The Power of Dressing for Yourself

Can you still dress for yourself if you’re “dressing for power”?  Today’s guest poster, Sally McGraw from Already Pretty, believes you can — and I think she’s got some great tips that we haven’t talked about before.  Welcome to Corporette, Sally! – Kat.  (Pictured: Power Girl, originally uploaded to Flickr by levork.)

Power Girl, originally uploaded to Flickr by levork.Most conversations about the power of dressing seem to center on sexuality and gender. Western society believes that if a woman is going to use clothing to express or enjoy her own power, she will do so either as a seductress or as an androgynous figure. She will flaunt her power by displaying her cleavage, hips, and legs, or she will dress in garments that echo traditionally male forms to blend in with her acceptably-powerful male peers. Both methods can be tweaked and manipulated to make them feel more personal and expressive, or to make them feel more appropriate for professional settings. Both methods are also effective and accepted, and both have value under certain circumstances. But I’d like to propose a third form of power dressing: Dressing for yourself.

Dressing for yourself isn’t easy. First off, it can be incredibly difficult to sort your own wants, needs, and tastes from the subtle but powerful influences of culture, peer pressure, and expectation. Second, what you want to wear and what you CAN wear are affected by your finances, body shape, and the availability of clothing that suits your needs. And finally, those of us who work in corporate and office environments are confined by dress codes, both formal and implied. But dressing for yourself allows you to access deep levels of self-confidence and creativity, helps you broadcast self-respect, centers you. Where seduction and androgyny can fail you, dressing for yourself often triumphs. And it CAN be done within strict professional confines. Here’s how:

Get sentimental
No, I don’t mean haul out your college sweatshirt and start wearing it to work. I mean start incorporating gifts, heirlooms, travel souvenirs, and other meaningful items into your outfits. If everything on your person was purchased for the express purpose of looking acceptably professional, you may feel capable but you’re unlikely to feel unique, inspired, and powerful. Your grandmother’s earrings, a skirt that your best friend gave you, platform pumps you bought in Paris will all boost your confidence and make you aware of your individuality.

Get colorful
Tory Burch pink square print silk scarfThe power of color is well-documented, and constitutes a fabulous shortcut to dressing for impact. Bold brights are the obvious choices for projecting power. Head-to-toe red may be impossible, but a blouse, scarf, or pump is surely possible. If yellow washes you out, try a belt or brooch in canary or citron. Cobalt is incredibly hot this season and looks amazing in patterns and accessories. And if punchy primaries aren’t your bag, try the jewel tones; They’re regal, royal, and fabulously flattering on many complexions. You may need to stick to chic neutrals for your suiting, but why not splash some empowering color into the outfit mix? It’s bound to make you feel invigorated and inspired.  (Pictured: Tory Burch pink square print silk scarf, available at Bluefly for $137 (was $195).)

Get sneaky
Dressing for power is all about emotion and perception. If you feel powerful, you will project an image of power. So imbue your choices with meaning. Those around you may just see a cuff bracelet, but if you look down at your own wrist and feel like you’re embracing your inner Wonder Woman, you’re halfway there. That updo may not look like much to others, but if it makes you feel graceful and focused, it’s a powerful sartorial tool. The pattern on your blouse may be meaningless to most, but if it reminds you of your favorite painting or photograph, it will motivate and stir you. Make decisions about your ensembles that are secretly meaningful, and you’ll feel all the more fabulous.

You may find that dressing for yourself overlaps with embracing sensual styles or androgynous looks. Or you may find that the wardrobe you’ve cultivated for your working life emanates power on its own simply because its yours, and it exists due to your hard work, ambition, and impeccable taste. But if you feel like the typical forms of power dressing fall flat, or that your current ensembles feel cold and uninspired, consider how you might start dressing more for yourself than for the expectations laid at your feet. Doing so may help you tap into untold stores of personal, creative, and professional power.

At least, that’s been my experience. What do you all think? What does it mean for a woman to dress powerfully? Does it mean projecting power toward the observing public, feeling powerful internally, or a mixture of the two? Do you consider either of the sex- and gender-centric power dressing methods I’ve described to be inappropriate? Ineffective? Ideal? What do YOU do to dress for yourself? Do you feel like it helps you project self-confidence when you do?


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  1. Africa is near and dear to my heart for many reasons. Nearly every day I wear a piece of jewelry I have gotten in Africa. Many of these came from markets, some were gifts of thanks…none are “typical” jewelry choices and I wear them in all settings…from the most conservative to the most trendy. Its for me and reminds me what is important.

  2. I love this post and the message it sends! Very thoughtprovoking and a way of thinking about personal style in a way that allows me to both live within the confines of the culture I work in, as well as dress for myself.

    Today I’m wearing black pants, a black, white and gray print sild top and a pair of red wedges. I feel professional, and cute, which is a great feeling!

    • Anonymous :

      Agreed. Great to see Kat’s still got “it.”

      • Unfortunately, this was a guest post from Sally McGraw of Already Pretty.

        • Why unfortunate? It is to Kat’s credit that she asked Sally to guest post and clearly agreed that the topic is important enough to highlight on her blog.

          • I say unfortunate not because Sally guest posted – I read Already Pretty everyday and have written to Sally for advice before – but because the previous commenter was under the impression that this was Kat’s writing.

  3. Sorry to start with a threadjack . . . .

    I am hosting a dinner for a group from work and catering from a taco truck (sounds weird, but I went to a party where this really worked). I’ll also have some fresh fruit and veggie trays. My question is how far should I take the theme? Serve sangria, margaritas and Corona or just generic beer and wine? Cupcakes or a tres leches cake and flan? I don’t want to be over the top, but want it all to work! TIA

    • Mmm, taco truck :

      I would go toward a nod toward theme without going all in: pitcher of sangria, but with your favorite beers and wine (but could choose some interesting wines from different regions).

