What to do when your male boss tells you you dress “too well”

Essential Stretch Striped ShirtToday’s reader question comes from a reader in a small, private firm on the East Coast…

I’ve been at my first job out of law school for 15 months. I’m 26 years old, but have a young face and often get asked if I’m an intern instead of an attorney. I am a litigator and I wear suits when I go to court, which is roughly twice a week.

Joking in the office one day, I mentioned to an Of Counsel with whom I am comfortable that I got the intern comment again. He said that, while I do have a young face, I dress “too well.” He said that I need to “be a little frumpier or dowdier.” That, while I dress well for a young, female professional, I dress TOO well for a young, female attorney. The analogy was made that I dress similarly to a middle aged male attorney who wears a blue pinstripe suit, blue shirt with the contrasting white collar and French cuff, cuff links, and a giant diamond pinky ring – just “a little too cheesy.”

Is the Of Counsel right? Do I need to wear silhouettes that are more boxy, as he also suggested? I want to be taken seriously as an attorney, but don’t see the reason to cater to ultra-conservative views on wardrobe when I would be uncomfortable in such things, as it is not my personal style.

(We’ve edited her e-mail for space; she also notes that she has a second job working at the local Express, and owns much of what is sold there; she attached the above blouse as an example.  Essential Stretch Striped Shirt, $49.50, Express.)

First: We’re not going to comment on the many, many, many things we might say about the of counsel, the propriety of his remarks, or what kind of working environment it must be.  Maybe he’s like your frumpy father or big brother and only meant to be helpful — for example, if he had stopped at the cufflinks/gold pinky ring comment we probably wouldn’t have a problem with this.  Maybe he’s a jerk, which is the vibe we’re getting from his suggestion to wear “boxy” clothes, i.e. “less sexy clothes that hide your figure.”  We don’t really know.  We might just link to this fact sheet from the government about “when to know if it’s sexual harassment,” however.  We might also suggest you contact your alumni career office to see how they recommend dealing with the situation (and perhaps if they can recommend a good recruiter).

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Second:  Sigh.  The fact remains that he’s a superior to you, you still have to work with him, and worse, whatever it was that he’s projecting may be something that a lot of men (and women) around you are projecting.  So it’s time to do some soul searching — are you wearing your clothes too tight?   You may want to start buying a larger size at Express (or two) — clothes will still have a fitted, tailored look, but won’t be painted on (as they are in many of the models).  Another thing to watch out for is whether your clothes are too low-cut.  Express can be a mixed bag — there can be some great work basics in there — but there can also be some sexy going-out clothes in there.  Steer clear of the going out clothes.  You may want to peruse the website at far more conservative places like Brooks Brothers and then view your closet through those eyes — would BB sell a frumpier version of it?  With the top above (a simple fitted shirt), the answer is absolutely yes.

Finally:  We hear from a lot of women that they have issues with looking too young, and we’re going to ask our readers — how do you deal with this?  Our suggestions:  Pull yourself up tall — really work on your posture and conveying authority through your body language.  Make sure that all aspects of your outfit — your coat, your shoes, your bag — convey “grown up.”  (For example, avoid a puffy coat and a backpack.)  You may want to keep your hair pulled back in a neat (and intentional) low ponytail.

Ok, readers, we’re sure you’ll have thoughts aplenty — what are your thoughts on her e-mail? On changing her appearance for her (current) boss?  About looking too young?

(L-0)

Comments

  1. Sorry to be harsh, but I can’t imagine wearing anything from Express to work at my law firm. It seems like cheap fun clothing, not something to wear if you want to be taken seriously. A lot of our secretaries and paralegals wear clothes from Express, which may explain why people don’t think she’s a lawyer.

    • Second. At Express the issue is the material, lack of lining in many pants, the blends and cuts in the suiting … the ‘suiting’ sends a message that perhaps she is a college student trying to dress properly without proper guidance.

      This coming from someone who more than once went to put on a pair of pants from Express this summer, realized they just hugged all of the ‘right places’ wrong for work…and every time the pants went back in the closet and on came the J. Crew trousers (properly lined and not stretchy…).

      • I agree. Express is what I would call “professional wear for people who don’t know any better.” She may enjoy her job, but Express clothing often looks cheap, and at the same time, can look showy (which may be where he’s getting the “pinky ring” vibe).

        • Absolutely agree with your quotation about Express. You can immediately see the difference in quality of the clothes from that store without even looking at the tags.

          Wearing a nice silk blouse or fine cotton button-down and a J.crew suit does not necessarily equate to “ultra-conservative.” Try to mirror what you see in the J.crew catalog suit section. They hit the right medium between appealing to a GenY attorney and to the baby-boomer attorney…all the while avoiding a risque look.

          At 26, I understand that you may not want to wear Brooks Brothers. (I know I can’t because they don’t carry my small size). But you can still wear much more upscale work clothes without breaking the bank. Try Ann Taylor or Banana, too. Anything but Express. Good luck.

          • Yikes. I must be the only one to disagree here. I have two express pant suits that I love, receive compliments on and feel most confident in. They are the only suits that fit me right and I don’t feel like I’m a kid playing dress up in Dad’s clothes.

          • While generally I agree that Express is not the greatest, that’s not to say that you can NEVER find something professional. Personally, I prefer The Limited – it’s like the more grown-up older sister to Express.

      • Absolutely agree. You do need to build up your wardrobe when just starting out, and that may mean some cheaper pieces, but Express is just not the go-to. There are many other choices out there that are not made of flimsy thin material and don’t have the sex-driven asthetic.

        • MissAnnOnymous :

          Ditto the four people above me, word for word. Express is for people who don’t know better. Their clothes do look cheap and are always too fitted. I’m 28, as well, so I’m a peer saying this.

          Perhaps the reader who wrote in can consider using her employee discount at The Limited, Express’ sister store, where she’s likely to find more appropriate attire.

          • Corporate Tool :

            I’d actually suggest H&M. You have to be discerning, but they have some nice “suit” dresses and skirts. I wouldn’t buy a full suit from them, but getting a couple of pieces to mix with fancier stuff has served me well.

          • The Limited is awful, IMO. Their clothing is often too tight and the fabric is usually synthetic.

          • I also agree with Corporate Tool re: H&M as an affordable option for work appropriate clothing on a budget. I am 23 and work as a paralegal (and, outside the office, am carded at bars and R rated movies frequently) at a major law firm, and am frequently addressed as an associate. I credit this useful ‘aging up’ to choosing a mix of pieces, from H&M and Banana Republic on the low end to Theory on the high end. With the fantastic sales that retailers and discount stores offer, affording a really beautifully tailored blazer and sheath dress is possible on any (and certainly any practicing attorney’s) budget; these key expensive pieces mixed with trendier and more affordable H&M will definitely do the trick.

      • Absolutely agree with Trunk. Express does not carry the type of professional clothing I’d expect to see an associate wear at my firm. I’m 29 and a fifth year associate and if I saw a first year wearing the type of form-fitting clothing they have at Express, I’d probably pull her aside and suggest she check out AT or JCrew.

        The majority of my suits come from JCrew and I try to take my styling “suggestions” from their catalog. I think I fit within the fine line between “frumpy” and “sexy,” and no one’s ever commented on my clothes (although, in the name of full disclosure, I should say that my firm would let me wear jeans and sweatshirts to work every day, if I wanted to).

    • I agree to a certain extent. Express needs to be mixed in with classic and/ or higher-end pieces to work, IMHO.

    • I actually have to disagree with the Express comment- truth, most of those clothes are more for “going out,” but if you’re discerning about fabric, there can be some great finds.

      For example, those of us who can’t afford the famed Theory dress pants yet, the Express “editor” pant has a great fit. I have a curvier frame, so I often have trouble finding dress pants that fit well- they either go into “grandma” category, or wind up looking entirely inappropriate and too tight in the wrong places. However, I have several pairs from Express that look wonderful for the office. There’s a variety of lengths, colors and fabrics available, and my only caveat here is that you should choose the heavier fabric- it just maintains a more professional look throughout the day.

      I’ve also found happiness with some of their more conservatively cut sweaters and blouses (they do exist!) and pencil skirts (I’m only 5’5”, so length generally isn’t my problem).

  2. i can’t even focus on the questions at hand b/c i’m too depressed that a litigator has to work at an Express on the side!

    • Amen, Sam – frigging student loans.

      As to the question, am I the only one who feels like he gave her weird semi-contradictory advice? The “wear boxier clothing” advice feels disconnected from the “you dress too nice/formally” advice. I don’t know how one would reconcile that sartorially, which makes me wonder if this is more just a power play on his part. Though, of course, you do have to work with him, so in that light C’s advice makes a lot of sense.

      • I zeroed in on that too. Ultimately though, she works for him, and C’s advice makes a lot of sense.

        • Agree with E.F. I read “you dress too nice” as an attempt to say that the clothes were too sexy/revealing/whatever for the office without crossing the sexual harassment line.

          • I second this. “Too nice” here is a euphemism for something else he wants to say. I would hazard a guess at “too sexy”/”too much bling/shininess”. Dont be offended by him, take his feedback in a positive way (he did try to phrase it nicely after all) and try to apply it.

          • Liz (Europe) :

            If he’s saying wear something boxier, I’d hazard a guess that he thinks the clothes are too tight.

      • I was wondering about that too, and all I can come up with is that her style is unprofessional. He probably didn’t want to say that she looks like she is about to go on a date, but “too nice” and “boxier” sounds like the style is too form-fitting and revealing for the office.

      • You aren’t the only one. To me, being told you dress “too nice/formally” is when you are the only one wearing a full suit etc. on a daily basis when everyone else is wearing business casual. I think he was trying to tell her that her choices may be a bit too sexy for the office but he didn’t want to use those words for fear of HR repercussions (just a theory).

      • I’m with some of the other commenters on this one – I think he’s suffering from male attorney pattern bad-talking-to-women-ness. Particularly with the emphasis on appropriateness in the work place, “nice” was probably the safest word he could come up with and still express (no pun intended) that her outfits were not hitting the mark in the professionalism category. Tell a young female lawyer that she looks too sexy, her clothes look cheap, or she looks to young, and you’re likely to get a mouthful and a potential report to HR.

