Dress for success

January 23, 1997


Staff Writer

A local woman was in line for a promotion at work. When the job went to a man, she asked the boss why. He told her she didn't look the part.

Joyce Hill of Williamsport tells this story to illustrate how important it is for women to dress professionally on the job.

Hill, owner of W.C. Concepts, a wedding consulting business, used to be a general wardrobe consultant.

Hill helped the woman create a professional wardrobe. The woman moved up in her company.

"Most American women dress for failure," declared image and clothing consultant John T. Molloy in his 1977 "The Woman's Dress for Success Book."


Nearly 20 years later, Molloy has updated his thesis in "New Women's Dress for Success." His research still shows that dressing for success does not guarantee a woman success, but dressing poorly or inappropriately almost ensures failure. His standards have relaxed, but not drastically. He says the jacket - which "identifies its wearer as a serious career woman with power, authority, or potential" - serves the same functions for a woman that a suit does for a man.

Although the typical Tri-State place of business may not be a Fortune 500 company, Manhattan law firm or Wall Street brokerage house, local career-conscious women agree with Molloy's basic premise.

"Certain standards really do apply," says Donna Kaye-Haines, owner of Donna Kaye Personnel and Interim Personnel in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md.

Kaye-Haines has been in the business of placing people in jobs for 30 years. She has owned her business since 1976.

"If you dress professionally, it gives you confidence," says Kaye-Haines.

She does one-on-one client consultations, which can include advice on how to look more professional. Kaye-Haines is diplomatic in her counseling. She doesn't want to say something that might undermine the applicant's confidence, but she wants her clients to succeed. She has told some clients to tone down their makeup.

Kaye-Haines advises clients to stick to safe colors in clothing - navy blue, black and gray. And while a totally coordinated pants suit might be acceptable for a lower-level job, she wouldn't recommended pants for those in or seeking executive positions.

Look the role

Marelin K. Sites is president and chief executive officer of First National Bank of Mercersburg in Mercersburg, Pa., one of three independent banks in Franklin County. Sites has worked her way up through the ranks in her 27 years in banking.

"You had to look the role to compete with the males," she says.

Sites dresses conservatively. In the mostly male world of banking, she says she already stands out because she is a woman.

"I don't want to stand out any more," she says.

Trust, security and confidentiality are big issues in banking, Sites says. "You gain the respect of your peers and customers by your outward appearance."

Debbie Hoffman, owner and manager of The Windmill Shop in Hagerstown, does considerable business in career clothing, including conservative suits. She says navys, blacks and grays are popular. Hoffman sells a lot of coordinates - outfits with different pieces to wear in various combinations. It's an economical option for her customers.

"People in this area don't make $50 to $60 to $70 thousand a year. They mix and match clothes," Hoffman says.

She also sells dress slacks to team with a variety of tops, and sells a fair amount of dresses.

Think like men

Women should think like men when shopping for career clothing, Hill says.

She stresses buying good, quality basics - quality not determined by the price tag but by a looking and touching inspection. She suggests building a business wardrobe with just two colors, blending and mixing jackets, skirts and pants, and adding two colors a year. Hill also recommends avoiding fashion fads.

Casual days

Casual days - a phenomenon that wasn't mentioned in Molloy's earlier book - has become commonplace in businesses across the country.

Molloy thinks women are at a greater disadvantage than men in a casual work environment.

Women in his surveys did not like casual dress codes because they believed they were not treated professionally.

About a year ago, Sites' bank decided to make Saturdays casual dress days, Sites says. Staff and customers are happy with the practice, and so far it has continued.

Kaye-Haines believes that having her staff in jeans just wouldn't work.

"It's more appropriate for people in business who meet the public not to have this casual Friday," Kaye-Haines says.

Besides, she thinks people really appreciate their jeans when they go home to relax.

- Dressing for success does not guarantee a woman success, but dressing poorly or inappropriately almost ensures failure.

- Pants should be worn only to make you look like a member of a team or to perform tasks that require them.

- Keep a spare pair of panty hose on hand in case you get a run.

- Don't wear yellow or red - "a power color" - to a job interview because you might intimidate the interviewer. Choose black, navy or gray.

- Kate Coleman, Staff Writer

The Herald-Mail Articles