    • I would definitely serve themed drinks. Probably dessert too.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Not weird at all. Taco trucks are awesome for parties. Offer Mexican beers (or maybe a variety of Central American beers?), and aguas frescas or Mexican coke (real sugar) for the DDs/non drinkers. Some of the fun cupcake shops offer tres leches type cupcakes, too. I think a variety of cupcakes including the usual tasty flavors, and one that nods towards the flavors of latinoamerica (tres leches, lime, mango?) would be cute.

      Sangria is Spanish, not Mexican. I’m sure you knew that :).

    • Definitely keep with the theme. Sounds like an awesome party!

    • anonymous :

      Include some well chilled Mexican beers with lime.

    • anon-oh-no :

      I’d go all in with the theme, but just dont decorate or anything like that to make it hokey. Sangria, margaritas and mexican beer taste better with that food.

    • I’d go all out. A pitcher of margaritas and chilled Coronas would go great with tacos. You can also make a non-alcoholic version.

    • I would go all out with the themed drinks and dessert. You could also carry that over to the fruit and veggies. In Mexico, I have had fruit bowls with the more tropical fruits (mango, guava, pineapple, also strawberry and different melons.) Then the vendor will add salt, honey, lime and/or chile powder. So good! Also jicama, roasted corn, peppers would be good veggies have that are keeping with the theme. Sounds fun!!

    • Mexican Hot Chocolate cupcakes! You can even use a chocolate cake mix and add cinnamon and cayenne to the batter. I usually frost with cream cheese frosting, but buttercream or chocolate – or even dulce de leche – would work well too.

    • I just catered a mixer at an upscale law firm and we had a “Salsa Bar”. It went over fabulously. We served several types of chips and a half dozen types of salsa from sweet mango to super spicy. We also had a chef making hand made guacamole. We served several types of Mexican beer with limes, lemons and oranges. This was a huge hit and a I heard lots of comments about how the guests had never seen a party like this.

  4. I love this post as well. I’ve been doing this for years, especially with jewelry, but had never articulated it in this way.

  5. Diana Barry :

    This is a great post. I think I have always dressed for myself, but I used to worry about it more and second guess myself – should I wear my flats even though everyone else is wearing heels? do I mind that I don’t have pierced ears?

    Now I own how I dress and feel more powerful as a result. I would add one thing – when I am in an important meeting I put on dramatic lipstick- usually red. It definitely adds to my self-perception in a powerful way!

    • Can I ask how you found the right red for you? I can’t seem to find one that doesn’t make me feel like I’m pretending to be a grownup. I have very pale skin so maybe that has something to do with why I feel the way I do. Reds are very dramatic on me.

      • Diana Barry :

        I tried several – the “sheer” reds just looked funny. Prescriptives used to have a red called “intriguing” that was really a pure red. I loved that color! I try to get as close to true red as possible. I can’t wear blue red since I have pale but warm coloring, but at the same time I don’t want it to look orange. The one I have now is “red lizard” NARS.

        If you are very pale like Nicole Kidman, you might do better with a blue red, or a sheerer red. Maybe you could try a bunch of shades with your hand and then walk outside to see how they look? The lighting in Sephora, etc., is often terrible for seeing how colors really look in natural light. If you know your skin undertones, that will help as well.

        • Thanks for the feedback! I’m pale with pinkish undertones. I have such a hard time finding makeup that works since everything looks a little orange on me. I have finally found that combining two different covergirl foundations works for me (after trying literally every foundation in sephora). Red lipstick is one of the things I just haven’t gotten right yet but I’d like to have it as an option.

          • Diana Barry :

            You might do very well with bluer reds, then! :)

          • I have your coloring and am personally OK with a bright red mouth, but when I’m not feeling it, I go with Laura Mercier Sheer Lipstick in Healthy Lips (a pinky red) or Tender Lips (an earthy red.) They are about halfway to a red lip and are really flattering.

          • I swear by Medieval sheer red, by Lipstick Queen. I’m the sort who looks best in blues and horrid in yellows.

      • Accountress :

        You might be surprised with dramatic reds. I decided one day that I wanted to have a bright red lipstick, so I went to MAC and got their classic- Ruby Woo. Online, I had read about women thinking they looked like a clown the first time they wore it. The make-up professional even warned me, “This is going to be really bright, so you might not like it right away.”

        And you know what? I have never had a lipstick that looks so perfect on me. My skin is the kind that matches closer to pinks than anything tan or white, and I rock this lipstick.

        My rec for reds: find a celebrity that has your complexion and skin tone, and look for pictures of them wearing a red you think looks good on them. Bring the picture to a make-up counter, try on a red that matches the celeb, and wear it around the mall for a few hours. Check out your reflection in every available surface, and by the end of the day you’ll be used to seeing yourself in it. If you like what you’ve been seeing all day, go back and buy it!

        If you’re concerned about the drama, I’ve found that balancing it out by only wearing a brown eyeliner and some mascara can make it look less like I went playing in my mum’s make-up box.

      • I went to the MAC counter with my sister and just told the saleslady that I wanted a red. She pulled out a couple and put them on me. I ended up getting their Viva Glam Gaga red. According to the saleslady it works on a variety of skintones. I decided to go to MAC because I figured they have so many reds it would lessen the chance of the salespeople pushing one just to make a sale. It seemed to help, because two of the ones I tried on she immediately said “nope, not working for you”. My sister was the back-up so I wouldn’t end up with something that doesn’t work.

        Overall, I’d say go matte instead of shiney, because the shiney ones tend to look a little clowny to me. Also, I find with red there’s a certain amount of just having to own that yes, it’s bright, and yes, it’s noticeable, but it looks fabulous and that there’s nothing wrong with being noticeable.

        • MissJackson :

          I have to admit that I’m still struggling with the “own that yes, it’s bright, and yes, it’s noticeable” part. I found a red that I think works well for my skin tone (pink undertones) eyes (bright blue), and hair (light auburn) — it’s a smidge toward blue, but it’s close to a true red. I occasionally wear it on the weekend, and about a year ago decided to wear it to the office. I went to one meeting where I could actually feel the partner staring at my lips (not in a sexual way – I really think he was just distracted), and I was practically squirming in my chair. I did not feel powerful.