        Couldn’t agree more with commenters above as well – Express is FUN, but generally not work appropriate. Fabrics and cuts aside (ditto everyone above), some of the trendy details that make the clothing fun are very youthful, and won’t help your case if you’re already young-looking (I’m looking at you, puff sleeves, bright bright colors, rhinestone buttons, random buckles, random rouching, and extra zippers).

        A rule of thumb: when shopping or picking an outfit for work, look at the item and ask whether you like it because it’s cute, sexy, or fun. If that’s the case, keep it for the weekend. If the item evokes words like feminine, classy, sophisticated, or womanly, go for it.

    • As a 3L, that was hands down the most horrifying part of the e-mail.

      • PurpleViolet :

        I think he was trying to explain why she was not dressed appropriate in a nice way and that was the best he could do. Give the guy a break. It sounds like she needs a more mature style.

  3. I bought an express button up shirt once because I loved the blue color, but they are way too low for the office. (I’m 24, law student. And I looked to see if there are ones that go up higher, there’s not). I think judging from the fact that you feel comfortable with him, that he wasn’t being weird but was telling you dress too sexy, too inappropriate for the office. You can be fabulous at the office and dress beautifully, what he was saying is you look cheap and young. Set aside some money and totally redo your wardrobe. You can look young and not frumpy with more expensive, better made, well tailored clothes.

    • Heartily agree! I like to show my girls off, I work in a business casual environment, and I wear tons of makeup, and Express’ button-down blouses were way, WAY too low-cut for ME. So that’s really saying something.
      I think the boss was trying to give recommendations without exposing himself to a harassment suit

  4. Corporate Tool :

    I also look very young (I’m 25) and find that I combat it in a couple ways:

    1) always wear (muted and low-key) makeup. I don’t wear lipstick, chapstick instead, a little powder foundation and light eyeliner–it makes me look more like a “grownup, ” and more polished. Also, STAY AWAY from glosses. Anything shiny/shimmery/glossy is going to make you look younger
    2) wear dark and muted colors–while the 40+ ladies can get away with lime, and pink and red, I stick to earth tones, greys, blues, and most often black
    3) tie your hair up/back–long, flowing hair can be one of the key elements to a “youthful” look.
    4) downplay the jewelery–unless it is ONE statement piece, I’d stick to pearls, plain gold/silver/platinum and less flashy jewels. I actually don’t wear my enagement ring to work now that I’m married, just the plain gold band
    5) lower heels, but not ballet flats–I wear 2.5-3 inches max. Taller heels, and thinner ones, seem to be another ‘young’ thing. Granted, I’m pretty tall, but it seems to me that only the youngest women in my office wear anything 3+

    Basically, it sucks. A lot. I often feel like I have VERY little personality in my clothing, but I wear what I want on the weekends, and remind myself that when I’m LPC’s age, I can wear a hello kitty pendant.

    • Aw. This makes me smile. There is no question but that you have to start conservative, and grow a personal style along with your stature in your profession. Tool, I think your 4 points above are very sound. BTW, I would still tuck my Hello Kitty necklace in to meet some clients. At the end of the day, business is to generate revenue.

      • I look young too, so I don’t wear trendy jewelry; I stick to diamonds (real – large ones just look fake, which is what Express sells), real gold, pearls, and Ann Taylor jewelry. But I’m short, so I wear medium to tall heels. Ponytails that are not low look young.

        Ditto on all the Express comments. Try slightly-wide leg pants – they are less likely to hug your butt. For tops – do silk or silk-looking (i.e. discount store) with a well cut suit.

        Not that I think about this often ;)

        • I agree. I am 28, small and look very young … depending on what I wear. I used to wonder if I should dress “frumpier” to appear older, but I have found that if I wear a nicer suit from Banana or AT, I will be treated differently and can command much more respect. And that allows me to be a little more expressive of my personality. However, I agree – stay away from Express.

    • Generally great advice, but I actually find that a lack of lipstick actually makes you look younger. Rather than chapstick, I would recommend a creamy or matte lipstick in a rosy nude or berry shade. I think this adds more sophistication than chapstick without being obnoxious. Good call on the “steer clear” of glosses advice. Glosses do make you look more youthful. That having been said, I do like a little dab of Bobbi Brown “Rose Sugar” gloss over my lipstick in the afternoon/evening, but I’m old enought that nobody is going to confuse me with an 18 year old (although I wouldn’t mind it if they did!).

      • Totally agree ceb. When I graduated college, I was working as an organizer, and working with volunteers MUCH older than me (all of 21). I thought lipstick helped me look like I at least belonged in the working world. Something in the muted pink / brown matte range. You can buy great long-lasting ones at the drugstore for $10 or less.

  5. I have mixed feelings about this. While it’s totally possible that she’s dressing too, umm, “tight,” if it were really a problem, it seems that perhaps the best solution would have been for the male superior to have a female superior talk to her about it. Otherwise, I have a strong suspicion that he’s just projecting his discomfort with his sexual attraction. And that’s a him problem.

    • Yes. This is what I thought too. It sounds like two things are happening here. a) He thinks she’s cute and he doesn’t like it b) He thinks she dressed too snappy, too much like she wants to look cute, too body-conscious, too girlie, pick your term. The context is very important. How old is this guy? To what extent does he reflect the mainstream firm culture? How frank is your relationship? If you have a good relationship, I’d ask him to point out women who he thinks dress appropriately. That’s the best way to figure out just what he is referring to. In terms of him thinking you’re cute, well, he can’t help that. But he does have to manage his feelings professionally. Make sure no line is ever even close to be crossed. That’s a very tough skill to learn.

    • It may be a “him” problem, but it doesn’t address the underlying issue — that the OP frequently gets confused for an intern.

      I haven’t been to Express in years, but I didn’t even know they sold suits. From the comments above, my impression is of the “suits” they sell at Bebe — where, when I walk by the windows and see these “suits,” I wonder who in the world they are meant for b/c no one who actually has to wear a suit to work could ever get away with one of theirs.

      My only other comment would be that if he genuinely meant the frump it up advice, something to consider is whether the OP is putting TOO much effort into her appearance. The one way I can always tell interns apart at my job is that they often look like just had toooooooo much time to put together their work look (since they’re only there a few hours a week & appear to have way too much time to match everything, etc.); most busy lawyers dress rather simpler b/c . . . well, there just isn’t time to match your polka dot button down to your polka dot silk headband. Not sure if I am explaining it well, but something to consider.

      • anon - chi :

        I strongly suspect that Bebe suits are made for girls dressing up as Ally McBeal (or fill in a more 2010 appropriate name here) for Halloween! Also, possibly for a certain secretary in my office, who favors the shiny synthetic material, brightly colored, and waaaaay short skirt suits that I think come from stores like Bebe. For the OP, I would take a look at who else is shopping in the stores you usually get work stuff from, like Express – are you seeing other young professionals? Or does the store mostly cater to older teens? I’m not saying you can’t find the occasional work appropriate thing at a place like Express (I have no idea if you can or not) but it’s simply less likely that any given item will be work appropriate at Express vs. Ann Taylor, Banana, J. Crew, or any one of a number of other stores that really do cater to young professionals.

        • I think Bebe is too expensive for teens to wear on Halloween. I always just assumed tbeir “suits” were for call girls trying to look like “sexy executives”.

      • This was my instinct as well.

    • This EM agrees with ^^ EM.

  6. I am 50/50 on how to interpret the situation – I think E.M. sums it up well, but I also know that Express clothing is cut to look tight, so my advice would be for the reader who asked the question to look at Brooks Brothers and assess her closet that way, and go from there.

  7. when he says you “dress too well”, is it possible he’s saying that to cover what he really means? perhaps your clothes are too form-fitting. everything from express is laden with spandex and maybe his suggestion of boxier clothes simply means your current selection is just too tight.

    if i had to guess, his comments reflect more on the origin, not on the fact that you’re young and semi-successful. you’re frequently getting comments about your clothes – not just from your boss. maybe it’s time to stop shopping at stores that target the younger set and look to nordstroms and brooks brothers.

    • Even Ann Taylor (or Ann Taylor outlet) to ease into the price point.

      • I think you have to be careful with using ponytails in a professional setting. I do think for a lot of people it works well but a low professional ponytail makes me look like a 12 year old boy. When I need to look older it’s a flat iron and hair down that gets the job done.

  8. I am nearly thirty and still encounter this problem. I have thought a lot about why I’m still perceived as a paralegal/admin when other (male) contemporaries at the firm are not. In addition to wardrobe, I think attitude matters more than you think. Obviously confidence plays into it …but playing too eager also could send off admin/intern bells. Eagerness – not a hand raising, falling out of your seat, “pick on me, pick on me” obnoxious display but the willingness to accommodate any request for assistance. For example, if I was sitting in a meeting and copies needed to be made, I’d jump up and offer to make them. Obviously, I was trying to be helpful/efficient to move things along. After my epiphany of sorts, the next time the situation arose, I sat quietly. None of my male counterparts jumped up and offered to make copies. They simply said, I’ll call my assistant and have her come up to do it.

    Of course, I’m not advocating anyone refuse to make copies or perform any adminstrative tasks. That would be ridiculous. What I’m saying is that it is okay not to be the first to offer and know that it is okay to delegate. You worked hard to get where you are and you have something valuable to contribute. Take a step back and rexamine your conduct in all situations – not just what you wear to court/work (although, I don’t think Express apparel helps your cause too much).

    • I’d add tone of voice to that as well. I find that if your voice is too cheerful and high pitch, it makes you seem much younger. I try to make my voice a bit more commanding (within reason and bounds of my actual octave), and it does wonders.

      • I agree with this. Also, make sure that you aren’t raising the pitch of your voice at the end of each sentence. It makes you sound like you are asking a question, and as a result makes you sound less authoritative.

        • Luluaj: you wrote what I was going to write! Even though I’m nearly 32 and have 3 kids with my husband of 10 years, I am much younger than most of the lawyers who practice in my smallish-sized town. I have been very, very conscious of how I dress, accessorize, wear my hair, wear my make-up, etc., since I started my new job a year ago. I thought I was doing all that I could to make myself seem “mature” and “authoritative,” but this morning one of my bosses (a man in his early 60s) affectionately called me “kiddo” when I came to his office. I really admire this person and we have a good relationship, but it still kind of bugs me.

