How Wearing Red Could Get You Hired & Other Fashion Tricks of Powerful Women
Michelle Obama, First Lady
“There’s so much to say about Mrs. Obama’s already-iconic style choices, but perhaps the most important thing to note is her willingness to repeat outfits,” as she has done with this purple dress, says Wagner. “And we’re not just talking once or twice -- the First Lady wears her favorite dresses four or five times over the course of several years. It shows people that the First Lady isn’t agonizing for hours each day about what to wear -- and that no one needs a new dress for each new function.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Men wear the same suits again and again, and women can finally do the same with dresses.
Hillary Clinton, Former Secretary of State
“Style-wise, Clinton’s really come into her own in recent years, and part of her fashion success stems from her reliance on black and white,” says Wagner. “It makes a lot of sense: Because it’s the color combo favored by powerful men, Clinton fits in anywhere in the world, but it’s also stylish, graphic and flattering.” Another bonus? “Black and white pieces simplify travel dressing -- a must for any woman who has to hit the road for work.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: When in doubt, make a beeline for black-and-white.
Condoleezza Rice, Former U.S. Secretary of State
“Condi, as the public likes to call her, has never looked better!” says Wagner. “Her new wardrobe of arm-baring sheaths and shifts is ideal for promoting her memoir and shows off the athleticism she was famous for while at the State Department.” Another reason Rice nails this look? “Her perfect posture--something that’s critical to looking authoritative when you’re going sleeveless!”
GET-AHEAD TIP: “Showing off toned arms connotes power, but only if you have a high neckline -- and stand up straight.”
Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
From a style perspective, one thing women can learn from Elizabeth Warren is that we have more options than collared shirts under collared blazers, says Wagner. “If you’ve got a closet full of button-front blouses, invest in a shawl-front jacket for more visual interest.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Look for unusual plackets and collars, and seek out collarless jackets to modernize pieces you already own.
Michele Bachmann, U.S. Representative from Minnesota (R)
“Bachmann has found a look that works for her and is uncompromising about it,” notes Wagner. “She knows what she likes -- bold colors belted at the waist -- and doesn’t let image consultants reinvent her every few months, which communicates independence and strength to prospective voters." Bachmann is particulaly partial to reds--a choice that communicates to others that she refuses to fade into the background.
GET-AHEAD TIP: Power colors like red say that you have the courage to take charge and have all eyes on you -- precisely the impression that could boost a boss's confidence in your skills, or even help land you a new job.
Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives
“One look at Pelosi’s impeccably polished pantsuits should be enough to convince any career woman to find a tailor!” says Wagner. “You can tell that Pelosi’s clothes have been fitted to her by a professional -- and it helps the party leader look incredibly confident.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Take off-the-rack suits and jackets to a tailor for fine-tuning.
Queen Rania of Jordan
There are few trends you can’t try at work, but you might be able to take a stealthy approach like Queen Rania does here. “Notice how from the front, her outfit’s relatively straightforward -- neutral dress and shoe. But look closer and you’ll see that the stylish royal has embraced this season’s colorblock craze with on-trend pink heels -- a gorgeous nod to what’s hot right now.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: “Enamored with a trend? Find small, subtle ways to incorporate it into everyday work outfits.”
Carly Fiorina, Former Republican Candidate for Senate and former CEO of Hewlett-Packard
“I love how Fiorina takes plaid, a menswear fabric, and makes it fresh and feminine with a funky collar, scoopneck shell and scattered pearls,” says Wagner. “She’s found a way to blend the sexier fashion sense she was known for as an executive with a more conservative campaign-trail style.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Adjust to new environments: “When you switch offices or careers, you may have to dress more conservatively or more creatively.”
Sarah Palin, Former Governor of Alaska
“Professional women often struggle with how glamorous to go for formal events,” reveals Wagner. “Sarah Palin, seen here at a black tie gala, gets it just right. Her ensemble’s more interesting than the standard LBD, and a little bit trendy, but still very professional and polished.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: A close-fitting black lace jacket never fails after five o’clock.
Kelly Ayotte, U.S. Senator from New Hampshire (R)
According to Wagner, Junior Senator Ayotte exemplifies why jewel tones are a career woman’s BFF: “Wear a pastel jacket and you might look too girly, wear a bold primary hue and it can be too brash. But opt for a rich, saturated jewel tone like this amethyst/orchid shade, and it’s hard to go wrong.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Seek out jewel tones on your next shopping trip. Wagner calls them “the grownup way to wear color.”