          I wonder if I had started off wearing bold colors if it would have been different. But I rarely wear lip color at all, so it must have appeared to be massive change. I suppose that if I had stuck with it eventually everyone would have gotten used to it!

    • Last night at the grocery store, I saw a girl wearing bright red lipstick, and y’all, she looked fabulous. She had short curly brown hair, pale (as opposed to tan) skin, and the red just popped. I’m now kicking myself – I should’ve told her she looked great! It made me want to try this too.

  6. This is exactly what I do. I try to pick up earrings or necklaces when I travel – or even just a local fair. Whenever I wear them I think about that trip or who I was with when I bought it. Pretty much all my work jewlery is sentimental, except maybe a few random pieces from Forever 21 or H & M.

    • I do exactly the same thing. I budget for shopping when I travel and buy jewelry and “home decor” items, so my personal style has a lot of history and personality. Of course, I round it out with mass market items since I haven’t traveled that much yet.

      • This. I wear a sterling collar most days and have some different organic pendant on it … made from rocks, fossils, gemstones from my travels. Signature piece? Yes. One that changes from day to day? You bet! Memories? Timeless.

  7. Great post. Especially thinking about the BR Mad Men discussion going on in the earlier thread today – one person’s sexism is another person’s personal style.

    • But how people respond to you matters. For example, if you dress like a modern day Joan in a typical, conservative male-dominated office that’s probably not the right impression to create.

      • I’ve never watched the show so I can’t comment on specific characters, but yes, I agree that there is a strong caveat of “know your audience.” I do think, however, that incorporating some elements of the style within the standard professional boundaries, even in a conservative male-dominated office, is totally fine.

      • But Joan is a problematic example to use. If you look closely at her work stylings, the clothing choices themselves are rather conservative. The vavoom factor comes from the attitude and the tailoring. When you see Joan’s clothes on Peggy, its downright frumpy. Dial the tailoring and maneating attitude back ever so little, and you still have a rather conservative, powerful impression left behind. And that, is exactly what you need to survive a male-dominated atmosphere.

  8. For me, dressing in a way that makes me feel confident is necessary but not sufficient — my style choices also need to convey power/authority to the appropriate audience. However, within those boundaries, I find plenty of freedom for personal style preferences and items that are secretly significant.

  9. I’ve always dressed for myself. I’ve been to the blog author’s blog before and have been to Minneapolis. I have to say that much of her advice is not relevant to me because people tend to dress more informally in the Midwest.

    • Speaking as someone from the Midwest (Twin Cities specificially) this sounds rather smug. I’ve lived and still spend alot of time on the East coast, and while my dark conservative suits come out to play most often out there, they still get a significant amount of wear here. Just depends on your field wherever you are. As for Sal’s advice, I think she has many messages that go beyond pure fashion tips, making her relevant wherever you are.

      • Anonymous Poser :

        Yes, a lot of her blog has to do with self-image (especially, though not limited to, body image), and in line with that, conversations about what works for you are encouraged.

        I live in the hot, hot South, and I only *wish* I could wear what she wears in the summer months, but I get a lot out of her blog. May not be everyone’s cup of tea, though…

    • Yeah, I like her blog but not her fashion advice. I think it works great for the audience where she lives and works, in the Twin Cities. But her style choices would be super inappropriate in anything but the most informal, hippie nonprofit in DC. Since I work at a giant, non-hippie nonprofit, it wouldn’t fly. I think that if you read fashion blogs you have to be aware that every blogger is writing for a particular audience and you may not be part of it. Periodically commenters on this blog will complain that everything is too conservative and formal – well, that’s the audience for this blog, and that’s why I read it more than I read Already Pretty. You can’t please everyone all the time.

      • Completely agree her style wouldn’t work in 98% of DC. But in defense of our fashion sense here in flyover land, I’d say it wouldn’t fly in 90% of Twin Cities professional environments either….but it does inspire me to get more *a little* more creative in my weekend wardrobe.

        • I didn’t mean to imply that her style ideas were bad fashion sense, just that styles are regional. I’ve never been to the Twin Cities, but I’m originally from Denver and most of her outfits would qualify as dressed up out there.

      • I think some of her outfits would be perfectly appropriate for my DC (well, okay, Bethesda) federal office, but many would be too formal, actually. People would wonder why you were so dressed up.

        I like the Already Pretty blog for giving me ideas about new ways to combine items I already own, new color combinations, and the really inspired tip about moleskin for hurty shoes. I don’t copy the outfits completely, but they do give me ideas that I can then adapt to make appropriate for my office.

  10. I love Sally and “Already Pretty” and am so excited she wrote this post for Corporette! I definitely believe in dressing for yourself.

    While I don’t work at a “corporate business attire” job, I do have to dress professionally. However, I ALWAYS dress for my taste and personality, too. It can definitely be done!

    • I think Sally’s great too. Even if her looks don’t work for you, her philosophy is something to remember every day.

  11. Young and female :

    Timely post, as I’m contemplating what to wear to our biggest tradeshow of the year! I also just returned from a trip that involved giving a big presentation to all of my older, male colleagues. I ended up in a grey sheath, black pumps, and simple silver/pearl bead necklace. I’m not normally one to stress when it comes to packing for trips, but I’m starting to travel more for work, and finding that each time I pull out the suitcase, I have a huge debate. Heels for authority vs. flats for comfort/lifting luggage/walking to destinations? Dress for femininity vs. pants for functionality/”one of the boys”?
    On that note, I really like reading what the female engineers/finance/other male-dominated fields wear… it gives me some ideas! I’m definitely still exploring what “dressing for myself” means, as I love the traditional power look of a suit, bright shirt, and black heels, but that’s not always functional for my position.

    • I work with basically all men who are in their 50s and 60s. Unfortunately, I never feel like I fit in–how could I? I also have a distinct lack of examples from women, whether older than I am or my own age, because there are just so few of us in this field. So I feel very much on my own deciding how to dress.