          And it got me thinking. I’ve been focusing on my appearance, but I think I’ve seemed too helpful, accomodating, eager – whatever you want to call it. I was a law clerk for 4 years before this “new” associate job, so I realize that I know very little compared to the much more seasoned attorneys in my office. I think in my zealousness to show that I am ready to learn and do whatever is asked of me, I might be sabotaging my efforts in the appearance category. I’m going to try to modify my demeanor slightly and see how it goes!

          • hey, he’s 60 and you’re 30, you ARE a kid to him! Doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing…

          • I don’t think it’s a bad thing he calls you kiddo. I’m friends with a former supervisor from ~10 years ago who still calls me kiddo. The reality is that no matter how much I age, she’s still going to be 20 years older than me.

    • Fabulous point. You all should read, “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office”. It’s not about being an office witch. It’s about toning down behaviors that put you in a negative light when it comes to your authority. Things like, “bringing home-baked goods to the office” makes colleagues view you differently. Things I never thought about as a young professional female. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

      • That is a GREAT recommendation! Such an incredibly good, helpful book. I read it after my firm’s women’s group partners recommended it and put it in one of the partners’ ofices as a lending library book. Ended up buying my own copy.

        I was horrified to realize that I was an offender for some of those things – like nodding and smiling the whole time an older male partner talks (the “grandfather” reaction). Looked around the next time and realized that it was only the junior girls doing this, ack. There are a lot of unconscious behaviors that can be self-defeating.

        • Love that book. Need to re-read it!

        • I just ordered this off amazon, thanks for the recommendation!

        • Thanks for the recommendation, just ordered it on amazon!

        • Ack! I do that!

          I have heard it recommended many other places, so I also ordered it.

          Thanks!

          • I have that book, need to re-read it. But I do remember the don’t bring baked goods into the office advice. I had a co-intern once who was a pastry chef before law school and she was always bringing in cupcakes and cookies and the clerks shared them with other judges’ chambers and everyone was talking about them lol. Not sure if that boosted or detracted from her professionalism, though.

      • newassociate :

        seconded. i never thought of myself as that much of a “nice girl” but i was surprised at how many of those behaviors applied to me, and grateful that they were being called out. elbows on the table at the next meeting, among many other to do’s. several of my friends got it after my enthusiastic review and caught other self-defeating behaviors. i re-read it periodically and after this thread will read it again soon.

        the author contributes periodically on http://thethinpinkline.com/

      • This book is fantastic. It really highlights the disconnect between behavior that is often valued or positively reinforced in young girls but that is then detrimental in a professional working environment (not being assertive enough, emphasis on being liked rather than respected, being too emotional, etc.). After I addressed some of the issues pointed out in the book, I definitely noticed a shift in perception; people tend to take me more seriously now, and I command more respect from older men. One of the few books I’ve read that has actually had a real effect on my life.

      • I just got the digital version on Barnes and Noble.com! Thanks for recommending this book!

    • I would agree on this. I am 30, and not a lawyer, but in banking. I work with all men, and almost all are much older than me. I found that when the assistant isn’t around, they tend to look at me to make copies and order lunch – probably because I was young and female, but also because I am sure I volunteered at some point, being the nice overachieving chick that I am! It took me awhile to realize I needed to stop this behavior…it didn’t take too long of me going to find the assistant to do these things before they stopped asking as much.

      Definately need to get that book by the way; I’ve heard great things about it.

  9. I think Express clothes often look “trendy,” even when they’re supposed to look professional. Trendy in a young-person way. I think when he suggested “frumpy,” he probably just meant “less trendy, more classic.” And I think that’s probably decent advice for someone trying to look a little older.

  10. Frustrated :

    This woman’s dilemma is close to my heart because I am a young lawyer of the tender age of 27 and am constantly mistaken for an intern or a student , e.g. I was going through court house security earlier this week when the guard insisted upon seeing proof that I was indeed an attorney (and therefore entitled to bring in my laptop) because, according to him, I “look too young to be an attorney.” Because of incidents like this, I carry my bar card everywhere. For a long time, it really hurt my self esteem, and I constantly wondered what was wrong with me, e.g. do I fail to carry or comport myself as an attorney should and/or am I somehow dressing too risque’? As far as the way I behave and interact with judges, clients, opposing counsel, etc, I have consciously tried to be as professional as possible–almost to the point of paranoia whereby I worry in retrospect whether I smiled too much during the negotiation and thus appeared silly or inexperienced, or if I didn’t shake the opposing counsel’s hand firmly enough and therefore appeared cowed. After much personal reflection and conversations with other, more experienced female lawyers around town, I’ve finally concluded that my comportment is not the problem. As far as my dress, I have taken pains to compile a wardrobe that I’d like to think is classy and mature yet not frumpy or too conservative. It seems that most of my wardrobe is comprised of suits/skirts/blouses/cardigans from JCrew/Ann Taylor/Banana Republic with a couple of things from Talbots thrown in. I try not to purchase the trendy pieces, and, since I think the cut and quality of the clothing can convey a sense of maturity, I shoot for fits that aren’t too form fitting yet not to baggy either–much like the commentator suggested. I think you can find such things at Express , but oftentimes I have had to pass on their clothes because they do indeed seem too tight or have far too many embellishments. I am continuously amazed Express offers those v-neck style women’s oxford shirts; I could never get away with wearing one of them. It really frustrates me that I have to think of these things at all to (as the poster quotes) “be taken seriously,” especially when male opposing counsel shuffles into court wearing (honest to god) wranglers, a tweed jacket, and a bolo tie.

    • I’m also a 27 y/o and people don’t believe I’m an attorney because I look young, even though I dress well. Generally they don’t take me seriously until I open my mouth. And then I surprise them. This works to my professional advantage, and I would never want to change it.

      Besides, I have a better relationship with support and non-attorney staff because, they tell me, I don’t “act” like a lawyer. This is also to my advantage when, say, I need a package sent at 4:57pm or I want to know the latest office gossip.

  11. He was telling her she dressed too sexy for the office. I think he told her a difficult truth in relatively innucous way. Clumsy? Sure… but what was he supposed to say? I can see your t*ts? You dress too sexy? THAT would be inappropriate. I don’t see harassment here – he could have absolutely zero attraction to her and still be cognizant that she was dressing in an inappropriately sexy way.

    As far as looking too young, I say, quit buying synthetic fabrics, don’t buy anything cut low enough to show any curve of a boob, wear skirts at least knee length, and wear jackets, not cardigans. I know you’re young and don’t want to look older than you are, but it’s part of the uniform that comes with the job. Just gotta do it.

    • agree, and I just reread the post and realized the writer wrote in about those button up shirts I mentioned as an example of what she is wearing. Get rid of those stat, they are tight and show cleavage.

  12. Like many others, I’d suggest transitioning into more mature stores for work clothing. Ann Taylor has done a lot recently to create more fun, youthful styles that will look appropriate but still not fall within the “dowdy” category. I’ve gotten a lot of decent work pants/skirts and tops from the BR/AT outlets without spending a whole lot of money, so it’s not that hard to update your wardrobe without breaking the bank.

    Otherwise it’s really hard to say what you should do to make yourself look older. I think it really depends on the region and what’s expected/accepted from certain age groups. If possible, I would find a female attorney you trust within the firm and ask if she has any suggestions on what you could do to spiff up your wardrobe and look a little older without looking frumpy.

  13. I’m 25, work at a law firm, and am a soon to be lawyer. I tried on some office attire at express this summer (skirt, pants, top) and did not get them – something was just ‘off’ about them. I guess the best way to describe it is they just didn’t fit/look professional enough – slightly too tight/not thick enough fabric — a little too young. I’d suggest she look at Banana Republic (they can have really good sales) for slightly more professional attire that can show personality w/o having to drop a lot of $. Colors of Benetton (sometimes) can also be a good place to look. And Limited – esp if you get your express discount – might also work. You can find highwaisted pencil skirts that don’t make you look like you might be going to a club later.

    Also, unless there is a woman she is comfortable with at the firm, this guy may have been trying to do her a favor.

  14. Regardless of whether his comment was appropriate or not, I think you now have to do something about it. Is there a woman there you could talk to? They might not say anything, though, even if you might be projecting an image different than the one you intend.

    We had a woman at my office who dressed too sexy, and I really liked her but never said anything because I wasnt sure how to do it. She ended up leaving partially because her supervisor (female) didnt like a lot of things about her, in part, her outfits.
    (She was a front desk receptionist.) So while I would be totally tempted to get all annoyed and not do anything, I think maybe the posters who are suggesting a re-assesment are right. Good luck to you! Please let us know how it goes.

  15. I agree with the Ann Taylor suggestion. The cuts there are a little more generous, so while they aren’t “boxy”, they aren’t form fitting either.

    Perhaps get a part time job there instead of Express to help finance the wardrobe change.

    Building a professional wardrobe is expensive and if she is already working two jobs, it sounds like it would be a hardship. I’d start with a couple basic pieces… for example, a better, good quality pair of black pants that you can wear a couple times a week if need be, a couple structured jackets to wear over some of the tops, and then maybe a few camisoles to wear underneath the blouses. While transitioning, aim to wear no more than one Express (or similar store) piece a day – eg, the blouse with conservative pants, an Express skirt with an Ann Taylor sweater and conservative shoes.

    Simple jewery and avoid super bold colors, especially primary colors which just make you look younger.

  16. The solution is pearls and glasses. They are both aging and professional. Glasses (even fake ones!) take the youthfulness out of your outfits. Pearls show you mean business.

    Express doesn’t work for me because I’m on the busty side and that just doesn’t work with stretch fabrics, but I can see how it would be just fine for leaner figures.

    • I have a lean figure – trust me – they were not fine.

    • I agree that glasses are a good choice. I wear thicker, dark metal framed glasses, and they make me look and feel more like a lawyer. But wearing fake glasses is silly.