Mary Schapiro, Former Chairperson of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Like many powerful women, Schapiro has tweed and boucle fabrics in heavy rotation -- and for good reason, says Wagner. “These nubby, Chanel-esque materials are tacticle, feminine and tough-wearing... but they can look dowdy if you're not careful. By choosing a zipper-front jacket in a youthful blue shade instead of the traditional gray button-front, the SEC Chair avoids that pitfall.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Tweed and boucle pieces wear well, look expensive and last for years -- but only buy if an item has a fresh color, silhouette or detail.
Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of Thailand
In office for less than a year, Shinawatra has already mastered both dressing age-appropriately -- she’s 44 -- and incorporating her Thai heritage into her ensembles. “She likes to take standard Western business looks and inject them with touches of Asian influence through printed scarves, fan motifs and rich silk dupioni fabrics.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Give a sartorial nod to your heritage through your accessories, whether it’s a sophisticated piece of Southwestern jewelry or a shawl printed with Japanese cherry blossoms.
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund
Who would’ve thought that the head of the IMF would become a fashion star whose every outfit is chronicled by style bloggers? But French native Lagarde has done just that with her arsenal of ultra-luxe accessories from the likes of Hermès, Chanel and Cartier. “Lagarde represents the woman who has worked very hard and rewards herself with quality pieces, which in turn communicate her self-worth to her coworkers,” explains Wagner. “But she never goes overboard; if she’s wearing a standout Tahitian pearl ring, for example, the rest of her outfit will be muted.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Don’t be afraid to wear an expensive bag or bauble to work (you’ve earned it!) but stick to one at a time.
Kristi Noem, U.S. Representative for South Dakota (R)
“This rising star loves chambray, flannel, buffalo plaid and bold belt buckles, and manages to seamlessly segue these ‘country’ elements into her professional wardrobe,” notes Wagner. If your job requires you to talk to the public on a regular basis, make an effort to look a bit like them. “It’s the female equivalent of a male politician rolling up his shirtsleeves to speak to a group of factory workers—it shows you understand your audience.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Communicate your comfort with your audience by dressing a bit like they do.
Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia
“Women have a tendency to thinks suits are so boring, there’s no point in making them fun,” says Wagner, “but Gillard proves otherwise by consistently showing up to formal meetings and events wearing ‘suits’ comprised of two or three colors. It’s a great way to look younger and expand your wardrobe through mixing and matching skirts and jackets.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Suits don’t have to be one color; mix shades for a modern look -- but keep the fabrics and formality consistent.
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina
“If, like Fernandez, you’re a lover of couture fabrics -- think brocade, alençon lace and embossed satin -- there’s no reason you can’t wear them to work. But this is an area where you want to spend a little more money to guarantee a sophisticated look. You’ll be rewarded by years of wear since these fabrications never go out of style.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Embrace life’s finer fabrics -- especially in suits and jackets.
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
“I love to see female politicians breaking out of the black dress rut,” says Wagner, “and someone who does it really well is Kathleen Sebelius, who’s recently been seen in spot-on orange, silver and teal dresses, each with a conservative hemline and classic fit.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Black dresses are usually too ‘date night’ for the office, but in other colors, frocks are fabulous. “Once you find the silhouette that works for you and your office’s atmosphere, you will love the ease of wearing a dress.”
Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Representative for Florida (D)
“Wasserman Schultz, who lives near Miami, is a model for looking good in the boardroom when the weather’s tempting you to the beach!” jokes Wagner. “Instead of linen, which can wrinkle easily, she opts for already-puckered seersucker in a classic cut.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Invest in a warm-weather jacket or suit to wear on the stickiest summer days.
Barbara Boxer, United States Senator from California
“Barbara Boxer’s bold glasses and intaglio necklace are like the woman’s version of a common corporate phenomenon: the man with a really great tie,” explains Wagner. “They’re full of personality but still neutral enough not to dominate your look.”
GET-AHEAD TIP: Wear glasses? Spend extra time at the optician choosing your frames -- they just might become your signature.
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We've talked about what wearing red means in a Presidential debate versus blue and now, we take a cue from some of the countries most powerful women.
From Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Bachmann, these women not only know how to command a room, but can help give you some ideas on how to make your work wardrobe work for you.
Stylist and WorkingCloset.com blogger Susan Wagner shares the secrets of powerful women's sartorial success.