Guest Post: Advice from the VP/Hiring Manager Level

Advice from the VP / Hiring Manager | CorporetteWe got an interesting e-mail last week from LPC of Privilege: A High Wasp Stops to Consider, offering to write a post giving advice to newbies from her much higher position.  She’s got some great advice in here!

Your first big job. Congratulations. By big, I mean in an institution of substance, as a lawyer, a banker, a corporate new hire. We are talking the world of salaries, hierarchies, protocol. And expectations about dress.

Of course this is not the only path. Some people work in design, in small businesses, in retail, at home. But our world has very particular requirements for what to wear. Hence Corporette. Hence this wardrobe advice to women at the beginning of their careers, from one towards the end of hers. I started out in 1981, fresh out of business school, at a large chemical company, and left the corporate world in 2009 as a vice-president for a software services startup in Silicon Valley.

Nice to meet you.

What to wear in an entry level job makes most of us nervous. It’s new territory, after all. You are supposed to be a little unnerved. We read up. Ask friends. I remember worrying about the fullness of my first skirted suit, was it too much like a party dress? The thing is, there’s no one answer. There is, however, a very simple process to follow to get it right.

The Strategic Principles

  • Your clothing sends signals about who you are. Into a very distinct culture. Which varies enormously from corporation to corporation. On purpose. CEOs believe that a strong culture gives them the power to effect change and accomplish goals. They are right. Support their efforts. Fight any battles for change in other arenas, from a position of strength. That’s a lesson useful in areas beyond wardrobe.
  • Your clothing also talks to you. All day long, are you are comfortable or not, fitting in or not, wearing your favorite colors or fabrics or shapes? Or not. If, as they say, a brand is a promise on which you have to deliver reliably to your customers, your professional image is your brand, and it’s got to be one you can deliver. Sustainably over the long, long term. You should feel good in your clothes. Anchored. In the context of your company, or firm culture, of course.

The Bullet Points

  • Men pick up different signals than women
  • Requirements for dress vary from function to function
  • Navy blue really is the corporate color of choice
  • Fabric – not too little, not too much
  • Keep your style rebellion subtle

The Speaker Notes

Men And Women

Men pick up different signals than women. No matter what you do, most likely most men will be assessing whether you are hot or not. They can’t help themselves. Ensures continuity of our species, so let’s just assume it’s not a bad thing and let it go for now. As long as they behave professionally. Hot is off the table. Assess your clothing to make sure you are doing your part to keep it off the table. I’m not saying that you make yourself unattractive. But hot is off the table.

The women senior to you are hoping you succeed. Unless you want to take their job or steal their thunder. We worked really hard and put up with all kinds of stuff exactly so that you could have an easier time than we did translating hard work into success. This also means we really don’t want you to wear clothes that get in your way. I have been asked, twice, to tell entry-level professional women that their clothes were inappropriate. Both cases involved underwear showing through white. Yeah. Don’t do that.

We also understand that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You are more than welcome to tell us you like our shoes. Not in front of the guys, though. Provokes too many jokes. You are more than welcome to ask us what we think about possible clothing purchases. Assuming we’ve said more to you before than, “When will your manager be back?” You are more than welcome to start dressing like us. Just don’t spend more money than we do, please. It makes us wonder if you really need this job.

You might wish what I’m saying was different. I might wish it was different. But wishing it was different and working with what is are two separate tracks. Both important. I’m talking the what is track here.

Varying Functional Requirements

Requirements vary from job function to job function. Each area has its uniform. Pretty much as you would expect, sales, polished, marketing, a little flashy, finance, a little boring, engineering, a little quirky, manufacturing, strong-toed shoes. Flippant, perhaps, but largely true.

Navy Blue

For some reason that anthropologists have yet to explain, the American corporate color of choice is navy. Gray is safe, black not dangerous, but navy is both friendly and authoritative. Think airplane pilot. Good airplane pilot. What is he or she wearing? Navy.

Fabric, Not Too Little, Not Too Much

You know already not to wear too little fabric. No cleavage. No exposed high upper arms. No too short skirts. No too tight sweaters. (You do know that, right?) But you should also shy away from too much fabric. Beware ruffles, full skirts, overly-wide legged pants. Why? I have no clue. Perhaps for the same reason that army uniforms are fitted. No danger of cloth catching a bayonet in the heat of battle. But trust me. For entry level, keep your clothing tailored but not tight.

Unleash Creativity Only On Jewelry, Shoes, Bags. At Least At First.

You can carry that bright green bag. Except maybe to a sales call. (Or to court. I’ll let the lawyers weigh in there.) You can get creative with shoe ornaments, or two tones. You can tuck a peace sign necklace down that button down shirt. Or a Republican elephant. Rebellion takes different guises in different cultures.

With these principles in mind, here is your strategy.

  1. Show up Day One with a few good basics. Do NOT buy out Ann Taylor in advance.
  2. Observe your peers and your superiors carefully. What do they wear? For customer/court contact? Routine days in the office?
  3. Add to your wardrobe in the first few months. Mostly what you see around you.
  4. Find some small but tangible ways to brand your individuality. Otherwise known as style.