      • I’ve never found that glasses age me. I tend to wear contacts at work because I need progressives for an eye condition. Bifocal contacts are so much more convenient and the expensive of the progressives is just so high that I can’t afford to update my glasses more than once every 3-4 years.

    • I just wore an Express v-neck button-down the other day that I hadn’t worn in forever (it’s been far too long since I’ve done laundry). I was shocked at the fit and cut. I am tiny for my 5’8″ frame and barely wear a 34A. I had to wear a cami underneath to avoid being too revealing, and the blouse was super loose in the boob area so if I hadn’t worn a cami it would have been flopping open all over the place. I can’t believe I have so many inappropriate, ill-fitting items in my closet (purchased before I started reading Corporette, of course). I’m going on a closet purge today. Long story short, Express still isn’t appropriate for us skinny chicks.

  17. OK, here’s the problem. He’s trying to give her advice, but was ham-handed about it. He didn’t know the right words to use and was trying to be careful of hurting her feelings. While he succeeded in not hurting her feelings, he garbled his message into something almost unintelligible. When he said “too well” and “more frumpy” what he meant was “less figure-conscious and youthful” and “more professional”. The thing about Express is that its all a lot of polyester and synthetic blends with a LOT of stretch in them. That equals very form-revealing in practice, even when you’re selecting the stuff that looks professional enough on the rack. Combined with your young age and even younger looking face, you’ve got a problem. So when you’re buying clothes with your Express discount that you’re hoping are appropriate to wear to both your jobs, you’re really only ending up with clothes you can wear to one. Possibly its something that you can’t “see” yourself, b/c you’re around Express clothes all the time and thus it looks like the norm for you.

    An ideal solution here would be to apply for a job at Ann Taylor instead of Express. I did that when I was first out of college in my first job: work at AT at the weekend, even more for the discount than for the paycheck, and build yourself a professional wardrobe.

  18. I agree with many of the comments about Express clothes being tight and too stretchy etc. However, I don’t want to attack the person who asked the question by assuming that all of her clothes from there fall in this category. I own a few select pieces from express – a pencil skirt that is by no means “tight” and is lined, some sweater vests that I throw over a button down shirt, etc. And there’s nothing really wrong with their cardigans. I think that it would be a good idea to start transitioning into her wardrobe pieces from stores like Banana and Ann Taylor and take a good look at the clothes she does own from Express. If she finds pieces that could be guilty of many of the faux pas discussed above, start phasing them out. I just don’t want to attack her without knowing her at all or what she’s wearing by assuming that her entire wardrobe is more date worthy than work worthy.

    • Agree completely. One of the best work dresses I ever got was from Urban Outfitters — simple, black knee length; can be (and has been) worn literally anywhere, on any occasioon.

      I dont think anyone is suggesting all express clothes should be thrown away (and, to the original poster — please, dont read any of the above & get super self conscious at work or in court while you build your more “grown up” wardrobe, people are only trying to offer their advice, nothing here means that you’re going to work looking ridiculous; at most, it means there are ways you can look better)

  19. The superior’s comments are easy to translate if you assume that he didn’t want to hurt her feelings or use any sexual language.

    Given the facts here, it seems pretty obvious that he was trying to tell her that she needs to wear clothes that are of a higher quality and less form-fitting (“boxier” and “frumpier” are nicer ways to put it so she still feels good about what she’s been wearing). The comment that she dresses too makes her feel good about herself without sexual overtones. What he meant was she looks too cute to be taken seriously.

  20. The other commenters have said everything necessary (Express is not a good choice; get thee to Brooks, Ann Taylor, etc.). I suspect that this guy was probably trying to do the OP a favor, and being a (guessing hetero) man, this was the best he could do to articulate the situation.

    I am only 28, but I still wear a TON of Brooks, keeping it youthful with accessories and well cut pants/skirts, etc. It *made my day* when I walked into a conference room recently, and the older female client blurted out in front of several others “You look wonderful! Very professional but not stuffy!” (Thanks Corporette:)

  21. Express hasn’t been working out for me of late; their short sleeves shirt are extremely tight around my bicep (and trust me, I’m not that muscular; I only recently incorporated strength training exercises into my routine), and hang like a tent around my chest. Also, their shirts are too low cut even for a slender person like me – I usually wear a camisole underneath.

    That said, I have some pants I got there 2 years ago that look quite professional & fit very well (and don’t hug the body in the wrong places)

  22. I sympathize with this person! I’m 30 and love Express, but I agree that only a select few of their items are appropriate for work. I have two turtlenecks and a pair of black Editor pants (not tight) that I wear to my big law job. I don’t anticipate shopping there in the future for work clothes. As everyone has already said, their clothes are too tight and kind of cheap looking. I also think that their tops only work for small busted ladies, and even then, you have to be careful that it doesn’t look too fitted.

    Consider buying some investment pieces. I recently started buying a slew of stuff from the Classiques Entier brand at Nordstrom. It is pricier, but lots of stuff goes on sale (check online) and the clothes are very contemporary as well as professional.

    • I just had my first personal stylist appointment today at Nordstrom and ended up with mostly Classiques Entier items..and most of those items were on sale! If you have a Norstrom near you the stylist might be a good way to go to get some input on what is appropriate (or not).

  23. It kind of sounds like he was trying to give her some warning that she dresses like a tramp without saying outright “you dress like a tramp”. Maybe he was trying to tread lightly, but give her some hints. If no one thinks that she is lawyer, all of her clothes come from Express, and an older Of Counsel comments that her clothes maybe are not the best thing — makes me think she’s dressing poorly.

    I mean, the comparison to a guy lawyer with a diamond pinky ring conjures up serious visions of cheese-balls. And, that coupled with the fact that most of her clothes are from Express (which is really not grown-up lawyer-appropriate clothing), makes me think she is really not dressing correctly. Maybe she should look at the other women in her office or lawyers at the courthouse and try to imitate a more grown-up look.

  24. Well, now I have a dilemma – I have a handful of dress shirts from Express, but I do buy them a size larger as they do run tight, and that’s not my style. So, when I wear them, they aren’t tight – but I can see the concern with their v-neck style (which is a newer thing, I have some older Express button-downs that button all the way to the collar). My question – if they’re worn with a camisole underneath, does that make them acceptable, or are they still too “trendy”? I’ll eventually buy more, new shirts, but it’d be a shame to have to dismiss these entirely.

    • pinkrobot :

      In defense of express, they did have some surprisingly classic, nonclingy, spandex free, lined, pencil skirts a while back. I still wear the navy blue & brown ones.

      I think express is more miss than hit, but if you can look at yourself in an item and it still looks like it didn’t come from any particular store (assuming it fits and you feel comfortable in it)

    • I think they would be fine with a cami underneath, but the blazer idea is a good one too. Another option is to use them to layer underneath sweaters. I buy NYC button-up shirts for that purpose because they are thinner and more fitted, which means I never wear them alone to work, but helps them layer nicely without bulk.

  25. I look young as well, and found that jackets/blazers add an air of authority and make you look older. I have found some fantastic blazers at the Off Saks outlet for $50-$70, and they’re very high quality.

    • this is good advice: nothing says “take me seriously” like a blazer.

      • Delta Sierra :

        Oh, yes. Jackets jackets jackets. They even make me feel more authoritative, which kinda dismays me, but there y’are.

  26. Given what she’s told us about the conversation and her wardrobe, it sounds like “too good” was code for sexy and “frumpier” was code for more professional. I agree that Express clothes, while cute for going out when you’re in your twenties, aren’t appropriate for a lawyer. You just need a more professional version of the clothes you are wearing, and the suggestions made re: stores above are good ones. As far as being mistaken for an intern, some of that just comes with the territory when you are young and youthful looking. I think it happens less often with men but it does happen. When I was starting out, I was constantly mistaken for a court reporter and I was dressing very professionally, it’s just that most of my opposing counsel weren’t used to having a young woman on the other side of their cases and usually, when a young woman showed up for depositions, she was the court reporter. Just do what you can to carry yourself with confidence and to look as professional as possible (which in my mind does not equal frumpy!).

  27. Sounds to me like Of Counsel was trying to help. If you are in court, I whole heartedly agree — model your work attire on Brooks Brothers and you’ll always look polished and like the great lawyer the partners, court, and your clients expect you to be.

    An inspiration line for me: MaxMara. No frump there but entirely appropriate. (Note, this is not BCBG but grown up MaxMara.)

  28. I’m 27 and when making an effort I can manage to look about college-aged. When not making an effort its entirely possible I’ll get carded trying to go to a rated-R movie. I’m blond and have a rounder face so short of dying my hair or plastic surgery I just don’t think I can change how people judge my age. I think for some people this is just a fact of life and rather than running from it you should just embrace it. Its part of who you are.

    If you dress appropriately (its sounds like the OP could change a few things but isn’t totally missing the mark) and comport yourself well and its still a problem I wouldn’t dwell on it. If you do it will just make you seem unsure of yourself, which I think makes people seem younger.

  29. Anonymous :

    Oooh, I feel for the letter writer…what a painful/awkward conversation that must have been!

    Anyway, other than generally agreeing with the advice above, I have to say that I’m so glad the Corporette is out here as a place for us to figure out stuff like this. I’ve learned so much from y’all!

  30. At 40 years old, I’m still asked if I’m the attorney when I check in on a case with the Clerk. I find that many attorneys are disarmed by my youthful appearance so I simply use it to my advantage. Regardless of how I dress or style my hair, I’m never going to look my age. I’ve just learned to live with it and turn it into a positive.

    As for attire, I buy many suits at Talbots. They have great sales and have classic styles.

  31. this makes me so much more at peace about my recent birthday because I am now of “that age” where I don’t have to worry too much about what others think and can dress more to suit my style (w/i reason of course). I do feel for this young attorney and hope that she takes all of the above good advice as it is meant – constructively and hoping for her success in the law – not as an indictment of her taste. I was (many years ago) mistaken as the court reporter when I attended one of my first depositions. Looking back, I realize that I was not dressed appropriately – even though I was only “sitting in” at the depo. And even though I don’t always follow it now, I think the advice to dress for the position above where you are is a good one.

    • Yes! My dad has told me my entire life to dress for the position you want, not the position you currently hold.

