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First Impressions Count: Updating the Professional Wardrobe


Think you can just throw on a pair of leggings, a tunic top and make a mad dash for the office hoping you don't spill your caramel latte on that new handbag you spent a month's rent on? Well, if you're the type who gives your order at Starbucks more attention (or that handbag du jour) than what you wear to work, maybe it's time for a little "dress for success" review.

Dressing for work has never been more of a challenge with so many choices available. Let's face it; the boring black suit is just that — boring. However, with a shrinking job market, making a good impression still counts more than ever. So whether you're going to your 25th interview or have the job of your dreams, here are some style tips from fashion expert Nina Garcia, creative director at "Marie Claire" and judge on "Project Runway."



—Focus on a jacket. This spring and summer, the newest jackets make a statement on their own. It is still one of the most important parts of a working wardrobe, according to Garcia. "Even in the middle of summer, a jacket is a must to pull your outfit together. A jacket says poise and maturity, and it conveys the professional energy that you should radiate when you walk into that room."

—Steer clear of too many bold colors and prints. In a season of neon brights and wild patterns, Garcia says it's a good idea to make sure everyone is focusing on what you say instead of being distracted by what you're wearing. However, she does suggest adding a little "flair" to your outfit. "If you opt for neutrals (brown, gray, navy and black), add a colorful belt or patterned tights. Or wear a smart jacket with a bold pattern such as a hound's tooth check or a frothy blouse in a vibrant hue, but keep the rest of your outfit neutral."

—Go for a little flair. While you may need to avoid looking like a tropical plant blooming in the office, Garcia does advise working women to add some modern touches to their wardrobe. Break up your suit by pairing the jacket with a black knee-length skirt.
Give your classic black pumps a lift with textured tights. Break out of the blazer rut and try a jacket with a different silhouette — strong shoulders, architectural or geometric tailoring, maybe even a peplum. Perhaps a fabulous cropped jacket or a traditional blazer in a nontraditional fabric, such as sateen or a colorful check. Do the white shirt with a twist like a ruffle, strong shoulders or an origami detail.

—Rethink casual Friday. Instead of dressing down on Friday, Garcia suggests instead concentrating on transforming your everyday office attire into something chic and cocktail-worthy. "The key here is layering," she says. "Peel away your day look to reveal a glamorous, glitzy outfit, and you'll be ready to start your weekend in under fifteen minutes."

Trade your slouchy trousers for a sexy pencil skirt. Belt your jacket to accentuate your waist or take it off and just go with the tank or shirt you so wisely have on underneath. Add a few accessories, such as earrings, a statement necklace or a cuff
"Change into a pair of outrageous heels. Throw on a faux fur wrap or a scarf and it's a whole new fabulous you."
And then it's time for the weekend, but that's another whole story.

(SET IMAGE) smo021913adAP.jpg (END IMAGE) (SET CAPTION) The jacket is still one of the most important ways to keep your wardrobe professional. This spring the pantsuit is updated by designer Lida Baday with the contrasting peplum jacket and the full pant. (www.lidabaday.com) (END CAPTION)
Sharon Mosley is a former fashion editor of the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock and executive director of the Fashion Editors and Reporters Association.

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