Must Have, Start Your Job Pieces, In The Best Fit And Fabric You Can Afford

1. Navy pants suit. Doesn’t have to be dowdy. Stretch wool is always helpful.

Dark jacket(s) to wear with navy, gray, black and khaki trousers. Since it’s dark, pinstripe, puffed sleeve is OK, even when you’re playing it safe.

Cardigans. I’ve been informed by experts that J. Crew does a good job of mid-range cashmere. Oatmeal is a great neutral for many, especially when your skin tone says no to gray. Extra points for knowing that, on TV, we all look best in earth tones.

The button down. Confession. I hate button downs, they constrain my shoulders, and cause shirtfront gap anxiety. To say nothing about untucking every time I wave my arms to make a point. But I wear them whenever I visit the financial industry. When in Rome.

T-shirts. I’ve found Petit Bateau to offer the best quality, but Banana Republic, Old Navy, anything will look OK for a few months before pilling. Cotton in summer or any time in California. So comfortable that they will not contribute to any job-related tension. Cover with the cardigan or jacket if you’ve got to look extra formal.

Cotton/cashmere blend for colder areas. Or offices where they just can’t figure out the thermostat. Drives me nuts.

Flat or 2.5 inch heels, no toes, in colors that match your trousers. Skirts really do look better with heels on the higher side. Stuart Weitzmans are comfortable, and good shoes can last a decade. Trust me.

Invisible underwear.

Surely we don’t need a picture of underwear?

So, is that all you ever get to wear? Shades of white, black, earth and quasi-military tones? Are you doomed to a life without aubergine? No. Now you go to your new office. You look around. You observe. You travel a foreign land, and you watch. You add pieces in accordance with what you see. All the men wear those french blue shirts? Go get one, if only for the key sales meeting. The Director of Marketing sports a pair of red shoes? OK then.

Before I even began my corporate career, when I was still in business school, I happened to attend a law firm party for summer associates. One of the few, if not only women partners was there. I will never forget. She wore a pin on her shoulder. Silk violets. Large, I mean it was LARGE. I told her I loved it. She said that at this point in her career, she felt she could wear flowers if she please. Impunity. Once you close the deal, beat your numbers, win the cases.

The first time I stepped outside the standard corporate wardrobe was on my 30th birthday. I bought a dress. Sure, it was navy, had buttons, a belt. But this was 1986, and I was living dangerously in a dress. As was one of the top 3 salespeople in my region, I had the right. My most recent, and possibly my final act of rebellion? Of tongue-in-cheek personal style? A Hello Kitty diamond necklace. By the time I hit 50, I knew what I could and did contribute to an organization. And if I wanted to hang a silhouette of a kitty with a pink hair bow around my neck, I would. Except at a sales pitch to the New York Stock Exchange. Personal style statements need to be made to the right audience.

The author’s collection:). But available here for $950.

Other Resources

If you have a tolerant, perhaps high technical workplace, there’s no better place to look for inspiration than Audi at Fashion For Nerds. This week she writes on adding pizazz to corporate wear. And I recommend that anyone interested in style that works for your particular shape go visit Imogen Lambert at Inside Out Style. This week she writes on how to add personal power in the workplace. Very apropos.

Comments

  1. Great post! You really capture exactly why clothing choices do matter and give solid recommendations.

  2. Anonymous :

    Wonderful post – thank you!

  3. Fantastic. Thank you.

  4. Thank you all. It’s my pleasure. Now go forth and conquer, please?

  5. I absolutely disagree that when your coworkers make the “hot or not” assessment that you want to be in the “not” group. People associate with people they like. Until they get to know you and see your personality they base that on looks. As an associate lawyer, your clients are your coworkers. You make your hours if they give you work. Men generally like attractive women. You don’t want to just be known as the “hot new girl” your whole career but if you can get your first couple assignments that way, do a stellar job, and THEN get recognized for your intelligence, at least you finally got recognized. Meanwhile, Ugly Betty is still stuck doing the filing while you are second chairing the big trial.

    Just to be cautious, I’m not saying look skanky and have your boobs hanging out of your too tight suit. What I am saying is look professional but by God, feel free to look attractive *gasp* even hot. Only then will you feel confident too.

    • Honestly, I was the “hot new girl” 5 years ago (that now seems totally comical, it’s amazing what 5 years, 10 lbs, and marriage will do for your image). It created a lot more problems than opened doors. I was not going out of my way to look “hot” — and I certainly wasn’t veering into inappropriate dress. I was just trying to look my best. To this day, I know that there are a few select individuals who will never think about me as anything but “the hot new associate” and I wish I could have a do-over. Tread carefully — obviously ymmv.

    • Yep, but eventually the “hot girl” star falls and “Ugly Betty” wins the day. Seriously, if men are looking at your tits, they aren’t having you second chair trials because they will be concerned the jury is looking at your tits. But, hey, knock yourself out. Leaves more room for the “Ugly Bettys” (and BTW, I’ve first chaired trials without trying to be the “hot girl.”) And if I were the person giving you work, which I would be – I would not be giving you work because this kind of attitude shines through. Girls rely on looks when they can’t rely on brains/skills.