  32. Random Express ShoutOut: I do like my black Express’ Editor pants. They are in heavy rotation in summer/fall. I also like the wool navy pinstriped pants from The Limited ($98). Wear them at least once a week… Stack them up against J.Crew and Banana anyday of the week.

    • Totally agree. I can’t live without Editor pants. (IMO, the trick is *not* to buy them in the smallest size you can squeeze into since they have stretch. Buy a size up.)

      • @J, totally agree. My Editor pants are from at least 5 years ago. I’m swimming in my size 6’s and have to wear a belt, but I *know* better than to go down a size. Pants on the ground, pants on the ground..LOL.

  33. Here’s my experience: just when you think you can’t possibly tolerate another comment about how “young” you look, wrinkles will suddenly form around your eyes, your face will droop, and you will look like hell without makeup on. Try not to be too depressed about being mistaken for being younger than you are. :)

    • LOL! Agreed!

    • Delta Sierra :

      Word. Not to trivialize the OP’s genuine predicament, but, enjoy it while it lasts. I was regularly asked for ID in restaurants and bars all through my late 20s. Ah, those were the days.

  34. BTW, Express is tacky. Go for “classic,” like everyone else basically said.

  35. I definitely agree with all the previous posters who are advising you to stop shopping at Express. It is fine to shop there for your weekend wear but you need more sophisticated, modest-fitting pieces for your professional wardrobe. You can look professional without looking frumpy. Consider the extra expense an investment in your career. Dress for the job you want to have, so think “would a female partner wear something this trendy? this low-cut? this tight-fitting? this short?” Also, the suggestion to wear your hair back and in a very low ponytail is a good one (not a must, but it is an easy way to look polished & serious).

    I disagree with the suggestion that you should wear low heels. That really depends on your height. I wear 3 inch heels all the time because I am petite (5’3″) and need some height to avoid looking like a kid! Good luck!

  36. What do I care if I look “too young” to be an attorney? I have that question, “Are you a real attorney, you don’t look old enough,” or something of that ilk blasted at me at least once a month. I do a good job for my clients and after meeting with them/getting to know them, it has never been a problem. Besides, ladies, one day we will all wish someone said we looked too young. Yes, I agree it is a left-handed compliment, but try and take the good with the bad and move on from such a small issue.
    PS – I dress my mood, some days its young and hip, while others its very dignified and profession. I’ve never had someone say I “dress too young.”

  37. Echoing what seems to be the commom theme- Express is probably not appropriate office-wear. I know it is hard when you are a young attorney and you want to dress young and trendy, I was there no too long ago, but the bottom line is, you can’t! The discount at Express for employess is great but don’t fill your closet with only thier clothes! I have slowly built up two wardrobes…work appropriate and “going-out” appropriate. H&M and Zara and Ann Taylor (Loft and regular) have great clothes that you can wear and not feel like you aren’t yourself. Good luck!

  38. TGEmpress :

    To whomever asked about the express dress shirts with the cami underneath – It is what I and about 15 of my female colleagues wear in depositions and the relatively informal docket call. It ends up with a certain West Wing appearance (CJ did this look often as Press Secretary). I have purchased their dress shirts in the past over J. Crew, Taylor, or BR because the Express had better length in the shirt tails. I just wore a higher camisole under the top. {as a caveat I practice not in BIG law but in mid-law in a young woman dominated litigation field – we are a little edgier than this conversation seems to be}

    Then again, I am thin, and small busted – I also can pull off express pants without looking like I am going clubbing. But I detest their suits. I have a one button prejudice thing.

    Honestly, while I can’t say for certain what the Gentleman was trying to convey I would just like to say that this point out exactly the problem that professional women have. A man would only be approached about his appearance if it was so abysmal it were drawing client complaints. But women – we are open game for comments.

    There is a guy who practices in my town – none of his pants fit him (4-5 sizes too big and have been going on 6 years) they are “hemmed” with frayed edge, clearly just cut. He looks crazy, or possibly down on his luck (when I know neither is the case) but no one approaches him to discuss this issue. I see other men show up to depositions in shorts… and yet – we have to have whole conversations on whether we should wear knee boots to court (for instance). It fatigues me.

    • Delta Sierra :

      The fatigue, yes. We’re killing ourselves to hit just the right note and men slap on a suit and they’re done. Fashion rule book for men: 3 pages. FRB for women: 1000 pages and always changing. Feh.

    • Agree about the prejudice against one-button jackets. I’m on the full-figured side and one-button jackets look, well, just ridiculous on me.
      I have to say that I’ve had the same problem as the OP most of my life. I have long-ish blonde hair (which I HATE wearing back), a round face, and naturally rosy chipmunk cheeks. Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, I look all of 19 (I’m 25). But apparently I must be doing something right – I’m interning with a judge at the local courthouse and the first few weeks in court people kept asking me if I was an attorney! Wearing a suit and heels is one of the few times when I feel I actually look my age.

    • Yay West Wing shout out!

  39. My fave suit - from express :

    http://www.express.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=19972&parentCategoryId=2&categoryId=32&subCategoryId=32&user_att_name=Interest&user_att_value=Email&Mppg=0&Mcatpn=category&Mpper=3&Mcat=32&Mcatp=cat_2&Mpos=19&Mrsaa=*&Mcatn=Jackets+%26+Vests&Mpg=SEARCH%2BNAV&Mrsavf=*

    • Honestly, I think this jacket exemplifies what we are cautioning against. It looks very young and trendy and stretchy — not like a real suit!

  40. I was a little shocked to see that a lawyer, of all people, also works at Express part-time. But I agree with the general consensus that Express just isn’t quite right for most law offices. I know it’s cheaper and the clothes look like they should be acceptable, but they’re too tight and low cut. I don’t know what offices they actually ARE completely appropriate in.

    • Oh, I don’t know. I worked at JCrew and AT after graduating from law school in order to build my wardrobe. I actually made an OK wage for retail ($9/hour) and was able to buy many, many suits for an extremely discounted price. Now, if only I still fit into them!

  41. Elle Woods :

    Although I would never advocate dressing for the office as you would have done in college, surely it is better to look young (and still professional) and then impress your superiors and clients with intellect and experience they didn’t believe someone so young to possess?

    • That assumes that they don’t make a snap judgment that someone else has the “judgment” and “maturity” to handle the challenging tasks, while you will do document review.

  42. Wow! I know that people are trying to be helpful, but some of the comments seem a little harsh.

    Here is my take:

    1) You are an attorney AND you work at Express? Good for you! You clearly have a great work ethic, and that is going to take you far.

    2) Invite a friend who will be honest and whose opinion you really, really trust (preferably a friend who works in the legal industry). Pour a couple of glasses of wine and have a “fashion show” with suits from your closet. If she is a good friend, she will be honest about whether the clothes are “work appropriate” or not.

    3) Take a good look at yourself in a well-lit, full-length mirror. Is this the image you want to project? Does the image make you happy? Is there anything you can do to improve your image?

    Good luck!

    • Chicago K :

      I would agree with this comment. I know we are a conservative bunch, but let’s not give the OP too much grief. After all, wearing Express suits is hardly the end of the world!

      I don’t shop at Express honestly, so I can’t comment too much on the style, but I think I know “the look”. Try on one of the suits at home and ask yourself if you could imagine a CEO or a judge or a board member wearing it. That’s what I usually use as a good test…although sometimes I honestly don’t want to look like this and just go with a more casual outfit.

      I have to laugh a little at his comment…having heard this from my mother all throughout junior high/high school when I would wear something suggestive. I would say, “But I thought I looked good!” and she would respond with, “You do, you look TOO good!”

  43. My hope is that you continue to wear what is comfortable for you and what you find professional. Laugh it off when you are mistaken for an intern. Dazzle them all with your intellect and give up caring what people think about your clothes. Yes, I know that image is important. Confidence is most important. Be confident and happy and good at your job.

    When people ask if you are an intern, laugh it off and don’t let it rattle you. At 26, you ARE young. Generally, the only people I find that don’t take me seriously are older men. Especially the most senior partner in our office, now semi-retired, which is hilarious because he is a fan of a certain college football team, and on game days comes into the office in all green and yellow, even his customized shoes that have his name on them.

    I get the feeling that the other person might think your outfits are too “uniform” and fashionable. You work in retail so you know how to put outfits together, but they might look too together, which to him looks like you are trying too hard.

    It is really tricky dressing professionally and not looking like you are playing dress-up. Your comfort level is a major concern when it comes to looking professional. My most expensive suit never gets worn because it is too wide in the shoulders, has too many buttons and makes me uncomfortable, so I tug at it and it makes me look like I am a little kid. My lands-end suits, with 2 buttons, get worn instead.

  44. I am going to skip the clothes advice – enough said by other posters already!

    BUT if I were the OP, I wouldn’t mention to others at the firm that I was mistaken for an intern (again) by others outside the firm. Why reinforce the “too young to be a lawyer” mind-set in their minds?

  45. Reading all the comments above, please don’t feel like you have to toss out everything you own and start from scratch! For now, perhaps changing a few elements of each outfit will make them work-appropriate. Perhaps you could weed out some the clothes you can’t wear to work, but don’t love enough to wear in the evenings or on weekends, and then start slowly adding in basics. Over the last few years, I’ve redone most of my wardrobe, but it was a slow process – just about every time I add something, I pull out an item or two to pass on to Goodwill. And since I mostly shop for classy pieces from discount stores, it hasn’t cost me too much!

  46. kerrita k. :

    also – eddie bauer has clothes for the hard to fit woman in professional cut, style (wrinkle resistant) and color – narrow – but very good for work. i am hard to fit: long arms, chesty, long legs, curvy hips and thighs. and their suits are about the only ones i can wear. they have great blouses in an array of colors as well. good luck! p.s. they are having a winter sale right now – so nice sweaters are good prices!
    :0)

  47. Although I found myself nodding in agreement with most of the comments, I’m not sure that this guy was trying to hint that her clothes are too sexy. It seems that in context, he was almost making a joke. She didn’t complain to him that other women don’t take her seriously, she was simply complaining about looking too young… I’m not quite sure why a male would seize on that comment as an opportunity to kindly tell her that she was dressing too sexy for the office. It really seems more like a female move.