      At 29, here’s my tentative answer: low heels or wedges to make up for my petite-ness, a little bit, without looking like I’m trying too hard. Skirts and dresses because they tend to fit me better than dress pants, but of course nothing too cute. A button-up shirt or blazer most of the time. Hair that doesn’t convey a lot of effort but doesn’t get in my face. Makeup because I prefer it, but nothing dramatic. Understated jewelry, but it usually carries some personality because nothing else in my outfit does! Good luck. I wish it was simple.

    • lostintranslation :

      I work in an all-male environment that puts the casual in (business) casual, and I basically wear variations of this: (I’m half a foot taller than her but we have basically the same figure otherwise).

      Yes yes the skinny jeans aren’t office appropriate, but I pulled this as an example of a combination of subtle shoes and accessories that look very put together and feminine without being flashy. It all depends on your personality and position in your office, but something like this gets me “you look very nice today,” and NOT “uhhh…. your necklace…. the chains… they look like they could be used in a jail for pretty people…” (for a particular statement necklace I have).

      Another place I look to for color combos are preppy lines like Ralph Lauren, because they pair pretty feminine colors with more unisex shapes (oxford shirts, trousers, etc.). This wasn’t a given for me, because I wouldn’t really refer to myself as preppy. Maybe a little boring, but it works for me :)

    • Research, not Law :

      When packing for business travel, I go with one color palette. Increases versatility with the same amount of stuff. So I’ll bring two pairs of shoes; slip-on flats for travel and days on my feet and heels for dinners and sit-down days. Etc. I dress for functionality and comfort on travel days and go more fashionable on the other days.

      My luggage typically contains two pairs of shoes, two slacks (one with a little stretch, one lined), a sheath, a camisole, a cardigan, a light sweater or blouse, a blazer (that works with the sweater/blouse), and a shawl. I usually bring some subtle jewelry and a statement necklace. I’ve personally found that combo allows for comfort on a plane through dressy drinks and fits in a carry-on.

      I’m more comfortable in pants, but I think dresses are definitely appropriate. I have a curvy figure, so even my pants are quite feminine. I never try to dress like one of the boys. As Monday said, you’re not going to look like the guys, and that’s okay. They know you’re female and females dress differently. :)

      I also agree with Monday that I actually feel much freer to dress however I want when I’m exclusively with male colleagues. I don’t feel pressure to be inline with other women. I never wonder, “are they going to dress up or down for drinks?” I’ve often made quick changes (another advantage of the single palette!) after spying female colleagues en route. Men’s wardrobes don’t change dramatically, so I can set the tone however I want.

      • Young and female :

        That’s a good point about setting the tone, as sometimes the wives come to the conferences and join us for dinners. I always feel a little weird in an ill-fitting company polo, pants, and flats, when the wives look great in their “going out” clothes and heels. Part of me is inclined to change and look “nicer”, but that would contribute to the already-prevalent mistakes about whether I’m an industry person or a SO to an industry person. I like the color palette idea as well, I’ll have to try that on my upcoming trip :)

  12. Please don’t hate me for saying this, but I have to say that articles like this are really why I generally avoid “women”-themed, well, everything. The whole “dress for yourself! (but let me show you how)” and finding your inner “wonder woman” sort of things just sound really patronizing to me. I have no objections, of course, to the ideas of adding color or adding details that are personal to you, but I’d rather see it as “here’s some tips to liven up your wardrobe” then making it about “power.” Am I the only one who feels that way? (I guess it’s fine if I am- we’re all different and all that. I’m really not trying to sound disagreeable, but she did ask for feedback.)

    • Anonymous :

      You stated your opinion well and didn’t attack anyone or pout when someone disagreed. Yay!!!

      • Ha! Thank you. I was holding my breath checking on responses! I hope Kat and guest bloggers and commenters know that I really do love what they do.

    • Not alone. I remember a post from Ann several months ago along these lines – annoyance at equating “empowerment” with “being able to wear what I want.” To me, it’s the distinction between “dress in a manner that enhances your ability to be empowered (e.g., respected)” and “feel empowered because of how you’re dressed” – a totally different outcome.

      • Research, not Law :

        This. Well said!

        This post made me scratch my head. The tone seemed a bit off. Yes, I’m often at work dressed different than I would be in my personal time. But I’m doing it because *I* want to be professional in my career. So it’s still for me. But the tone here reminds me of Cosmo articles on how to do X to please your man.

    • PetiteAnon :

      I totally agree with you.

      Especially among the fashion blogs, I’ve noticed that over time, many of the bloggers seem to converge into “themes” and then start dressing like other bloggers in their theme. It’s amazing how many bloggers end up owning and styling exactly the same item from Target/H&M/AT/BR/J Crew/Hermes/Chanel… Are you really dressing for “yourself” then, or are you dressing for your blog clique?

      And what if the true “yourself” is a total slob? No matter how much time I spend on Corporette, or how many episodes of WNTW I watch, I am fundamentally a total geek slob. A part of me would love to never have to leave the house so I can live in sweats, fleece and t’s 24/7, wear only flip flops and never touch jewelry or makeup (hate the stuff). But I’m also realistic and know that people who have real power over my life have perceptions of me based on my dress. And I’m not sure if there is a way to incorporate slob chic into my power dressing.

      • PetiteAnon :

        Oh, and I read all the fashion blogs because I am so fundamentally clueless about fashion that I basically end up wholesale ripping off outfits from the them so that I don’t spend energy looking for and money buying clothes that just don’t work (been there, thrift stores are grateful, but I’m so over that).

      • I know, right? The “real” me wears yoga pants in the winter and bike shorts in teh summer and no shoes, ever. But my professional persona wears bright colors and silk scarves and suffers the indignity of suffocating my poor toes. Such is life.

    • lawtalkinggirl :


    • I feel the same way. I really don’t like reading anything directed solely at women or engaging in activities that are women only. There aren’t really male-oriented articles with these sorts of themes- e.g. I can’t imagine any Nice Boys Don’t Get the Corner Office. Usually when I read women-oriented articles, I think about men who engage in those behaviors and are similarly challenged as a result. Obviously that doesn’t really have to do with clothing since men don’t have to worry about skirt length.