      • Rachel, I think you read my post the wrong way or I was too passionate in the way I wrote it. I tried to specifically say to dress professionaly and not have your tits hang out. I think there is something messed up when we tell women to try to not look hot. What if you are just naturally hot, like J wrote about above. Should you dye your hair something other than its natural nice color, maybe rub something on your skin so you get a few pimples? You can dress as professional as you can but when you have been naturally blessed with good looks there is not much you can do about it.

        I’m sorry if this post sounds like I’m full of myself but I swear to you I am not. I think I have great work product and do a great job. But, I am tall, and blonde, and skinny, and have blue eyes and I am friendly. So, no matter what I wear, some people may consider me hot. I wear pants suits, and flats, and no cleavage and everyone knows I am married and off the market.

        I think it is mostly women that immediatly hate other attractive women. I just think we strive so hard to be taken professionaly that we forget all the studies that show attractive people tend earn higher salaries and have more job opportunities. It is good to look good and feel good about yourself.

        If I don’t put in my (clear) contacts, put on some make up, straighten my hair, have clothes that are not huge on me, I feel ugly and not confident. When I look my best and feel my best I might be seen as hot. But that is when I do my best work and when I think I get taken seriously.

        • Anonymous :

          Wow, I think the author was saying that it’s not about “hot” and “ugly,” but about “hot” and “classic” “attractive” or “professional.” Classic and professional attire does not equal ugly, nor do I think the OP was insinuating that. Rather, she quite rightfully pointed out that looks matter, and women have to make sure that they are recognized for their brains, not their bodies. All women should venture to look attractive at work…but not “hot.” Hot connotates sexy, “attractive” connotates tasteful.

          If you are tall, thin, and blonde (like me), then by all means look attractive and let your beauty show! You don’t have to look hot to look beautiful! Natural makeup, medium heels, nair nicely kept back or in a tasteful bun or twist, twin sets, skirt suits, classic jewelry (pearls, diamonds), button-downs (with a tank underneath to prevent gaps and showing underwear) and tastefully fitted clothes are all excellent. No one would say that a cashmere twin set is “hot”, but that’s the point. Leave the too-tight, too-sheer, and too-short clothing at home with your heavy “date night” makeup.

        • Rachel – I think I kind of understand the point you’re trying to make. While I don’t really consider myself “hot”, I have come to recognize that I have a figure that may be considered sexy. Meaning, that I have long blonde hair and blues eyes, a substantial bust and a (comparatively) small waist. I have come to learn that there are certain things I need to be careful of (such as the infamous button-front shirt-gap and the placement of neck-lines), but at the same time I refuse go around dressing like I’m ashamed of the figure God gave me.
          I doubt that the OP’s “hot or not” comment was suggesting that attractive women should be ashamed of their assets. Different people have different definitions of the word “hot”. I, personally, find something very “hot” about a professional woman dressing like the strong, classy lady she is (but that’s just how I use the word). By saying “not hot”, I doubt the OP meant dowdy. My guess is she simply meant don’t dress like a skank.
          Fantastic post LPC!

        • I appreciate your response post. I don’t think that the author was suggesting that you should ugly yourself up. If you are beautiful, you are beautiful. People do tend to gravitate toward attractive people. And we all want to feel attractive, which is why we come to Corporette and talk about fashion. But there is a difference between looking attractive and actually trying to look hot. And trying to look hot or embracing being the “hot girl” is not a good career move long term. It doesn’t sound like you are doing that, from your second post. I guess I had some backlash too – because we all know the “hot girl” who ended up getting fired or having some kind of relationship with a partner or something. I work with a lot of beautiful women. I don’t think beautiful is something to try to cover up. But beautiful and hot are different things, and I don’t think a professional woman should be striving for “hot” at work.

        • Think Legally Blonde. Remember that moment where Elle is all “aw man, I thought they were valuing me for my brains and work but it turns out I’m just eye candy for the team”? Yeah, you don’t want that moment.

    • anon - chi :

      I thought the OP was drawing a distinction between women who are considered attractive vs. those who are thought of as “the hot girl.” She certainly wasn’t advocating making yourself intentionally unattractive. I agree with Anon 1 that you may benefit from being considered attractive, but there can be a certain stigma attached to being the “hot new girl” – it may not be fair, but being thought of as “hot” may also mean people assume you are not as smart, driven, authoritative, etc.

      • J, if you became the “hot girl” but didn’t dress inappropriately, what exactly would you do differently? I am a little bit confused about what this advisement is telling young female professionals to avoid doing. My inclination is that becoming the “hot girl” has more to do with how you act than how you look, assuming a conservative style of dress.

      • I was just reading something written by a guy (he’s written some book he’s promoting) where he said that clothes that we women think of as tasteful and attractive may be sexy enough to get a guy thinking about our assets rather than our sales pitch.

        I think the valid part of his message was, at least when you are in an important meeting (whatever that means for you at your level – could just be presenting the results of your work to a senior person you haven’t yet proven yourself to, or could mean making a big presentation or being in court if you’re at that level) be sure to dress ultra-conservative to make it easier for men to focus on your message and not the physical attributes of the speaker. If he’s mesmerized by your eyes, he may still manage to take in what you’re saying, but if he’s distracted by your (tasteful but asset-emphasizing) crossover sweater, he may not.

