Dress suits are becoming dinosaurs in Los Angeles. The traditional corporate suit with matching pumps and itchy, elegant nylons is being squeezed out by women who are opting for "corporate casual" mix-and-match slacks, skirts and jackets that are comfortable yet professional. The Business Journal asked eight women professionals of various ranks and industries whether, and how, they dress for success.
Cindy Fierro, senior marketing manager, American Express
Ever since our sales force went virtual and started working out of their homes, the rest of us in the office started to dress very casually. We even had our own fashion show of virtual office wear at a regional meeting. People came down the runway in bathrobes, with towels on their heads, and in wild boxers.
You're a whole lot more productive when you're comfortable. And it's much more economical. I don't have to wait for sales anymore to buy all my nylons. Now I wear slacks and jackets and knee-high socks.
Business casual is perfect. It's a happy medium between casual Fridays and formal dress. When I started at the company 17 years ago, women couldn't wear pants, only skirts and jackets. Today, I still like to wear jackets, because it looks more pulled together.
Elena Medina, secretary, Law Firm of Tuttle & Taylor
I'm of the old school. I think you should dress nicely. I've been with the firm for 16 years and generally dress up. We had to set a dress code about five years ago when some staff people started wearing sweats and tennis shoes. You're not supposed to look like you are going to the gym no tennis shoes, no stirrup pants and no sweat suits. All the women have to wear pantyhose, even if they're wearing sandals. Some people haven't reacted well, so now we have casual Fridays.
Carline Kaplan, president, Kaplan Communications Inc.
Corporate dress is very confining and uncomfortable, especially when you're wearing pantyhose and working at a computer eight or more hours a day.
Now I wear jeans or corduroy pants with a jacket and fun shoes. But when I meet with clients, I like to wear suits so they don't collect dust in my closet. I also tend to dress according to my clients' corporate code. Clients in high-tech are more casual than those in financial services, for instance.
I think I spend the same on clothes now as I did before, but I can mix and match items and wear them on the weekend as well.
Sylvia Wallis, architect, Altoon + Porter Architects
Our office doesn't have a formal dress code. In general, we use good judgment and good taste. My office has a more corporate style compared to other architect firms, because we do mostly retail projects, and our clients aren't looking for avant garde. As the company has grown larger and gotten more important clients, we've become more corporate. We don't have to wear suits, although it's more advantageous. About half the women wear pants rather than skirts and nylons. It depends on the level. Women at higher levels have more meetings outside the firm with clients and consultants who still aren't that used to working with women. Clients want to see that women have the same stature as men and have a presence in the company.
Amy Jurist, director of advertising, FX, cable network
If I have a meeting or am going to an ad agency, I will dress in a cool suit. On other days, I wear pants, a vest and a jacket. I have lots of clothes that mix and match, so it seems like I have even more clothes than I do. Socks for me are a fashion accessory. I haven't worn pumps in five years. I don't own any skirts, and I don't coif. There's no reason to primp.
How you dress, though, can affect how far up you'll go. For example, when one guy who always wore jeans was promoted to vice president, he was told to dress the part. As an officer of the company, he needed to project a certain image. He needed to look in-control. It's perception. You're not heard the same way if you're wearing jeans.
Abby Sheeline, president, Sheeline Management, agency for entertainment writers
This is a very male-dominated business. You have to be able to walk in on a business that men have been in for 25 years and feel confident. Dressing well is part of that.
I dress for my meetings with producers or studio executives. I think you can tell a bit more about a person by how together they are, but in entertainment it's important to know who you're meeting with.
Over the years, I've gone more corporate, and the quality of my clothing has gotten better. I'm a borderline shop-aholic and I'm still definitely learning about style.
Fong-Ling Liau, vice president, Standard Chartered Bank
Our bank has a formal working environment. I have clients visiting Monday through Friday, so I always dress in suits and wear skirts. In Los Angeles people tend to wear brighter colors than on the East Coast because of the weather, but I always wear dark colors, like black, navy and gray. Others dress more casually, but I think it's fine to dress formally. Once you build up the wardrobe, it's no more expensive than casual clothes if you plan properly. I buy clothes off-season that I can wear year-round. Then I use accessories to mix and match for a different but professional look.
Nancy Steingard, executive vice president, Universal Cartoon Studio
We generally wear hip business clothes. In entertainment you don't have to dress like an executive. What counts is talent. People dress well in an "entertainmenty" sort of way. Many women in the company wear pants and pant suits. I found a style that works for me and have been shopping at the same store for years. When I go to the Midwest, though, they dress much more conservatively, but they accept that I dress differently since I'm from L.A.
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