      • Consultant in NoVA :

        Timely comment. Just saw this article today on CNN.
        Nice guys earn less, study finds

        • Hmm, I think this website for Esquire offers some insights into what “magazines for men” contain,, the articles highlighted are (order changed to get to the point quicker):
          Wear Suits Like Bill Clinton on His Birthday
          How a Man Should Wear White…Before — and After — Labor Day
          Steal Brad Pitt’s New Wardrobe
          Clothes That’ll Change Your Life
          An Uplifting ME IN MY PLACE: Fright Night’s First Victim…and HBO’s Next Big Thing?
          Blade Runner 2 Will Be Disappointing You Now
          What Kids These Days Are Eating
          Hunter S. Thompson’s Extremely Extreme Eating Habits, Revealed
          ‘The Situation’ Got What Was Coming to Him This Week…

    • I’m respectfully curious about why you all read Corporette if you feel this way. I’m not seeing a lot of fashion tips for men on here.

      • Thank you for voicing this, mamabear. I was wondering the same thing, as Corporette does seems to be directed at women.

      • Oh, I want to make it clear that I generally enjoy Corporette quite a lot (too much!). I like fashion for fashion’s sake, because it’s fun and interesting and I care about how I present myself. And I really like having a place to just throw out random questions, seeing what others’ questions are, and particularly discussing questions that do apply mainly to women. I know that we do have some different concerns as women. I just don’t care for the whole “dress for power by being yourself” thing; it’s just too self-help-y.

        One of the things that generally turns me off from women’s things in general is that they so often seem to take that self-helpy, empowering, everything about you is wonderful tone, which is why I generally avoid them. (There was an Onion article a while back titled something like “Local Woman Empowered by Literally Everything that She Does”- same idea.) Corporette doesn’t generally take that tone, which is one thing that I like about it.

    • Interesting comment.
      I agree that talk of empowerment, etc., tends to imbue fashion with more importance than it deserves. At its height I think fashion can be art. I also think it’s fun to look at and experiment with, and that it can be a form of expression, and that self-confidence can be enforced and expressed through appearances. But not all forms of expression are created equal… and IMO expressing yourself by putting on lipstick or heels or a scarf does not equal “empowering” yourself or, especially, all women. In other words, it ain’t that deep. But that doesn’t make it any less worthy of enjoying.

    • Diana Barry :

      Hmm. I think there is a fine line to be drawn between (1) making it all about “what should WOMEN do in X situation”, (2) denying sex/gender differences entirely, and (3) and recognizing that we do, in fact, live in a society where sexism is alive and well, and taking measures to combat it. If you ignore the (often real) power imbalance between men and women – Sheryl Sandberg is a good example of this, although I like a lot of what she says – it is not productive and doesn’t help us move toward a more equal society. Kind of like sticking your hands in your ears and saying “lalala I can’t hear you” whenever “women-themed” topics come up.

      • This. The older I get, the more the realism takes over and practicality rules the day. Things don’t cease to exist because you deny them; just need to find real ways to work around them.

      • I don’t disagree, but I’m not sure that I understand what that has to do with my comment or the post.

    • Young and female :

      I understand where you’re coming from, but I think, especially for those in traditionally male-dominated fields, projecting “power” is a real concern. As my moniker suggests, I’m young and female, and I’m also non-technical (marketing), so I’m constantly battling the daughter/wife/granddaughter syndrome of my co-workers. When I need resources for my projects, when I’m giving a presentation, or when I’m giving action items, it definitely makes a difference. I’ve gotten well-meaning comments about chairs not being “dress friendly”, questions about whether I can make it across the airport due to my heels, and other outfit-related comments. I try to keep my “girlyness” toned down, but if I want to wear a dress, I want to make sure I’m choosing one that has some hint of authority vs. “cute”.

    • I also find the connection to “power” to be questionable. However, I think this is a great article from a different perspective. I think a lot of the professional fashion faux-pas that get reported on here are from women (particularly young women) who have trouble meshing the societal pressure for women to dress to “express themselves” with clothing and the professional world where sartorial self-expression is frowned upon. This post seems like it has some great ways to follow rigid dress codes while still having an emotional connection to clothing.

    • I totally agree and didn’t like the “empowerment” talk. In order to like a new shirt I bought for work, I don’t need it to remind me of a painting I like (in fact, that just sounds ridiculous). But then again, I like my professional wardrobe. I like the excuse to wear sheath dresses and high heels and sports jackets, since the non-professional me wouldn’t dress like that at all.

      I think the proper message should be that you don’t have to leave yourself at the door in order to be professional, not that we women can find dressing this way empowering.

  13. Just want to vent. I’m a law clerk, and I’m being forced to write a lengthy order for the judge that is patently wrong and misrepresents case law. I’ve made my objections known, but the judge is going out of his way to rub it in that I’m wrong, he can do what he’s doing, etc.

    He’s mentioned turning this into opinion to provide “guidance” to other judges, even though the law is clear. It actually is making me sick to so willfully misrepresent the law to achieve the desired result. I feel unwell.

    • Anon Law Clerk:

      Is this a trial level judge? If it is, you should take comfort in knowing that there is an appellate court to review this sort of thing, and hopefully set this straight. I know that doesn’t help you get through doing the order now.

      I had a really great relationship with the judge I clerked for so it is hard for me to understand exactly what you are going through. With my very short experience, I saw trial level judges use the bench as their personal soapbox to express their opinion on what the case law should be or what the legislature should have done, or to blatantly ignore the law and decided cases based on their own understanding of what it should be. Thankfully – those decisions were reversed. It’s one thing for me to watch and read about these types of judges than it is for you to be writing the order for the judge.

      • He repeatedly says that the party won’t appeal this ruling because their client would be stupid to (it involves an issue ancillary to a remand). I actually think that may be how he reached his decision — who was more likely to appeal it.

    • Unfortunately, despite your objections, it is his name on the opinion. Take solace in the fact that if he is a wrong as you say, that one of the parties should be angry enough to appeal. I’m sure another court will issue a benchslap if one is so deserved.

    • former clerk :

      That sounds terrible. I’ve been there, and have written opinions that I disagreed with. It was not fun.