        I don’t know if he’s right or not, but it’s something to think about.

        I don’t think anyone says try to look less attractive than you are – the only question is how sexy (“hot”)/pretty (“girly” and feminine) you want to look, versus more businesslike and buttoned up.

    • Hmm, I have always been one of the “pretty girls”, not sure about hot though. It has definitely helped me in the workplace. It’s not fair, but men like to work with attractive women who are also, of course, very smart and professional. I don’t see anything wrong with highlighting your positive attributes in an elegant and understated way. I clerked for a very nice (and non sketchy) male judge who always told me I looked great. Sexist? No, I don’t think so. We had and have an extremely professional relationship.

      I absolutely love this post by the way, it is a wealth of excellent information. I and others would be very happy if you could write a regular feature on Corporette. Thanks so much!

      • This seems like one of those issues that comes up because people have different definitions of the words used. I think there is a difference between being attractive (helpful) and “hot” (can be helpful or hurtful).

        I think being attractive can definitely open doors, and if you can rise to the occasion — fantastic. But actually coming of as a “hot girl” is a different story and can often, sadly, be limiting.

      • Clerky, thank you.

    • Hot is great until you hit your mid-thirties and still try to make it work. I’ve worked with some women (one made a point of telling people in roundabout ways that she had posed in Playboy at one point) who are still trying to play the “hot/cute/attractive” card at 36 or 38 and it honestly is just sad. And it doesn’t work. In women over 35, people are looking for results and work experience and good recommendations. You may be getting better assignments and plum positions now partially because of your looks, but please, please do not expect that to last. There will always be some younger, hotter woman coming along to knock you out of the catbird seat, attractiveness-wise. Yes, men like attractive women – a corollary to that is “young.” I hope that by the time a “hot girl” hits their mid-to-late thirties, they have shifted their focus and have something to show for their work other than “I was the hot new associate 10 years ago.” And as far as getting “better” assignments – I sat in a meeting one time with a senior executive who was deciding who to take with him on an upcoming trip to meet management of a company we were merging with. When one (very attractive) woman’s name got mentioned, he shifted in his seat and said “I think she might prove to be distracting in the wrong kind of way.” She didn’t get invited to go. The sword definitely cuts both ways.

  6. Corporate Tool :

    Thank you so much!

    I just moved from a (relatively) casual boutique into Fortune 100 corporate world. I now feel justified in wearing my navy suit on my first day of work (my husband says it makes me look like an airline pilot–now I know that’s a good thing ).

  7. 1. You need starch to get the wrinkles out of your cotton blouse.
    2. Patterned hose make you look like a hooker. Yes. It does.
    3. Always keep an extra bra and pair of panties in your gym bag.
    4. It can be very, very tempting to wear clothes that make you look better than your (female, has awful legs, went to college on a field hockey scholarship and dresses like a Philadelphia pimp) VP. It’s not hard to look better than your VP. Try to resist the temptation.

    Just trust me on these.

    PS And no perfume. It’s not professional and those of us who get migraines will thank you.

    • The pimps and hookers in your area sound weirdly conservatively dressed.

      • The VP wore a suede vest with fur lining around the edges. With crushed velvet capris. All that was missing was the purple beret.

        And she actually had a personal shopper. Who was the wife of one of her senior managers. Not a good career move for the manager if you ask me.

        • Apologies for my skepticism, then. Man; I wish I could have seen that one in person.

        • divaliscious11 :

          Couldn’t have been too bad..she, after all, was the VP, making enough $$$ for a personal shopper. Maybe the vest and capri’s were her version of the above flower/Hello kitty pin. I tend to wear what I want. But I have delivered results, so don’t get the same scrutiny. We do need to remember that this is written for the entry level.

    • I disagree with your opinion that perfume is not professional. When you work in close proximity with others, you definitely do not want that chinese food you ate at lunch to be what they smell oozing from your pores when they come talk to you after 10 hours in the office. Nor your sweaty armpits.
      Morning shower followed by deo and a dab of perfume before going to work goes a long way in making sure I ‘smell like a rose’ after I’ve just worked 12 hours straight.
      If you get migraines, I’d suggest you politely request those working in close proximity to you to lay off the perfume. I would do so as a favor, if asked, and others would consider it, I’m sure. But I think a blanket ban on perfume in the workplace is not the way to go.
      Some of us (sweatier than others) need it.

      • no, sorry. perfume is never ever appropraite in the office. i really can’t imagine working with anyone who actually wears it at work. only once on a morning train did i notice a woman wearing perfume — and that seems odd to me too: putting on perfume in the morning.

      • I’m another who’s really sensitive to smells (had to have coworkers keep office doors shut because I was in a cube when they received lilies, etc.), and perfume CAN be perfectly acceptable, but it’s rare that the only person to smell it is quite close. One of my very best friends has a sweat problem and she uses the prescription strength otc deodorants wherever she gets sweaty. She also brings baby wipes and dry shampoo and will take a mini shower after lunch to maintain freshness. There are other ways to mask what you perceive to be an offensive odor in a way that doesn’t give others migraines (or turn their stomachs).