    Nevertheless, it is highly likely that her all-Express wardrobe is too va-va-voom. I’m a little depressed that the advice is to go to Ann Taylor and become frumpier with shoes, makeup, etc…

    I really think that’s so unnecessary. For background, I’m 26 as well and constantly get mistaken for an intern/paralegal/non-attorney. Twenty-six is obviously young, but I have an incredibly youthful look (I too have been carded for R rated movies). But for the record, my female superiors (and non-superiors) at every single legal job that I’ve had have always complimented me on my clothing.

    So my advice: Be appropriate but don’t get suckered into being a frumpster. I would never dream of buying something at Ann Taylor (yeah I saw the article in the Times, and maybe it has gotten better) or Talbots, and you shouldn’t have to either (unless you want to). You can still wear super high heels if they’re a neutral color and not so obvious. In other words, if someone notices your heels first, they’re probably not professional enough… Don’t try to integrate 5″ bright blue heels into your work wardrobe if you’re having trouble with looking professional.

    On the other hand, I’m so sick of all the advice to wear things that don’t make people remember you for your clothing. YES IT IS POSSIBLE TO BE REMEMBERED FOR YOUR WORK AND YOUR SENSE OF (appropriate) STYLE.

    • Second this. I don’t know if Coco actually said it, or if it was just paraphrased in Working Girl — “Dress [shabbily/sharply — I forget which, but either word works], they notice the dress; dress impeccably, they notice the woman.”

      • Amendment to my post:

        I realize that deeming Talbots and Ann Taylor purveyors of frumpy clothes only is as problematic as believing that Express only sells sexy clothes.

        The best shopping attitude you can have, and consequently the one that will score you the best wardrobe, is to disregard stereotypes about the store/designer of origin. A cute and professional piece is just that, no matter what store you purchase it from.

    • Sorry, but I just have to say – it’s work, not a fashion show. If someone is viewing their office as a place to parade their latest cute-outfit triumph, they’re focusing on the wrong thing. We all like to look nice, but if someone is more invested in their outfits than they are in moving ahead in their organization, a career in fashion may be more advisable. I know a lot of people who work in clothing stores are interested in fashion – I wonder if the second job is more about a fashion interest than it is about making ends meet. In my experience, most people in a professional job – with careful budgeting – can manage to make ends meet with their primary job. When I see young women holding down a menial job alongside their professional one – I think two things. Either this girl could benefit greatly from some financial planning, or this girl has dreams that don’t involve the boring professional career, and she’s hedging her bets. Some sessions with a career coach might help if the problem is the latter.

      I agree with all the suggestions that Express is not a place to build a comprehensive work wardrobe. I would also like to suggest that there’s nothing “frumpy” about looking professional. Anyone who would equate the two has been reading too much Lucky Magazine, which is a fun little publication but not a good source of information for anyone looking to advance their career. (Ditto for Vogue, Elle, etc.) Unfortunately, if an outfit is boring but appropriate, no one will think twice about it. If an outfit is “fun” but also questionably professional, it can affect your career and how you’re perceived in the office. Personally, I’ll take the lifetime earnings boost and expanded opportunities I can gain from a positive perception in the office over wearing things that are “fun” and “not frumpy.” This is why women still don’t have parity with men in the workplace – too many of us spend too much time and energy on our appearance, and not on our work. And I say that as someone who loves clothes, makeup, etc. as much or more than the next person.

      • Somewhat Agree. If you are having a hard time looking professional, you should probably err on the side of boring.

        But I think that most women need to spend the energy on their appearance, within reason. I would note that lots of women who poured their energy into their career sometimes end up looking super terrible Unfortunately, these women are often still single and are longing for a mate and family. It becomes very difficult to undo years of not caring for oneself. It’s all about balance!

      • Original Poster :

        Amy: While I wrote a more general comment/thank you at the end of the comment section, I felt compelled to respond to you directly as you seemed to criticize me directly. Personal attacks are rather counterproductive when the question was one of wardrobe. If I didn’t want to be a lawyer I would not have spent $150K on my education. Fashion school is much less expensive.

        My pre-tax salary is $500/week, and I pay for my health insurance out of pocket. If you can plan a better budget on that, please enlighten me. I need a supplement to my income, not a financial planner. I recognize that the Ann Taylors and Banana Republics are better choices for my weekend job, but please do not question my career motives as a whole.

        • Then I will revise my comment. The financial planning should have come before you spent $150K to get a $500/wk job. I brought home more than $500/wk in my first job out of college, with a bachelor’s degree and one $2,000 student loan to pay off. Did no one explain to people how damn much money $150,000 is, how long it takes to pay off a $150,000 loan, or how much that was going to cost monthly? Our mortgage is less than that, and we have 30 years to pay it off. I hope prospective law students reading this particular post will pull one useful piece of information out, which is – if you’re going to spend $150,000 to go to school, make damn sure there’s a job waiting for you at the end of it that will enable you pay the loans off without having to moonlight on the side!

          • Anonymous :

            Wow, way to totally lay in to a stranger on the internet, there.

            And no, this is not the OP.

            Have you seen the news lately? Have you heard about this financial crisis thing we have going on? I’d bet good money (and I’m not a gambling woman) that the OP never imagined she’d be working a $500/week job back when she started law school.

            I’m (not) sorry, but I call foul.

          • Oof. I take it you don’t know any recent law school grads. It took my friend close to a year to find a job because firms kept dissolving right after he got an interview — and he went to Stanford. Now he’s making peanuts for the state. Sounds like the OP graduated the same year I did (’08) and right into the same mess of an economy. I’m just working as a legal assistant/law clerk at the moment (California bar exam, how I hate you), but I guess I’ll count myself lucky that I too make $500/week!

          • Yeah 2 years ago, when I went to law school, people were getting 30K a summer jobs after second year, and 90% of grads from my school were getting 160k a year jobs. Now I’m a 2L and that job, which was guaranteed, is not. So please, I’m sure the OP has enough anxiety about paying off the loans without your two cents.

    • Why is it always necessary to explain that dressing professionally =/= frumpy? I think that if you go back and re-read all of the posts above, you’ll see that they say to dress so that the words evoked by your professional attire are “elegant” “classic” and “feminine” …definitely NOT frumpy.

      Unfortunately being a “Corporette” requires dressing the part, which is why lots of women here recommend particular stores that do a good job of catering to working professional women. As a young attorney myself, I think it is absolutely important that my attire instill in my superiors and clients a sense of confidence in my abilities, and that they are not instead thinking about some possibly questionable wardrobe choice. If you disagree or think that the “Corporette” wardrobe is too restrictive that’s fine, but consider the potential career ramifications of not meeting your field’s expectations for attire (it’s unfair but your appearance will be used for/against you in promotions and future hiring).

      I think that if you are being mistaken for an intern that you are likely not dressing appropriately–no matter how “young” your face is. Unless there are very well dressed interns at your office, I doubt they are wearing wool suits, crisp button-downs, sensible heels, pearls, modest stud earrings, silk shells, or cashmere sweaters (to list some things that are established as appropriate for business formal). Rather, it’s likely the interns are wearing “starter” suits in synthetic fabrics with stretch, synthetic fabric tops, bigger fashion jewelry, and maybe more makeup?

      Not only is it possible for you to convey a more professional look, as a young attorney I think it is absolutely necessary for your career. You don’t want your clients looking at you wondering if they should ask you to get them coffee, you don’t want them wondering if you have the smarts to handle their important case. A proper wardrobe will help combat some of the prejudices your superiors/clients might have about your young age, but an inappropriate wardrobe will only enhance or serve to confirm those prejudices.

      • Wow, I’ve got to turn off the e-mail notification of comments. I’ve never commented on this blog before but I am clearly addicted…

        Not sure if the “I think that if you are being mistaken for an intern that you are likely not dressing appropriately–no matter how “young” your face is.” is directed at my post.

        But for the record, I do wear wool suits, silk shells, cashmere sweaters. I do not and probably will never wear crisp button downs. Like I said, all my female superiors have commented on how much they love what I wear. And it’s probably because I’m able to walk the fine line between professional and fashionable. I just think that too often people are so quick to recommend going frump because they can’t take the time/don’t have the skills to actually dress professional and fashionable.

        I still look young, and you’ll note that other posters who are well into their 30s and 40s have commented that sometimes you can’t change a youthful look.

    • Amen. I’m so tired of seeing women in my office dressing in boring navy blue and black suits. You can be very professional AND be stylish and feminine. Remember that we’re women, ladies, and no one will forget that. So why not dress in color, wear jewelry, and wear skirts and dresses once in a while, as long as they are professional?

      I’m not a fan of AT or Talbots either. Supposedly both of the stores have changed their lines but I still think a lot of their stuff looks like they are for older women. My go to places are Banana and Nordstrom, which I think offer very contemporary, modern and stylish clothing that is not at all frumpy.

  48. stop shopping at Express! agree with everyone above that most things there are just plain innapropriate for the office

  49. I imagine that this problem can be solved by incorporating some of what you already own (from Express) and slowly adding in higher quality and professional wear. I’m not sure I have anything much to add that hasn’t already been said above, except to say that I sympathize. Within my first couple months at work while I was still figuring everything out and building my wardrobe, I was told essentially the same thing, only in a much more direct and less kind way.

    I imagine that if you’re working a second job, you don’t have a lot of extra money to purchase “investment pieces”. That’s okay. Please don’t feel like you have to jump straight into buying $600 suits. Many stores carry professional wear at cheaper prices — even Target, once you know what you’re looking for. It might take awhile to find the happy medium, but you will. You might be able to use a lot of what’s already in your closet by adding things that are slightly more conservative. For example, rather than abandoning the fitted and low cut button downs, try pairing them with a sweater vest. Even Old Navy carries sweater vests, I think! A blazer helps add authority to almost any style.

    When I read this letter, it made me think of how I can immediately identify the young women who work in marketing at my law firm. They are approximately my age, but they are immediately distinguishable from me and the other young female associates. It’s hard to articulate exactly how that is, but it’s what’s happening to you. The female associates are not all “frump” but we’re far from “trendy”. The marketing gals tend to be very trendy and it looks young. That’s what makes this blog so great, imho — it’s all about how to incorporate a little bit of the trendy without crossing the line into inappropriate.

