In Business: 'Dress Up to Move Up' : Authors Suggest That Women Adopt a Softer Image

Times Staff Writer

In the past few years, Lee Hogan Cass, vice president and fashion director of the Broadway stores, has observed the phenomenon of what she calls "dressing up and moving up."

"I know a chairman of a corporation it happened to," Cass says. "When she was a buyer, she wore polyester pants and print knit shirts. Then she started to dress up a little, then move up a little. Although she obviously had talent, the more she dressed, the more she moved."

Dressing up for moving up is the premise of Cass' and co-author Karen Anderson's new book for women, "Look Like a Winner" (Putnam: $18.95), in which the authors stress the importance of developing a "power look" of one's own and not relying on what has become the prevailing female career uniform--the traditional suit.

Learning What's Right

"There's no question that the suit is the No. 1 image for success today," Cass says. "Although there are those professions that still have a stricter concept of what is acceptable, those are the fields in which women should learn that they can look as businesslike and commanding in a vintage Chanel look as they can in a one-button blazer and matching skirt.

"I'd stake my reputation that any woman attorney alive could appear in court and not turn off any judge in the country in a soft, lovely, Chanel-type jacket in textured wool--with or without braid trim--or a long, neat, unbuttoned jacket--perhaps knit--over a pleated skirt and a softly pleated shirt," Cass says. "She'd be just as professional or, in a way, more professional looking than the woman lawyer in the single-breasted blazer jacket and bow tie."

Rather than ordaining one office look, the authors believe that women should develop several looks to wear on different business occasions--from a meeting with the president to a company weekend.

"I would think very carefully about what I wear when I make an appearance as a Broadway executive, as opposed to other days when I may wear what I feel like," Cass says. "My 'power look' may be some kind of coat, blouse and skirt or a jacket, blouse and skirt, or like what I'm wearing today (a navy gabardine coat dress). There are many options to looking successful."

Times Have Changed

This approach is far different from the advice espoused by John Molloy in "Dress for Success," his 1976 treatise on the subject. But almost a decade has passed since that book was published. In that time, many more women have gained professional status and, in the process, have "earned the right to their individuality in dressing," Anderson points out.

Equally important today, the authors maintain, is knowing when a wardrobe needs overhauling.

"Just as business has cycles and businessmen reassess where they want to be a year from now," Anderson explains, "we also feel that it's valid for women to reassess their wardrobes, including makeup. It's an evaluation of what you look like now and what you want to look like and where you want to be in the near future.

"There are women in every major corporation wearing pure polyester pants or skirts to work--bright women who have worn that same attire for 10 years or more," Anderson adds. "I think what happens is that eventually they fade into the woodwork, and they are always typecast as clerks, stenos and assistants. Their superiors and everyone around them see them as that and only that."

Just as women in business must stick to departmental budgets, Cass and Anderson believe that on a personal level, clothing budgets must be realistic. "We're talking to businesswomen, and that's the real world for all of us," Anderson says.

Before heading to the stores, Cass and Anderson suggest that women first take stock of what they already own, eliminating clothes "outdated for who you are, where you are," and then plan a shopping strategy that will allow for the maximum wardrobe variation. Rather than investing in suits, the authors advocate separates--jackets of varying lengths and textures, skirts, even trousers--since separates allow the most mileage.

"If you feel better with two wonderful suits, that's OK," Cass says, "but ideally part of what you buy should have flexibility."

Room for Flexibility

There should also be room for flexibility in color choices, the authors say.

"There are a lot of colors that can be appropriate in business--not just gray, navy and camel," Cass says. Simple changes in makeup allow women to wear almost any color in the rainbow.

"I think a woman should wear whatever color makes her feel good about herself," Cass adds.

The authors will appear next week through April 3 at selected Broadway stores. See Fashion Calendar, Page 12, for locations.

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