      • Unfortunately, I didn’t know who was wearing the perfume that I would smell every morning as I walked down the hall. If I can’t smell it unless I am close enough to kiss you, that’s one thing. But if it lingers in the hall or the elevator, you’re wearing too much. I am very sensitive to smells – perfume, hand lotion, whatever (all my cleaning and grooming products are fragrance free) – and it is hard to function with a headache all day. (And my insurance only gives me nine migraine painkillers a month, which I guess is fine, because my doctor says any more than that and my liver is going to fail. Oh good!)

        I’d rather not smell the Chinese food from lunch but I really don’t want to smell the Chinese food from lunch topped with perfume! :)

        • I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m the type who is so sensitive to certain scents that I make sure to walk around the perimeter of many department stores just to avoid the perfume counters. Many scents will trigger both an asthma attack and a migraine, which in turn makes me feel light headed and dizzy. I would much rather stick my nose in a Chinese takeout container for an hour than have that perfume related experience if I can possibly avoid it.

      • Trust me, for those of us who have a sensitive sense of smell, you are not fooling anyone by using perfume to cover up that chinese food smell (or any other smell)… all we smell is the perfume AND the chinese food. Personally, I rather smell the chinese food rather than a combo of perfume and chinese food! You might think you are using a small amount of perfume, but really, we can smell you when you come in in the morning!

        • Agreed! I have NEVER smelled perfume on someone at work and thought “oh that’s nice.” Maybe because you’re usually not in extremely close proximity to coworkers, so if you can smell someone’s perfume, it’s pretty strong. Nothing worse than the elevator perfume bomb…

          • We had an intern who wore so much vanilla-y perfume that if she came into my office I felt sick, and my office would reek for hours. So f-ing gross. And I’m very, very sensitive to smell.

      • You should never wear so much perfume that someone not standing close enough to hug you can smell it. It should not even be smellable at a handshake distance.

        If you can follow that rule, perfume is perfectly appropriate for the office. Sadly, at least 50% of women who wear perfume apparently cannot follow that rule.

      • I agree with golddigger, jc and MelD. Relying on perfume to cover up other odors is not a smart move. People may not feel comfortable asking you to stop wearing it, and it may send messages you don’t want to send.

        I am very sensitive to perfume – it triggers asthma and occasionally headaches. Perhaps because of my negative associations with those experiences, ALL perfume also just smells BAD to me. Also, I very rarely smell perfume on my BigLaw colleagues (including legal assistants); when I do, I automatically think they’re less serious about their careers, just because it’s something I usually only see admins do. Perhaps the more senior women are wearing such small amounts that only a person getting really close to them can smell it – if so, and if you can do it that discreetly, great, but then I doubt it’s going to be covering up any more potent smells.

        I once had to hire a temp attorney to review foreign-language documents on what turned out to be a year-long assignment. I came very close to not hiring her, in part because I was uncomfortable raising this sensitive issue of personal grooming with her and was afraid she’d be offended or that it would strain our relationship. If I’d had an equally or almost-equally good candidate, I would have hired that person to avoid what I was afraid might be an awkward conversation followed by a strained working relationship.

        I thought I might be in a small minority in being so averse to perfume, but from the other posts it sounds like I may not be.

    • Another iteration of the “avoid looking good” advice. I disagree with this. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look your best and wearing quality clothing that fits you, as long as you are following an acceptable dress code and keeping your hair and makeup conservative. Dressing to avoid looking better than somebody is ridiculous. This type of advice panders to gender stereotypes and is counterproductive to women trying to succeed in a professional environment.

      • I read that advice as simply not trying to be too shiny. You can look your best without looking like you spent half your morning grooming and picking out which heels to wear. But maybe I’m not being hyper-critical enough ;)

  8. Great post!

  9. Great post!

  10. TGEmpress :

    While I find much of the advice very positive. I just take personal issue with the navy suit portion. Maybe its the color or the general dowdiness of every navy suit that I have owned, but I have never felt comfortable or confidant in one. Also, it is not a standard “go to” suit color for at least the female litigators in St. Louis that I work with, see in court, depositions and interviews, that would be black, gray and any combination of others.

    I also have never found shoes that I like to go with the navy suits that I owned…. big negative there.

    As to taking the creative accessories to court. At least for the city motion dockets, bring it along. It will give us something to pass the time talking about, there are always more than a few women there. For the rest, probably stick with more demure. However, it depends on your venue, opposing counsel, and so purpose of your trip to court. If I am headed up for a quick hearing and the judge and opposing counsel are all women, then bring it with you, style is generally appreciated. If you are in a rural venue for a jury trial, then probably basics and the less noticeable, the better. But the in-between is where it is tricky.

    These are only the thoughts of one humble associate. Take them for what they are worth.

    • Also, it is not a standard “go to” suit color for at least the female litigators in St. Louis that I work with, see in court, depositions and interviews, that would be black, gray and any combination of others.

