by Jean Patteson
Orlando, Fl. -- The popularity of dressing down for the office is sinking about as rapidly as the average 401(k). And the casual-Friday concept? Gone the way of CEO bonuses.
In the current economic climate, women in the workplace need to make more of an effort, says Martinette Mitchell, manager of the Personal Touch personal shopping service at Nordstrom in Orlando's Florida Mall.
"Dress not for the position you're in, but for the position you're striving to get," she says. "Dress to impress."
That is not new advice. It is simply an approach to business dressing that was overlooked during the anything-goes, boom-time atmosphere of the last two decades.
Piece together a winning wardrobe "The new chic is conservative. It's no longer fashionable to be wasteful. It's fashionable to make smart investments - to build a wardrobe where every piece works with every other piece," says Marie Johnson, style consultant for Stein Mart store in central Florida.
"You should be able to go into your closet with your eyes closed, grab three or four pieces, put them on and look great, " says Johnson.
Because we're in an economic downturn, "It's more important than ever to dress well. It empowers you. It makes you stand out."
In other words, women should dress for success in 2009 the way they did (or their mothers or grandmothers did) in 1989 - in suits, tailored separates, classic accessories, closed-toe pumps.
It is key to invest in quality items for their longevity, says Mitchell. "When building a career wardrobe, she should consider neutral colors that are easily interchangeable in order to accomplish different looks. Neutral colors ranging from black, navy, gray and tan to nudes."
In trying times, a woman must take charge of her wardrobe, says Jamie Yasko-Mangum, president of Successful Style & Image in Oviedo, Fl.
"When she presents herself to current or potential employers, she should reflect confidence and intelligence - and that means wearing a suit," she says.
In addition to a couple of suits, her basic business wardrobe should include about four pairs of slacks, four blouses and one or two jackets, says Yasko-Mangum.
But no matter what the state of the economy, "I do not recommend investing in just one expensive piece. You want to invest in a small variety of good pieces so you have more than one smart choice," she says.
Johnson's plan for a basic wardrobe is similar to Yasko-Mangum's.
With two skirted suits, two pairs of slacks and five tops, she says, "you can create 30 different outfits."
Piece Together a Winning Wardrobe
Can't afford to buy a complete business wardrobe all at one? Not a problem, say image consultants. Here are their tips for gradually acquiring the pieces you need, or building on items already in your closet:
* Update your old suits with new tops.
* Rely on statement jewelry, shoes an handbags to freshen your basic outfit every day.
* Try monochromatic dressing. It always looks businesslike - and it visually elongates and slenderizes the figure.
* Choose all-season fabrics such as featherweight wool and cotton-silk blends to avoid the expense of separate summer and winter wardrobes.
* Shop smart. Upscale boutiques and department stores are offering all kinds of special promotions. And discount stores have great deals.
* Keep in mind that a chic haircut and polished makeup are part of your business wardrobe.