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Clothes that work: Styles that suit the times

For the past 400 years, the suit has been considered appropriate attire for everything from country walks and horseback riding to the ordinary office job and luncheons with the first lady.

The suit’s strong shoulders seem to exude an aura of power and is what many fashion historians consider the reason for this enduring style. As the suit has evolved, so has its role. Suits are designed for casual and evening apparel alike, but there is no mistaking that when you think “suit” you think “business,” you think “success.”

Women in business everywhere know the power of a good image. Whether making a first impression, blending in or asserting authority, choice of attire is vital. A good choice of suit should be comfortable and make you feel wonderfully confident. If you are tugging at an uncomfortable skirt it will affect your confidence and possibly your ability to focus. The right balance of comfort means: a good fit, a style that represents your personal taste, and a color that brightens your look and helps you to shine.

A hurting economy can devastate some businesses,   but for others it can be the impetus to improve. Competing for business often means stepping up our one-on-one communication. Putting our best look forward is a good place to start.

Usually young women have little problem keeping up with trends. Middle-aged women tend to have more fashion challenges: little time to keep up with trends and uncooperative figures, but mostly ruts. I don’t suggest chasing down fads, but a good style awakening every few years will vastly improve how you are perceived. For an honest opinion of your look, you may want to seek out a fashion consultant, a good friend, a personal shopper or a teen with no filters. Look out for these common ruts:

• A “safe” hairstyle
• Outdated eyeglasses
• Limited wardrobe because “I’m going to lose weight and fit back into my stylish suits any minute now”
• Tired accessories
• Lots of excuses

Does a new look have a price tag? Yes, of course, but so do all investments. Consider two significant benefits.
• A new look renews confidence, which positively affects communication and productivity.
• A current look communicates current thought, service and product.

Small changes in look do not have to break the bank. A stylish haircut costs just as much as the old mullet. Suits you already own may have updating potential. Craft a new look by adjusting a hemline, changing buttons or adding a belt. Fresh new tops and costume jewelry give immeasurable mileage to an existing look. And, yes, white and ivory hosiery are outdated (and have been for 25 years now). Pitch without delay.

Here are my top suit picks for a fabulous and successful new you (all at The Mall in Columbia):
• Mini-check 3/4-length sleeve belted jacket with pencil skirt. Available at White House Black Market.
• Zipped Pocket Jacket in black with white side-zip Ponte trousers. Available at Caché.
• Nouvelle jacket and pencil skirt or trousers in Smoky Graphite. Available at J.Crew.
• Grace fit double-weave crepe jacket in black and Rive Gauche tweed skirt. Available at Talbots.
• Abstraction Josephina Jacket, Travelers Contemporary tank and pant in Chocolate Chip. Available at Chico’s.
• Elizabeth and James ‘James’ belted blazer in Mushroom and Kingsley pleated and cropped trouser in black. Available at Nordstrom.

Jeannette Kendall is president of Success In Style, a nonprofit with locations in Ellicott City and North Laurel that provides free business attire to disadvantaged women and men seeking employment. successinstyle@verizon.net or 410-750-6475.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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