    The key, I think, is to learn how to incorporate trendy, youthful attire into an otherwise classic and conservative wardrobe. The truth is that it’s easy to pull off a cheap Target sweater — or maybe even some of Express’ tops, assuming they aren’t too low cut — when you pair it with a Classiques Entier skirt. A little bit of trendy goes a long way.

    • That’s so true about marketing vs. lawyers. The marketing women wear knee high boots and more trendy clothing. They look fine but they don’t look like lawyers.

  50. The biggest problem for me to figure out was that we aren’t supposed to look like TV lawyers- they are all ridiculously good looking w/ perfect bodies and Express style suiting is what is usually shown.
    And don’t look to Sarah Palin or Hilary Clinton either.
    The best examples, since all offices are different, is to look at the women in your office who are 10 years senior to you. Still young, but professional.

  51. Original Poster :

    I am the one who originally asked this question of Corporette. Thank you so much for all of your insight, it is very helpful. I will answer some of your questions that seemed to be recurring themes:

    1. Can I ask/observe co-workers: I am the only female attorney in the office, and I am the youngest of ALL employees (attorney and support staff) by 14 years. Yes, this is a problem in and of itself and the work environment is rather challenging as a result. While I would like to ask the opinion of a female co-worker, I do not have one. That is why I came to all of you!

    2. Brooks Brothers/Ann Taylor/JCrew: Love those stores, but thank you to those who recognized that as a litigator, I am forced to have two jobs (and still qualify for economic hardship deferment on my loans). Not quite financially ready to shop at those places yet, but I will apply to Ann Taylor. Great idea to take out the guess work altogether. Who wants a discount?

    3. Can I ask my friends: I did. I asked a point-blank, be-honest-even-if-it-kills-you question to my (male and female) friends, ages 26-38. The women shop at Banana and JCrew. My friends see how I dress and were surprised by what my Of Counsel said, which was why I came here!

    4. The stereotype of Express is 100% valid, but please give me some credit. I read Corporette, after all. I know that one should not wear painted-on pants (I do buy a size up), show cleavage (buy-one-get-one camisoles!), or wear fake/chunky jewelry (see below). I got the job at this firm, so I must not have looked “too sexy” during the interview process. I never thought to take a closer look at fabric, though. I really like that idea.

    5. Dark-rimmed glasses and pearls: I got this one right! I wear these every day (I’m rather blind and the pearls were from my late grandmother). I’m on the right track! I’ll keep it up.

    Thanks again.

    • Your attitude rocks. I think it is difficult to open yourself up to potential criticism and even more difficult to take said criticism (even constructive!) in stride and be positive. It is very refreshing :)

      • LawyerMomof2 :

        Agree w/Anon re: how gracious and responsive you were to what was sometimes harsh feedback. You sound like a lovely person to be friends with or work with!

        • I agree completely. I think the sheer volume of responses to the OP would have made many women defensive. Congrats to Original Poster for being so mature and- dare I say?- Corporettesque.

    • Legally Brunette :

      OP, I loved reading your post. It sounds like you have a really good head on your shoulders and are very receptive to feedback. Reading some of these posts, I think some people were unduly harsh, but hopefully you realize that we’re all here to help each other and that the suggestions are coming from a good place. Good luck!

      ps: Sign me up for the AT discount! ;)

    • Just a quick note of encouragement to OP (given after I read your post below about your weekly salary). I started out (15 years ago now) in much the same straits–working at a low paying law firm, and working at AT on the side for the discount, and worrying a lot about student loans. It will get much, much easier as you advance in your career. I’m proud of myself that I got through those first few years, eventually got a job at a larger law firm that would not have hired me straight out of school, and built a solid career. It can be very discouraging when you are starting out (especially in this economy) and wondering just why exactly you went to law school when you see friends making the same money or more with just an undergraduate degree. It can, and likely will, get much better for you. In the meantime, try to get a job at JCrew or AT on the side instead of Express–you may as well put your discount to the best possible use. Good luck!

    • When I was first starting out in my career in the corporate arena, I was very self-conscious of looking too young, so I overcompensated by wearing suits, suits, suits. I had a part-time job at Talbots and it was by far the best decision I ever made. It was a way to get much better quality pieces then if I had worked any place else. So I support the notion of perhaps looking for a part-time position with a different retailer. Additionally, as an attorney, might you have a local bar association that offers mentoring programs or networking events? That may be a great place to find other women attorneys that could be good resources for your career as a whole, not just the fashion. I agree with other posters on fit and fabric. A button down shirt is a staple, but not if it’s too bright, too shiny, too tight, or to bizarre. I’m not saying that’s what you wear, I’m sure you don’t, but think of this as your time to “upgrade.” Buy merino instead of acetate, pants with a lining, ideas like that.
      And finally, I was told I look like Rose Byrne, the actress who plays Ellen on Damages, the FX show. Her character is a young attorney. Her clothes are very flattering, but very subdued and classic.
      OK, really, final point-how’s your hair, makeup and nails? Change outs for nude nails, neutral makeup and elegant hair could make all the difference:) Good Luck!!!

    • With your budget, I’d suggest trying to go to the outlets. A lot of the clothing in BR and AT outlets really are reasonably price. In fact, this weekend the AT Outlet is having 40% off the entire store and BR outlet also has similar sales.

  52. Does anyone out there remember Congresswoman Bella Abzug? She was known for her wide brimmed hats. She explained that she started wearing hats because, as a young woman lawyer representing labor unions (as do I), she needed “presence”. 30 years ago I was young looking and short to boot (5′ 1″). ALWAYS wearing a jacket, standing up straight, and taking control was very effective and I was never mistaken for an intern or secretary. It is possible to have personal style (like hats or vintage suits) and still look professional.

    • Delta Sierra :

      Bella was da bomb. I love when people develop their own trademarks, like the hats. And Madeline Albright’s message brooches. One gathers that brooches are supposed to be old-lady now, but tough, I love ’em. I have a big collection of soft scarves, too, not getting any younger, I like a little neck coverage.

  53. I have lived mostly in places where the shopping was limited, Express was one of the “higher end” stores available, and I couldn’t afford to be shopping online at better stores and sending back the stuff that didn’t fit right. So everyone wore Express to work, it seemed.

    I think you can pull of Express sparingly, with a lot of balance by high-end materials. I found a lined, wool work pant at Express some months ago, and bought a size bigger than I am, so it hangs straight instead of being fitted. It’s part of my regular rotation, along with an older, lined black blazer I’ll wear on more casual summer days with the sleeves cuffed. But I pair it all with cashmere sweaters, simple *real* jewelry, and neutral hair/makeup.

    I work with mostly older men as well (and I also look young and have been called “girl” and “blondie” before at other jobs), and make sure I keep a no-nonsense attitude when dealing with them, saving the chatter and fun for my female colleagues. The women compliment my dressing, the men tell me I work too hard and that I’m making them look lazy, the director of our agency comes to me when he needs something done well and quickly, and I was recently introduced as one of the best employees of the entire place by one of the top men. I feel I am perceived as professional, and that’s how it should be. If I wear Express – if you wear Express – because of availability or price, no one should be able to tell but you. Pay sharp attention to fit, go for natural materials when they have them, don’t be afraid to size up for a more professional look, and make sure it’s all fully lined and fully covered.

  54. Sounds to me like the older counsel may be a bit clueless in terms of tact, but that he was trying his best to assist his colleague in a problem that she had presented to him. During the first year I practiced law, I too would get questions from clients to the effect of ‘just how old are you’? I switched from contacts to glasses in an effort to look more authoritative, and it seemed to work. It may be that I also also gained confidence and therefore presented myself with more authority. Another potential suggestion, call a large expensive story such as Nordstroms that has a lot of clothers for women professionals and make an appointment with a personal buyer – and tell the buyer what your issue is, and that you are looking for one or two pieces that will help address it and more going forward as your salary increases, loan amounts decrease etc.. Go in to the store in one of your going-to-court outfits, and ask the buyer for an honest critique as a starting point. None of us on the board can see you, and therefore our advice may be falling short of answering your issue. Failing that , time should take care of it – I am happily back n my contacts.

  55. Chicago K :

    Second that your attitude rocks – I am not entirely sure I would be able to get through all those comments if I were the original poster!

    Let me take a different spin, knowing that you work with all men. I work in banking, in an all male department. And I have heard comments from them saying, “You dress too nice, you put the rest of us to shame!” I buy everything from the suggested places of Ann Taylor, Banana and J. Crew. In fact, almost exclusively so. I wear pearls because I love them, not just because they are in this season. Given my experience with my male coworkers, It could just be that 1) They have little idea what professional looks like if not frumpy 2) They don’t dress as nice as you and they don’t know how to without it feeling “over the top.”

    Do the men in the office have any style? In my office, they certainly don’t and I do stick out a bit being female, young, and dressing well. I would never in a million years take fashion advice from them…and while I don’t want to make myself feel “better than them” or some much, I attend to keep dressing the way I like too. Which is professional, classic and classy.

    It seems you dress that way too…and it may be entirely correct that this guy might just not know what he’s talking about!

  56. Agree with the comment about women from the marketing dept – it may be that even though you are not wearing any single clearly inappropriate item, the overall look is just a little more form-fitting and a little more dressy than is typical for female attorneys. The stylish women lawyers I know seem to incorporate one stylish item in anotherwise business-like outfit, while the marketing personnel have several “look at me” items on. One colorful blazer, shiny shirt or dangly set of earrings = fun, all three may come across as trying too hard / caring about form and not substance.

    I also looked much younger than my age when I started. In addition to the great advice already posted, I recommend not smiling too often or too quickly. It makes you appear eager to please and therefore young.

  57. Is it not possible that this guy is just not a very good dresser himself/doesn’t want to have to dress too formally, and here is this young whippersnapper in suits and dressy clothing making him look bad??

  58. I work in a large law firm known for being a little quirky. Style is fine, but it only works if executed with modesty. Some simple rules for looking conservative without being plain:

    *If you can see the bottom curve of your bum, the pants are too tight.

