Lee Hogan Cass, who redefined power dressing in the '80s, dies at 95

As vice president and fashion director of Broadway department stores, Lee Hogan Cass catered to tastes of L.A. women who were breaking barriers in button-up professions.

It was the heyday of the power suit — of padded shoulders, trussed-up necks.

But by the mid-1980s, Cass had had enough.

What about pleats? Textured fabrics? Vintage Chanel with braid trim?

In a 1985 book she co-wrote, Cass argued that it was time for women to ease the rigid standards for professional dress then in vogue. Softer, more feminine and varied workplace looks were suitable, even for lawyers and executives, she said. As for "gray, navy and camel," why should working women be limited to them?

Women had made professional gains. They had "earned the right to individuality in dressing," she said.

Her style choices, and her book, were viewed as a rebuttal to the stricter advice of the then-popular "Dress for Success" of 1975. Neither she nor her book had similar prominence. But her tastes presaged later trends, when, as The Times observed in 1987, "the hard edge" rolled off clothing.

Women could finally "let their clothes swing," as Cass said.

By the following year, fashion writers were fawning over the pretty-professional look actress Susan Dey popularized in the TV show "L.A. Law."

Dey portrayed a lawyer with just the new sort of style Cass had promoted — still a power look, to be sure, but a softer one that paired a jacket with a flowy blouse. The blouse's daring surplice front and V-neck were all the rage. "A feminine way of softening a suit," Cass said approvingly when reporters sought her opinion.

Cass, 95, died Thursday of pneumonia at a hospital in her hometown of Pasadena, said her bookkeeper Jean Shiner. She was a fashion-circuit fixture and go-to expert for fashion journalists throughout the 1980s.

Cass was born Nov. 10, 1920, in Arkansas, the daughter of William and Oralee Meyer, and raised in Little Rock. She hosted a television show called "Lee Hogan Presents" on what became a local NBC station in the 1950s. She worked for a swimwear company and Bullock's department store before joining Broadway, where she remained for 21 years until 1989, her family said. She was at Broadway when she published "Look Like a Winner: Why, When and Where to Wear What" with coauthor Karen E. Anderson in 1985.

In 1989, she became national fashion merchandise director of Sears Roebuck & Co. in Chicago and retired four years later. The Broadway chain was bought in the mid-'90s, and many of its stores were converted to Macy's. After her retirement, Cass was a volunteer and civic booster whose work supported the USC Medical School, among other causes.

Every season, her buyers' choices for what clothes to put on the racks of one of the region's leading department store chains helped decide what women wore all over Southern California.

Her preference for pretty, feminine clothes and a bright color palette distinguished her, Shiner said. Through the fashion seasons of the '80s, she promoted frosted denim jackets, chemise dresses and knee-length shorts.

She was "a fashion icon herself," Shiner said. "Oh, what a lady! She dressed to the nines even in the convalescent home. Always in her makeup and jewelry. Very regal."

Cass' husband, Alonzo Beecher Cass, a physician, died in 1969. She is survived by daughter Christopher Cass, grandson Jordan Cass and a dozen stepchildren and stepgrandchildren.

jill.leovy@latimes.com

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A version of this article appeared in print on December 15, 2015, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "LEE HOGAN CASS, 1920 - 2015 - Redefined power dressing in the '80s" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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