      I’d be interested on anybody’s opinions as to whether this is a lawyer vs. non-lawyer thing. A friend who went to business school before law school once remarked to me she was surprised at how few lawyers she saw wearing navy suits. And they do seem fairly rare in my law firm too . . .

      • I’m also a Midwestern litigator…during my internships/clerkships in the St. Louis area, can’t recall seeing women wearing navy suits often, if ever. Ditto now that I’m working in a smallish-sized town. The “go-to” colors for women seem to be black, gray, and brown, though a partner in my office, the only other female attorney in my office, also has been known to wear a dark green suit and a plum suit from time to time.

        I personally don’t own a navy suit and wouldn’t feel compelled to buy one unless it was super flattering.

      • anon - chi :

        I see them fairly frequently on men, but I can’t recall ever seeing one on a woman. Even for men, I think the “go to” color is black. I would consider a navy suit but think finding shoes I liked with it might be tricky.

        • Agreed. I’m a West Coast transactional lawyer, and I don’t see women in navy suits pretty much ever. In fact, it’s exceedingly uncommon to see a woman wearing ANY color of suit in my office, unless she’s going to court or a client meeting.

      • Anonymous :

        I absolutely LOVE my navy suit as I prefer “cool” colors, and black often washes out those of us who are fairer. What a shame people don’t wear them as a nice cool neutral more often.

      • I’m a lawyer in DC. I love navy suits (and brown ones) and wear both of those colors a lot. But I feel like 90% of the women I see in suits wear either gray, black or pinstriped gray or black.

    • I agree. I work in the financial services industry and have worked in mgmt consulting before.
      Black or charcoal or even greyish suits are the way to go. Not navy. In particular, I’ve never seen them on women (and only occasionally on the men).

    • I agree about the navy suits. The problem is in the shoes. It’s really hard to find good navy shoes, and one “navy” is not always the same as another “navy”, so you can’t always wear the same navy shoes with everything navy. Unless you can get away with red shoes or something like that. I really like blue and I would wear navy a lot more often if I didn’t have this major problem with shoes.

      • try pewter / grey shoes with navy (instead of navy shoes). or wine/burgundy.

      • Cordovan or gray shoes are best. Don’t try to match the navies.

      • I have a pair of patent oxbloods from Franco Sarto that go pretty convincingly with my navy suit. Which, by the way, is actually separates–a pinstripe pant with a solid jacket. Kind of helps avoid that “airline stewardess” look, IMO.

      • I just wear my black shoes, and carry a black bag. My navy suit is not dark enough for that to look unintentionally clashy.

        I think navy has been out of fashion for a while, so there haven’t been a lot of suits to buy. I think it’s a good professional color, though. I do think it looks a little more formal and professional than brown (which is also nice but I prefer it for in-office days).

    • I agree that navy is not necessarily the “go to” color for lawyers. In DC and a couple of the Southern states where I have litigated, black seems to be the “go to” color. It’s likely that the business world is much different. I do adore a beautiful navy suit though – they are just so hard to find.

    • Thanks for this. I always stick to black, charcoal, and gray suits. I never felt that a navy suit was a “must” in the big law firm where I work.

      In addition, on a limited budget, I buy shirts/shoes/accessories/handbags/work totes/coats/boots that match all of my shades of black and gray suits and don’t have to get items that will only match my one navy suit but won’t coordinate with everything else.

      I’d love to hear if any lawyers feel that navy is essential.

  11. What a great – and indepth – post!

  12. Funny, I was asked by a stranger in the elevator at the courthouse on my first day of work whether I was a flight attendant, presumably because of the Navy skirt I was wearing. Not sure that flight attendant=pilot, but there does seem to be an association between Navy and “uniform.”

  13. Good stuff!

  14. I liked the article very much, and I follow your own blog from time to time, LPC. I would like to make one constructive suggestion on your linguistic style though, take it with a pinch of salt or let it go if you don’t like it, ok?
    I find one-word sentences hard to read and they come off sounding like you are saying the words through clenched teeth.
    e.g. “T-shirts.” “Impunity”.
    I know this is a style thing, and you may be using this style to emphasize your words or to provide more ‘punch’. However, my suggestion to you is not to overuse it, as the writing flows better when it ‘flows’ i.e. without abrupt stops.
    End of unasked-for advice. :)

    • Anonymous :

      Agreed. I thought the suggestions in the post were interesting and valuable (though I don’t necessarily agree with all of them), but reading the post made my brain hurt.

      • Huh. Interesting. I write this way on purpose. I look to evoke emotion, as much as I do to convey information. However, I suppose it does no one any good if I am hurting brains. I have no objection to feedback, by the way. It would have been very tough to get very far in the world if I minded. So feed away.

        • Wow, I will model your receptivity to feedback, LPC. I can be defensive, pouty, and peevish when I realize I’m not the greatest thing on earth. LOL. I think it will help my career ;-D

          • LOL!! Me too, Lawgirl. Me too.

