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I have been out of the work force for over 13 years on disability and am hoping to start work part time again this year. I am fifty years old and know a lot has changed in work attire. What basics would you recommend that I use to start and update my interviewing and work wardrobe? Any tips on hairstyles?

Yes, business attire has clearly gone through some major gyrations, but you may be surprised to discover that true professionalism hasn’t changed that much. With the downturn in the economy and these unstable political times, business dress has lately returned to a more serious tone.

Start with your best power-neutral color, such as black or navy. As your budget allows, purchase a three-piece suit that includes a tailored jacket, skirt (long or short), and pants in matching fabric. This combination covers the basis for interviews within traditional business environments (where you would wear a skirted suit), or business casual ones (where you could wear a pantsuit). And on a daily basis, it allows for greater mix-and-match options.

Many suit lines today have the individual garments available to purchase as separates; yet, they match as a suit would. This allows more flexibility with budget concerns and ensures a better fit, as few women are the same size on the top and bottom. One such line worth noting is the “Collectibles” line at the Casual Corner stores (including the Petite Sophisticate, and August Max Woman stores). Collectibles are designed for the working woman on a budget. Varying jacket, skirt, and pant styles are available in black and navy year round, and the store guarantees that the dye lots will match. Anne Klein offers an “Essentials” line based upon the same concept. However, it’s generally only available in black and it’s more difficult to locate, as many department stores do not stock those particular pieces.

It’s imperative that you have the right shoes for interviews. Even today, a closed-toe/closed-heel shoe is still considered the most professional. Ideally, the heel height is 2 to 3.” Within those parameters, it can be as stylish as you like. Opt for black shoes, even if your suit is navy. While it’s not chic to wear navy shoes with black, it’s a-okay to wear black shoes with navy clothing. Navy shoes are difficult to match to navy clothes, which can vary greatly in tone. Leather doesn’t take especially well to navy dyes. Thus, navy shoes are often a medium shade, which is too light to go with a dark navy suit.

A collared silk blouse, in a color that’s flattering to you, is a must-have item. This worn with your dark suit (skirt or pants) can go just about anywhere in the world and command respect. Knit tops will dress the suit down a bit. Add a few blouses and knit tops to stretch the wear-ability of your suit pieces. Sweater sets (in a contrasting but complimentary color to your suit) can also stretch your business wardrobe dollars. They can be worn as is with pants or skirts for a casual look. And the basic piece can be worn under a suit jacket, as a flat knit top. For extra panache, throw the matching cardigan over your shoulders and tie it for a chic, dressed-down pantsuit look.

I recommend that you read my book, Casual Power, as it has many outfit ideas appropriate for varying levels of business. And there’s a section on “Vertical Dressing,” which adds an aura of authority and personal power to a woman’s silhouette. In addition, there are chapters on the Capsule Wardrobe Plan and on how to build a business wardrobe on any budget.

Hair matters. Get a stylish cut that flatters your face shape, if you do not have one already. Hair is a great communicator and one of the first things noticed about a person. When job hunting, it’s important to convey on the nonverbal level that you are living in this decade and are informed in the now. Typically, professional lengths are never longer than two-to-three inches below the shoulders. Shorter styles are considered more professional, particularly at your age range. If you have a lot of gray, consider coloring it. Gray can connote wisdom and experience, but it can also make a woman look tired and dull. Do your best to look dynamic to increase your hire-ability and your promote-ability.

Best of luck to you,
Sherry Maysonave



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