      But remember, “reasonable minds may differ.” Even if you don’t interpret the law or the cases in the same way as the judge, you are not necessarily “misrepresenting” the law. If the law were truely clear, no one would need lawyers or judges.

      • I know that’s generally the case, but… we’re ignoring the Supreme Court. We are creating new law. Reasonable minds can’t differ on this. It’s not that just the result is wrong, but that the standard is wrong as well — we’re creating a new one to reach this result.

    • Divaliscious11 :

      Is the judge wrong on the law or just in disagreement with the law? Are you writing an opinion, a concurrence or a dissent? (I guess that assumes you aren’t with a trial level judge.) Ultimately, the judges name, and not yours goes on the opinion. Sound like you don’t have a great relationship, though, and that really stinks. One reminder, some of the best law we have in this country started in dissent…..

      • Wrong on the law. Not appellate. He’s basically asking me to finesse the law so that we reach his outcome, but refuses to tell me how. So, it’s on my shoulders. This makes me uncomfortable and very upset.

        • anon former appellate clerk :

          This sucks, and I’ve also had to write opinions I disagreed with. Take solace in the fact that even if this party doesn’t appeal, if it is ever cited as precedent in a different case, one of the three judges on your panel will catch on. (Maybe you can make sure to sprinkle in a few cf. cites to clue folks in??)

          As hard as it is, it’s the judge’s name on the opinion, not yours, and ultimately he is the one making an a** of himself.

  14. Valleygirl :

    Threadjack – I just need to share this…

    So last night my brother (a struggling actor/bartender who’s 25 and 3 years younger) called me around 12am (2am his time in Chicago) freaking out – like hysterical crying. Basically his girlfriend found out he had an audition for a production cruise ship this morning and her fear of abandonment issues flared up and she flipped out. She broke his glasses in two, knocked over a book shelf full of pictures and was throwing empty wine bottles at him then hitting him in the face. She had kicked him out of the apt and he told me the apt was destroyed and covered in glass. I told him to leave, go to a friend’s house or a hotel or something and he got very… defensive, explaining how she just needs to calm down because she was so upset and once she calms down it will be ok – she’s done this before and she just needs to cool off. It scared me because he sounded just like an abused spouse. I asked him what he would do if I called him and told him my husband had punched me and thrown glass at me and my brother said he would fly out and kick his butt but it was different because he’s a guy.

    So I told him, no you need to get out. Then he was like oh she’s buzzing in – I’m just going to go back up to the apt…. and he hung up on me. So I called our parents who live here in CA (and felt crappy for waking them up) and explained the situation. We (my mom, husband and myself) tried to call/text my brother and he wouldn’t pick up. My husband suggested calling the cops but we weren’t sure what was going on or if she would manipulate the situation to make it worse. I was worried he was going to try sleep there and she was going go even more crazy and like cut him in his sleep… so I called (and thankfully he picked up) one of his friends from his theatre group and his friend (who’s like the sassy gay friend) was like hell to the no – this chick is crazzzy and said he would go over and check on my brother and to assume no news was good news. Then I called my mom back and let her know what was up. Around that time my brother texted my husband and told him that he was fine. They were sleeping in separate rooms and he was mad at me for calling our parents. Then this morning my mom called me at like 6:30, said she had spoken to my brother and told you need to get outta there. We can give you cash or whatever you need so you can break your lease and move out but you need to move the out and cut off contact asap because this behavior is not acceptable from her. And thankfully he agreed he needs to leave – which I worried about because he’s got this “I need to fix someone/white knight thing.” But he told my mom that he gets why people stay with abusive spouses because he feels so bad for her and this is just because the girlfriend’s mom died when she was a kid and she has an evil stepmother and had an eating disorder for several years, etc, etc.

    And while I get that and I do feel for the girlfriend because she’s obviously troubled – the witch was throwing glass bottles and broken picture frames at my brother. And punching him in the face and she broke his glasses and even though he has contacts my brother is blind as a bat and for some reason the glasses thing pisses me off the most.

    So that was last night… any suggestions would be welcome – at this point we’re on the other side of the country and in the immediate we’re throwing money at the problem to help him leave and considering sending my husband out to help him move… but any advice would be great.

    • Not Normal :

      What you described is not normal, and you are right to offer your brother all the resources you can think of to help him see that it is not normal and that there are things he can do and people who will help him to get out. I’d recommend a therapist, a group for abused me in his area, and websites like wwwDOTshrink4menDOTcom for the medium term. For the short term, an exit/safety plan is essential.

      Someone else will probably mention this in more detail (it’s not my strong point), but just know that anything you say to him now about her and their relationship will later be used against you. I personally don’t let that change what I say; others may feel differently.

      • PS: “abused men”

        PPS: He also should know that when people hit you, you are supposed to call the police and they will come fill out a report (either a crime report or an incident report, depending on what happened). It will help him tap into other resources that he will want later: a TRO if she won’t stop, access to counseling and other programs. It’s especially important for female on male abuse because no one believes that ever happens. No one wants to call the police to report a loved one, but sometimes it’s necessary.

    • So sorry your brother is going through this. I would suggest you document this. Start a stream of email between yourself, your brother, your parents, the friend that checked on him describing exactly what happened. Your brother should take pictures of the apt, of his broken glasses, any bruises. Because you’re right, it would be so easy for the “girlfriend” to turn the tables on him because most victims of domestic abuse are still female.

      I hope your brother gets the acting job on the cruise ship because he needs to get the f&*( out of there.

    • Seattleite :

      Call the national domestic abuse hotline and ask for suggestions. I did this when helping a friend leave her abusive husband and they were very helpful.

      Also, read Gavin de Becker’s “Gift of Fear.” There is a section about how people ignore the red flags in a relationship, and how abusers step over small boundaries continually before engaging in the deal-breaking behaviors.

      I’d bet good money that the GF didn’t just snap one night – she’s probably crossed many other important boundaries. This will likely take some time and effort for your brother to see. Good luck.

