Fashion 89 : Working Wardrobe : Clothes Transform Image of a Woman Climbing Up the Corporate Ladder

Times Fashion Editor

The upwardly mobile look doesn’t come easily. Or inexpensively. But it can pay off, as it did for Tess, the lead character in “Working Girl.” She’s the “Rocky” of the secretarial set, a woman who fights her way up from messy to marvelous by restyling her hair, dumping her makeup and wearing her boss’s aggressively elegant, high-ticket clothes.

Could it happen in real life? Probably so. A former secretary exited a recent screening of the film with one wrist held high, Rocky-like, cheering: “She did it, she did it; she’s just like me.”

The ex-secretary says she was able to change her professional caste and transform her image by “studying and imitating everything I could, including upper-echelon style.” Her hair is short, her clothes modern and precisely cut. She usually shops at Bullock’s Pasadena store--"but only during sales, and only for well-made items I can keep forever.” She will not let her name be used here because she now holds managerial rank in the local office of an upscale national magazine, where she says everyone assumes she was born authoritative--and chic.

Sacrifices Are Required


Of course, hardly anyone ever is.

And hardly anyone, boss or assistant, can easily afford a closetful of outfits by Giorgio Armani, Sonia Rykiel, Chanel and Calvin Klein. Most working women can’t even afford a wardrobe of good, lower-price copies. However, sacrifices are required for success--and buying good clothes may be one of them.

Presented here and on Page 4 are a few “originals” by designers whose clothes were worn in the film, and some good-looking alternatives at somewhat lesser prices.

Women who know what they’re looking for can find even bigger bargains if they wait for end-of-season sales and then splurge on the best-looking outfits they can afford. Suits like these do not go out of style from year to year; like wine, the best improve with age. Some even become “collectors’ items.”

But some women simply aren’t knowledgeable about style. They don’t know what to look for, no matter how much money they are able to spend. For them, an educational afternoon in a retail store, trying on such top designer labels as Calvin Klein, Armani, Rykiel and Chanel, might be illuminating.

The best designers, via the clean shaping of suit jackets and the subtle mobility of skirts, can convey an air of authority on even the most unauthoritative type. And, fortunately, very expensive clothes are usually imitated by dozens of manufacturers who produce them at a price level that the masses can afford.