    *The shortest skirts should be just at the knee. A pleat is ok, a slit is not. If you insist on a slit, it must be an overlap slit, not a V.

    *More shoe than foot.

    *One unusual item (fancy bracelet, brightly colored shoes, funky belt, fun nail polish) per outfit. Only one.

    *Nothing that looks like underwear: no lacy camis, no spaghetti straps.

    *Top button can always be open. The second button can sometimes be open. The third button is only open for playing sexy secretary.

    *No armpits. No toes (unless you’re really sure that a peep-toe is ok).

    *Nude bras. White undershirts. I shouldn’t see evidence of your bra but I should know that it’s not your skin under that shirt.

    • If anything, the outline of an undershirt sounds more revealing than someone’s attempt to imagine that there is skin under your shirt. :)

      • I guess for me this comes into play when I’m wearing a see through shirt over dark pants and the waistband of the pants is slightly visible through the shirt or when the pocket or placket of a white shirt makes it obvious that the fabric is a little transparent. I want someone to know that they’re not, in fact, seeing through my shirt.

        I absolutely agree with you though where the situation is one in which I’d essentially be advertising my undergarments.

  59. Re: OP’s #2 above — you could try AT Loft, esp their sale sections — just need to be careful not to get anything too casual (and unfortunately, with spring/summer approaching, it may quickly get too casual).. But I’ve found some good, appropriate pieces there, at much lower price points than AT, B Bros, etc. Also, I don’t find BR too expensive when you shop their sales — give it a shot and see if you can find something!

    • Unfortunately ATL has gone ultra casual this season. I can’t remember seeing anything in there that would be remotely appropriate at work. It’s all cargo pants/distressed jeans, glittery t-shirts, and short skirts. Hopefully it will improve because I’ve found lots of work-appropriate clothes there for <$20 on the sale racks in the past.

      • Yeah, agree. It’s unfortunate the direction they’re going in, but sometimes they have more stuff online that looks a bit better.

  60. *BR = Banana Republic

  61. Depending on Of Counsel’s age and your practice/geographic areas, when he says “frumpy” he may have the image of a much older female attorney in mind. When I used to work in family law in a semi-rural suburb, all the female attorneys were older and wore suits with boxy silhouettes, definitely tending towards the frumpy. If you’re the only female attorney in your office, he may simply not be used to working with someone younger and more fashion-forward. Just an optimistic thought!

  62. Pinkrobot :

    Amy–
    Anon #152++
    OP++
    Education is an investment in yourself, generally a very safe and sound one. but like all investments, it carries risk.

    there is no such thing as a ‘sure’ job post school now, except maybe the military.

  63. Dear Original Poster & Friends,

    Some insight: so that you can see I can relate to your message.

    I am 32 and constantly am mistaken for being in my early 20’s. While my female friends remind me to be grateful, my appearance makes it is a constant challenge to earn respect and the assigned wisdom/knowledge/experience that comes with age. To boot, I’m large-chested. I look far from the business “type.” I can see that it would be hard to take someone who looks like me seriously.

    Now, for the advice:
    Your message reads that you’re doing everything right from a fashion perspective. Kudos!

    My advice to earn the respect and overcome the “young” stereotype: Fight for opportunities and seek out opportunities to prove your worth as a viable resource. I’ve done this and continue to experience positive results. I’ve gained exposure with work colleagues, during which I’ve communicated my age and prior work experience. They have come to rely on me and trust my knowledge, and (in most cases) the stereotype has been put to rest. As a result, I’ve built a reputation that supersedes my appearance.

    Best wishes for continued success!

  64. Based on the Of Counsel’s actual comments and the OP’s additional post above, I have a differnt interpretation of his comments. It sounds like, by telling her she dresses like the guy w/ the pinky ring or whatever (i.e., too cheesy), and given that OP says she does wear pearls, and suits several times a week, I think he was trying to tell her NOT that she was dressing too “sexy” but that maybe she is trying too hard / looks a bit like she’s wearing her mother’s clothes.

    Just an additional perspective, this could be off too, but I don’t get any of the “too-sexy” vibe from his comments, and it seems like the other posters are only picking that up because of the side job at Express. So – OP – maybe dressing more grownup is not the answer, the answer is instead finding some way to dress your age and not look like you’re trying too hard to dress in a way that’s not ‘you’.

    Hope this helps..

    And btw — meant to post this earlier — seriously, C, linking to a page on sexual harassment? Really? His comments didn’t even come close to that, IMO, and it’s unfortunate that men have to tread sooooo gently just to provide friendly advice to an employee, when they came to him in the first instance for the advice! No wonder men are (sometimes) scared to say anything to a younger female employee, for fear of anything out of their mouths being labeled harassment!

    • Agreed. I didn’t at all pick up a sexual harassment vibe from the description of the conversation. It sounded more as though he was trying awkwardly to be helpful, while trying to be really careful to avoid saying anything that could be construed as offensive. Since there’s no other older women in the office to give her this type of feedback, he couldn’t ask someone else to give her feedback, which is what I usually see happen when there’s an issue with someone’s clothing.

      More importantly, I think the attitude of always looking for potential sexual harassment in interactions that are awkward for other reasons can really put a damper on the ability of an older man to give well-meant constructive feedback to a younger woman.

      • My thoughts exactly. The comments did not seem directed at “too sexy” as much as “too much.” Relax, dress your style–in an appropriate business fashion of course, and try NOT to look like you are trying too hard.

  65. Texas Law Chick :

    I also look very young for my age and have a very young sounding voice. I was once told by a more senior woman partner (not in my section) who was frumpy, that I needed to downplay my looks so that people would take me more seriously. Someone later asked why I was so serious all the time at work when they ran into me in a social setting. You can’t win trying to please everyone. Since then, I have learned to embrace my looks and my personal style. I found that when I was comfortable with what I was wearing and with my demeanor, clients were too. Being the only woman in my section paid off as clients wanted to work with me instead of with the frumpy boys. The biggest piece of advice I have for you is keep your current style but absolutely make sure that you are the best and brightest. Your appearance (whether you get noticed for your age or your style) will bring clients to you, but they will stay with you if you back it up with sharp legal skills and strong work ethic. Once they like working with you, they won’t notice your age or your clothes.

    • Chicago K :

      Great advice!

      I get a lot of conflicting responses from people at work too…”Gee, you are so quiet” “My goodness, you are too social!” “Too serious” is another one I get. You can’t always win, but confidence trumps all of them, IMO.

  66. Two things I wish I had learned 20 years ago:

    1. When you ask a man for advice, or tell him you have a problem, he often feels obligated to provide advice or a way to fix the problem, whether or not he actually is secure in what he is saying. It is part of the charm of the men in our lives. The trick is to consider the advice on its merits. Maybe it is valuable; maybe he just couldn’t bring himself to say “I honestly don’t know.” That is not a criticism of men. It is part of their charm — and part of the reason I take my problems to them. At least I know I may actually get a solution set.

    2. The hardest situation professionally is to be the only woman in an office, or the only young woman in an office. I have been in one or the other category for 25 years. Comments, jokes, and sarcastic put downs about you being yourself will make you think you need to act like a man. In your attempt not to smile so much, to be less cheerful, and not to say nice things about people — not to mention never to wear anything colorful or fashionable — you will slowly drive yourself mad. You will be miserable. And you will be sabotaging your career. The high quality men in your office appreciate women being women. I am finally at the top of my profession. I am still the only woman at staff meetings, but the men who used to make sarcastic comments about my “lack of gravitas” are now junior to me. My boss — an immensely powerful person — sent me a note at Christmas: “Thank you for brightening up the office and taking care of people around you.” Twenty years ago, I would have been offended. Now I know he appreciates me being me. Find a way to be your essential self.

  67. This might sound weird, but as another young woman (we’re the same age), what I have recently tried and found has made me look older is dying my hair. I have never dyed my hair (except for hot pink streaks in college) because I was always happy with my natural color. Recently on a whim I dyed my hair more natural colors, although you can tell that it’s not my natural hair. For some reason, I have had several people tell me that I look older this way.

  68. Maybe lay off the suits except when going to court and start wearing clothes slightly closer to business casual. Maybe something young yet professional like many of the cardigan-blouse-skirt-or-trouser styles in the recent J. Crew catalogs. Professional, modest, work appropriate, uses the wardrobe you already have, but mixes it up in a slightly younger, less formal trying-too-hard kind of way.

    Also, someone who says that in order to appear more professional I need to dress “frumpier” is not someone I’d be too quick to take specific fashion advice from.

  69. don't hate, it's true :

    She looks like she’s an intern because Express makes cheap, shitty internwear. I would probably mistake her for an intern or (if she looked older) a secretary, too.

    She doesn’t need clothes that are boxier — she needs something more sophisticated. She should look for items with rich, subtle textures, and should try some more mature jewelry (the requisite pearl of faux pearl studs would be fine).

    Brooks Brothers is a good recommendation, but their clothes *are* boxy. She could also do okay at Theory. Their silouettes are less dowdy but the fabrics and details impart some complexity that shitty shit clothes lack. For a splurge I would also try Ports.

  70. There seems to be a lot of confusion between “style” and fashion. I suspect that the original author of this thread has been paying more attention to what’s in fashion rather than trying to create an acceptable style. Fashion focuses on the trendy and “of the moment” looks and style focuses on the enhancement of one’s person with classical and tasteful garments and accessories. Another difference I’ve found between the two is that when dressing fashionable, the focus seems more on the clothing whereas when dressing stylishly, the focus is on the person in the clothes, the whole package.

  71. I don’t get it, why does she have to conform in the first place? Women have gone through alot to be able to get where we are today, although I value equality in the work place, a women should not have to sacrifice their femininity just to be able to compete with a man. I say were what your comfortable in as long as you get the job done its really no body’s business but your on what you where.

  72. I have been told that I do not look my age either. People assume that I am a secretary or interior designer. But it nevers occurs to them that I am the architect. Gender is also an issue, but that’s another conversation. Anyway, this is one reason why I have hesitated coloring my hair. I am probably 25% gray now. But I have noticed that the gray hair seems to help with my credibility. I have been a practicing architect for 18 years…I know what I am doing. But it seems to help…

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