            Sort of similar (sort of different): I was watching Jack Bauer re-runs from Season 1 the other day and there is a scene in which the then-Senator Palmer is given a very nice compliment… Something to the effect of “You are a wonderful, gentle, and honorable man. The country would be lucky to have a man like you running it.” His response was quite simple and yet elegant. He thanked the complimentor and then stated that it was quite an unexpected compliment and he was very grateful for it. I realized immediately that graciously accepting compliments can be extraordinarily difficult. Yet, when giving the compliment, it the receiver blows it off (“oh, this old thing? this is nothing!”) the complimentor can often feel almost put out, which is almost the opposite intention. Graciously receiving compliments is, in my opinion, something worth striving towards.

          • Me three, lawgirl. :) LOL.
            LPC, very gracious response and I appreciate it.

          • Responding effectively to negative feedback (and actively soliciting it) is a HUGE asset in a career. Everyone has a lot to learn from the people they work with, especially early in their careers. When you react positively, you encourage seniors to communicate with you about how they think you can best help him/her and the organization. When you do what they suggest, now you become their go-to person (because you already know what they care about, and the person down the hall doesn’t) as well as someone they’ve invested time and energy in, so they want you to succeed. I have seen this both in my relationships with seniors and with the junior people who report to me. Assuming your work is halfway decent, this skill will get you farther than almost anything else you can do.

        • I actually like this way of writing. At first it confused me b/c it’s not grammatically correct (as we are taught to write essays in school), but as I have read more of your writing, LPC, I like that you emphasize certain words or short sentences. It’s the way people speak, sometimes, too, lending your writing a more informal, chatty style, which is appropriate for a blog.

  15. This is a great post. Thank you.

    I’m wearing one of my favorite navy suits today. As far as shoes with a navy suit, I’ve always thought black or black patent are great.

  16. Wonderful post! Please come back and write more advice for us, LPC. Love it! I’ll be following your blog now.

  17. MidSouth Atty :

    I’m inclined to disagree with anyone who thinks that those shoes and a hello kitty necklace are fashionable or appropriate… as a late 20s litigator in a large firm in the South, we don’t wear navy blue suits either. Black, gray or brown are the suits of choice down here… and I wear dark brown croco pumps with navy pants (I don’t own a navy suit). I also wouldn’t wear either of the T-shirts shown without something over them, but maybe that’s just me… seems like even in a business casual environment one of those t-shirts with a plain pair of pants would be a bit too casual. At least she didn’t recommend nude hose. Ick.

    • I must be missing something. :) What’s wrong with nude hose?

      • MidSouth Atty :

        Although corporette did a poll on this a while back and I believe that most people felt that nude hose were acceptable, I completely, completely disagree. Unless you are over the age of 80 they make you look old. I am in court regularly and do not wear hose, and neither do most of the partners I litigate against or work with. Opaque tights in the winter with matching shoes are acceptable, but self-tanner has come far enough to rid the world of nude pantyhose forever. That being said, I do understand that this also may be a generational/work environment thing. But if you live in a warm climate like I do they are just unnecessary and old fashioned IMHO.

      • I think it completely depends on where you practice. Appearing in court with bare legs strikes me as disrespectful.

        • newassociate :

          bare legs in court would and did irritate the (female) federal judge i externed for exactly because she found it disrespectful.

          • I interned for a federal female judge as well and she did not mind bare legs. Then again it was bankruptcy court, if you can appreciate the irony.
            However, in general, I am really surprised to hear people say that nude hose are ‘ick’ – seriously? There have been great improvements made in ‘pantyhose technology’ over the years. In fact, I’ve seen plenty of younger women who could benefit from a pair — exactly to avoid the negatives qualities associated with looking like an 80 y.o. as MidSouth Atty suggested (i.e. cover up veins, dry flaky skin, paleness, flab, etc.).

      • I sometimes wear hose to match my skin color when I wear skirts or dresses. I have heard people say that it is very old fashioned, but the female judge who I clerked for last year always wore them and I felt strange going bare legged. My feet also tend to sweat, so I prefer hose so that my shoes don’t get ruined. Increasingly though, the trend among younger women seems to be no hose or black hose or black opaque tights.

        • Anonymous :

          another law clerk here and I have the exact same feelings! Some of the women in chambers wear hose so I wear it too this year…and love it because my sweaty feet don’t ruin my shoes!

      • I think hose that match your skin tone are very professional. Maybe they are more common up here in the northern midwest than in the South. I used to work in Florida and admit they were pretty rare there. I rarely bare-leg it in formal situations, though.

        • I live in Florida and it’s all the fault of the damned humidity. Wearing hose when it’s unbearably hot and 98% humidity is wretched.

          • Every time this issue comes up on corporette I giggle because someone is always agast at the idea of wearing “nude” hose. When I was in high school in the mid-90s, our choir director made us wear nude hose with our skirts for concerts and I had a fit. (At that time, I frequently wore purple, green, and even mustard-colored tights.) My girlfriends in the choir and I all wanted to wear black hose or tights. A few years later, the fashion swung the other way, and I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything other than nude hose. My point is – the black/colored tights versus hose debate has been going on forever. (And think back to WWII when women couldn’t get “stockings” and drew the lines on the back of their legs so that it appeared they were wearing them!)

