants

-(or, if you were a software developer)- jeans and sandals

Women have come a long way since the “dress for success” era.  When I came out of business school decades ago, “professional women’s wear” was the skirted suit, string tie, blouse, pantyhose and pumps. 

Now, there’s a great variety of choices in women’s professional dress, and that can be really confusing.  So, what is appropriate for a professional setting?  Professional women and their employers are asking this question. 

As a career counselor and executive coach in Silicon Valley, I have literally seen it all--- on men and on women; and I’ve thought about the unique wardrobe issues for women, such as:


-bare arms (remember the fuss when Michele Obama revealed her finely toned arms?)

-knees, ankles and toes (men’s clothing doesn’t usually reveal these body parts, unless the men are software engineers, and then anything goes).

So what should we consider when it comes to our professional wardrobes?

I think you have to strike a balance between:

1. The nature of your professional duties:

-what do you do?

-whom do you interact with?


-in what kind of setting do you work?


2. Who you are.  Are you:





 And you have to take into account the characteristics of different types of clothing and fabrics:

-bright colors can express energy or power

-soft fabrics can connote approachability or warmth

-clean lines suggest that you’re modern or purposeful

Ask yourself: Do my clothes allow me to look professional (in my own profession’s sense of the word), feel comfortable, and express who I am?

When in doubt, ask a trusted friend (preferably one with a good sense of wardrobe and of your duties at work), or ask a professional consultant for a reality check.

You want to ask, about whatever you’re wearing:

1. Will I be taken seriously?

2. Do I look like: a marketing executive, a professional artist, a financial analyst, the PTA president, an academic researcher (or whatever else it is that you are)? 

3.  Are my clothes appropriate for the specific organizational culture I work in (and remember that every organization has its own unique tone)? 

4. Do my confidence, competence and sense of myself shine through? 

If you--- and others--- can answer yes to these questions, then your wardrobe is working for you.