    • DC Kolchitongi :

      OMG, that is terrible. This is why I’m ALWAYS on my lil bro to look out for signs of crazy-bitchness before getting involved with a girl. Of course he’s a grown man and he doesn’t exactly call me for approval before asking women out.. But still… I like to hope that my warnings are embedded in his subconscious somewhere.

      His girlfriends that I’ve met so far seem like pretty normal women, fortunately. I would DIE if this happened to my baby brother.

    • Research, not Law :

      I don’t have any advice, but wanted to offer you and your brother some t&p. You’re right to be concerned and get involved. This is definitely an abusive relationship. Your brother is very fortunate that he has people supporting him, even if he may not feel like it now.

    • Anon for this :

      Regular poster but anon for this.

      I really feel for both you and your brother, and you’ve already gotten good advice from the other posters. Another thing to remember for your brother is that he might not be able to “rescue” his gf by staying. When I was with my ex, I behaved in a really needy, insecure and neurotic manner. I was only able to start to recover and tackle my problems after leaving the relationship. My ex is a great guy, but he was totally overwhelmed, and couldn’t have helped me get better, even though I knew he wanted to. My current bf’s brother had the same experience with his ex as well. It is only two couples, but I think that the experience might not be so uncommon.

      • Anon for this :

        Sorry, I meant to say that the gf was abusive. The other girl and I were not abusive, but insecure and manipulative. I did not mean to downplay the severity of your brother’s gf’s behavior. I hope that you can get your brother out of there asap!

        • You can be loving and supportive to your brother, but you can’t fix this situation. Be careful about your own emotional boundaries here. I think one of the slogans in AlAnon (for families and friends of alcoholics) might be helpful: I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, I can’t cure it.

  15. This concept of “dressing for me” is so much more than just about sexuality and power and otherwise related concepts, it’s also a form of religious observance for me. I work very hard to balance a dress code at work (as well as field requirements), comfort, fashion norms with making sure that my attire is modest, that I can pray in it, that I wouldn’t feel insecure visiting a mosque in it. Throw in a mother who wants her daughter to dress in a more “revealing” manner so that she may attract a husband, it’s all very complicated. But whatever I wear is for me, what I can live with, regardless of whether skirt suits are preferred or a hardhat slips off of my hijab.

    And observing my faith doesn’t mean that my attire has to be bland either. Take today for example, gray sheath, red blouse, black pants with a patterned gray, black, red and white scarf.

    Gah, I hate getting all religious-y on people. But that’s my take on it =/.

    • I always like what you have to say, Ru :)

      And for my two cents, explaining how your chosen faith factors into your decision making process isn’t getting “all religious-y on people” so no worries there!

    • Your mom sounds hilarious – I always love the hijab with jeggings and stilettos look. Even better if it’s hijab with hennaed bangs sticking out.

      • My mom’s the best. But if she (or one of her friends) gifts me one more red sari with matching jewelry with style suggestions of how to wear it to best display said jewelry, I think I will have a public hissy fit (true fact: her best friend gave me a red sari; it’s like gifting someone a wedding dress. Oy).

    • Research, not Law :

      This is such an excellent point. It’s made me reconsider my take on this post.

      And the bit about your mom made me literally laugh out loud.

    • Lostintranslation :

      If you prefer Ru, I can get my parents to also send you the baby propaganda they send me. It doesn’t seem to be increasing my desire to have children *right now*, but I guess they are still holding out =D

      And if clothes can convey power, I think the balancing act you talk about here gives a genuinely strong/powerful impression!

      • Young and female :

        Lostintranslation, maybe your parents are friends with my mother-in-law and grandmother? My mother-in-law regularly posts on people’s FB baby pictures, “I just can’t wait until my son and daughter-in-law have children, hopefully they’ll start soon, I’m just hoping for a little girl when they get pregnant!” While visiting my husband’s younger brother, she commented, upon seeing his lovesac (big beanbag chair thing), “Let’s leave so they [husband and I] can use it to make a grandbaby!” Umm…..

        • Lostintranslation :

          Yes probably. While we’re on Corporette, they’re posting questions on howtoconvinceyourbabytohaveababyDOTcom.

          Threadjack! Our daughter has moved to a country where people wait significantly longer to have babies, if they have babies at all. Anyone been there before or have tips on how to get the ball rolling?

          • This exchange is hilarious.

          • Lol, that’s just priceless. You mother-in-law is just precious, Young and Female.

            Lostintranslation, your mom and my mom can be friends. They can walk by the baby section of the store and talk about how if they had grandkids, they would buy this toy and that cute little suit and OMGSTOPTALKINGABOUTITALREADY =).

    • I always appreciate your perspective, Ru.

  16. I’d say that in my professional context (PNW), power dressing for women means no suits, ever. I mean, maybe in federal court (I’m a transactional lawyer, and I’ve never been to federal court), but in administrative proceedings: no suits. Big negotiations: no suits. Closings: no suits. The only women in suits are the very junior ones.

    Senior women at my firm seem to go with business dresses or interesting jackets with skirts/slacks. I haven’t pulled out my suits since my first trip to an administrative proceeding, when I realized I was the only besuited lady present.

    • I agree. I’m in San Francisco and not an attorney, but for the most part power dressing for women here has evolved into fashionable separates, not matched suits.

      I miss my suits, though!

      • Attorney in SF signing in. I am the only woman in my office, and most of my opposing counsel are not women either. In my two years of practice, I’ve interacted with only a few women (1 corporate deponent, 2 general counsel, and one big law partner at the opposing counsel’s firm) and none of them were wearing full on suits for depositions or state court appearances. I’ve seen other women in the federal courthouse wearing full suits, but not that partner, wore a hot pink blazer and a black skirt to state court.

        I read both Corporette and Already Pretty because I find they make nice bookends for my style. I use the color and accessory inspirations from AP to infuse the more conservative styles here. I’m not so bold as to show up to state court without a full suit at this stage in my career, but I figure if the partner can wear a hot pink blazer to a discovery conference, there’s no harm in me wearing one statement accessory – a chunky necklace or burgundy patent heels to the same event. :)

    • I think this is true in many places. I never wear a suit, always separates.