            I personally could never do bare legs to work because (a) I live in the Midwest, which means its cold, cold, cold in the winter (I can’t imagine walking around in a skirt and no hose when it’s snowing or even just cold), (b) the air conditoning is cranked up too high in the summer, and (c) my right leg is so full of nasty looking veins (developed while I was pregnant) that I wouldn’t want anyone to have to look at it (body make-up is not something I am willing to commit to for anything other than a special occassion).

            My personal take is that nude hose are more formal, and I do wear them almost always. But sometimes I go with black tights when I’m going for a more trendy look.

  18. Hello, it’s the OP here. And I will use more fluid language, to avoid brain freezes of any sort.
    a) Navy suits are what we wear in the corporate world. With mostly black shoes for women. By that, I mean the world of corporations, as opposed to service firms. I don’t know, maybe it’s the proximity to factories? We want to be more “just folks?” I’m sort of kidding. Maybe the reason service firms don’t wear navy is precisely to set yourselves apart from us in the field? I stand by my advice, that is IF if you work for a Fortune 500 that makes stuff, wear navy. Wearing black looks too formal, too stiff. Also, we don’t wear a lot of skirted suits. That looks too prissy. Again, I cede all authority on the legal world to the lawyers, same for the financial services world.

    b) Hot is not attractive. Attractive is fine and sets no expectations. Hot sets expectations that you either have to meet or not meet, and either course has its difficulties. Notice that I didn’t say anything like don’t be aggressive, outspoken, polished, or any of that kind of advice that’s given and can be seen as anti-woman. Just take hot off the table. I got very little in my career from my looks, but ever time I did, I later regretted it. Except the smiles. Smiles are OK. Even though I never broke protocol, there always would have been a better way.

    c) As far as the t-shirts, try it. Just once.

    • Thanks for the clarification. I also read it as one having two options, hot or not, and that you would want to be a “not”. I didn’t read it as leaving room for “attractive and professional just not a skank.”

  19. divaliscious11 :

    Totally with you until this…

    “Just don’t spend more money than we do, please. It makes us wonder if you really need this job”

    Why do you care. Either I need the job, or I’m here because I WANT to be. Personally, I want the person who is working this gig, at this particular job, because this is what they like and/or want to do versus the person who is here because they have to, possibly don’t want to, and are counting the days until they leave…

    • Agree with divaliscious! I work because I want to. Doesn’t mean I should be passed over for (say) a particular job/promotion just because I don’t NEED it.

      I spend money on clothes and nice jewellery – my senior, female colleagues might choose to break the bank on skincare or holidays or whatever! That doesn’t mean I should dress a notch below them. The OP sounds like my 60 year old Asian jeweller who asked if I wanted to first ensure that my diamond carat size was smaller than that of my boss!! Ridiculous.

    • anon - chi :

      Say what you will about the unfairness of it all, but I agree with the OP that appearing to be better off financially than your superiors can have negative consequences. I may be drawing incorrect inferences, but I noticed that when a firm I worked at had layoffs, they disproportionately hit people whose spouses had great jobs and/or appeared to have other sources of money so that they did not “need” the job as much.

  20. I am about the same age as LPC and early in my not-so-corporate-more-low-level career, I usually wore navy (but not pin stripes, since those seem like a caricature). Now, later in life, when I want to seem authoritative, I wear black or dark gray. That used to seem to funereal to me as a younger woman. I also always wore Ts under suits, though in the 80’s this seemed a little Don Johnson Miami Vice, it avoided the button-down-shirts-coming -out untucked sloppiness. Hips and button downs are not a match made in heaven, though in the good old days when pantyhose were appropriate, not scorned, you could tuck your shirt in them, but the tee shirt was always easier. Also, the tee shirt is probably not good if you are well endowed, but otherwise, it is comfortable and not so starchy, wrinkly, untucked. Also, if you think that LPC is outdated, ask yourself if your clients are old guys from the 80’s because if they are wearing navy suits, they might like you to be doing so too. Not sure how regional any of this is either. I expect Seattle is different from NYC.

    • As someone who is well-endowed, I would disagree that that t-shirts are not good if you’re well-endowed. Button-downs and large breasts are what really don’t go well together. T-shirts (so long as they fit and are not tight) are much less fussy when your on the buxom side.

      • Corporate Tool :

        As a fairly well-endowed woman, (DDD/E) I can say that I LOVE Brooks Brothers button downs. I get the most fitted version in a size up from my usual size, and it fits gloriously. No pulling, the buttons don’t start too low (exposing waaay too much clevage) and they fit loose over the back, if you get that awful bra line that I suffer from.

        They are a little pricy, but the non-iron has two benefits, 1) it doesn’t wrinkle during the day, and 2) you don’t have to dry clean, saving MAJOR $$$.

        Ok, unpaid advertisement over, but seriously, if you need to have a button down, I’d get it from BB

        • Thanks much! Will definitely keep that in mind. I am a student (and as such, on a retricted budge), but I may be willing to shell out a bit for at least one or two button front shirts that will fit me well.

          • SUCL 3L – I second the BB button down, as well as the new Jones New York “wash and wear” no-iron blouses. If you can find an outlet store near you, I bought my last BB shirt there for $20 (and also picked up a 2 piece wool suit for about $130).

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