    • True for me too, and it is *such* a relief to be senior enough now that I don’t have to wear suits anymore. I really hated wearing suits all the time when I first started out.

  17. The female judge I clerk for told me that your wardrobe should never, ever make it easier for the senior partner to choose to take a male associate over you. You should be able to walk fast when needed, bend down and carry boxes when needed, etc. I thought that was really good advice.

    • While I’m all for pulling my own weight, I hate this attitude. We have to be the same/better than men to get ahead. I have nothing against women who want to adopt this. But if that isn’t your style, embrace who you are and make it work for you. Rarely is anything work related (at least in the law) dependent on feats of strength. In fact, in my 13 yrs of being a lawyer, no one has ever cared if I could lift a box or walk fast…or if they have cared, they’ve cared a lot more about my ability to analyze issues, develop strategy, and present a coherent argument.

      • Anonymous :

        “We have to be the same/better than men to get ahead.”

        I didn’t see this attitude in b23’s post or the judge’s comment.

        I see it as practicality. As a woman, I have no issues if my female coworkers want to wear heels instead of flats. Not my feet = not my call! I do, however, get super annoyed if I am walking down stairs/down the hall/street behind or with a coworker who is clearly slowed down by her choice of attire (be it high heeled shoes, a pencil skirt in need of more give, etc). And if I were heading off to an important meeting and I could bring one intern with me, and time was an issue, I’d choose the girl in flats or the man over the woman in heels, because I can’t take the chance that she’s one of the ones who chose to wear shoes she can’t walk in. Is that latter percentage small? Maybe – but it’s my client, so I get to be judgmental if that means making sure I’m not late to a meeting.

        • That’s exactly my thought. There is a risk that you will be passed over for a good opportunity, and it isn’t worth the risk. Going to trial can sometimes be a demanding experience physically; not only are you analyzing issues, you are squatting down to pull out exhibits, carrying boxes to and from the courthouse, rushing out to grab lunch during a short recess, etc. Presented with two associates who are equally good at analzying the issues, many partners will pick the one who makes trial more convenient and who will not cost them in the long run (i.e., by being late to trial). No one is forcing you to pump weights so you can be as strong as a man and a better associate; it’s just that you should probably choose slightly shorter heels or not wear such tight clothing.

          • I’m anon from 2:57.
            I spent too many years worrying about this stuff. When I embraced my inner girly girl (who is also tough), my career took off. Because I was true to me. I wear slacks maybe 5% of the time. The rest is skirts/dresses. Mostly heels. This is genuinely how I feel comfortable and that makes me better at my job. If there is any time that someone passed me over because I had a skirt on (I highly doubt it, but let’s pretend), I have more than made up for that lost opportunity by the times a witness has said that I’m the only person they are comfortable meeting with (or similar) that maybe wouldn’t have happened if I was not projecting who I genuinely am.
            Obviously if a situation requires a certain dress (example, examining documents in a storage facility), I’ll dress appropriately. But I think worrying that a pencil skirt and heels will ruin your career is silly. Of course, if your thing is slacks and flats, good for you and go for it.

      • It may not be true in law, but my job has published physical requirements. I must be able to lift 50 lbs repeatedly, crawl on the floor, climb ladders, withstand extreme temperatures, etc.

        So, YMMV.

    • I have also learned that men greatly overestimate how much a skirt or heels hinders movement. I’ve had men assume I can’t carry a light box because of my heels (which are never over 2.5″) or move something heavy in a non-restrictive skirt. They also seem confused by the concept of having changes of clothes and seem surprised every time I haul out the flat boots I wear on my walk to work when I have to do something physical. In general, if I’m going to be moving things around I dress in pants and very sensible shoes, more for the peace of mind of my male coworkers than for myself.

    • Alanna of Trebond :

      Interesting advice, but I think this only happens when the men already have assumptions about you (a woman). Also — that would never happen at the firm I worked at this summer. Actual story: I was wearing a nice skirt suit with 3″ heels for court for a hearing — and I had to carry the half of the boxes for the exhibits that the male 3rd year associate couldn’t carry. On the way to the courthouse — the managing partner says (mostly jokingly) “You can’t tell Above the Law that we make our summers do hard labor…”

    • With all due respect to situations where a team is under time pressure, this seems like an attitude that would be very dangerous when it comes to employees with physical disabilities — especially those which are not always immediately visible.

  18. This remindes me of my lucky bracelet I wear. My mom gave it to me in college and I started wearing it whenever I had something big. It has beads and I could play with them to help calm my nerves. I have now worn that bracelet to my first interview as a lawyer and to my first oral argument in our state Supreme Court! It is kind of silly, but it comforts me in these nervewracking situations!

  19. Senior Attorney :

    I love this post, Sal. I’m quite senior (23 years in the law) and don’t think I even own any suits any more. My uniform is a pencil skirt or pants, beautiful layering top, and fabulous jacket, usually with an interesting scarf in the winter. Often one or more pieces in very bright colors and/or patterns. And fab shoes including but not limited to Kate Spade pink patent leather pumps with rainbow heels, leopard or snakeskin pumps, and red Frye boots. I definitely think my wardrobe says “I’m senior enough and powerful enough to bend the corporate dress code and have fun with fashion while kicking some serious legal ass.”

    That said, I wouldn’t advise a junior lawyer to dress exactly as I do, both because she should be ready (and look ready) to wrangle those trial boxes and because the black pencil skirt and leopard pumps that look fun and sophisticated on 50-something me might well look a little “I didn’t get home after last night’s clubbing expedition” on her.

    • I hope I’m like you someday!

      • AnotherMel :

        Me too! I’m in the midst of OCI and wearing the heck out of my conservative skirt suits and hose! Gives us something to look forward to!

    • Well done. I too have reached a point in my career where I can bend the rules a bit, and it’s wonderful!

  20. I started reading this post, thought, “Wow, this really resonates with me and I really love it,” glanced up at the by-line and thought, “OF COURSE it does, Sally McGraw is the only person who understands me!”

    What I’m trying to say is wonderful post, excellent suggestions and thank you so much for encouraging women to be themselves.

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