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A Woman's Guide to Business-Formal Dress

If your business is formal, or for those formal meetings and presentations, you need the right women's formal business-wear. Get some women's suits and appropriate, conservative coordinates in your business wardrobe:

  • Suits: The keys to suits (either skirt suits or pantsuits) are fabric, fit, and comfort. For autumn, winter, and spring, wool is still the best choice. For summer, cotton, gabardines, and linen are good choices.

    Have the suit professionally fitted if you have problems with off-the-rack clothes. Choose suits with jackets and skirts that are appropriate for your body type.

  • Skirts: Don’t make your skirt too tight, and don’t make it too short. Business skirts typically are hemmed just around the knees.

  • Blouses and shirts: What you wear with your suit is as important as the suit itself. Blouses made of transparent material are inappropriate. High-quality cotton and silk are good choices, as are high-quality microfiber blends.

  • Stockings and pantyhose: Pantyhose and stockings are both acceptable in the workplace, so long as they’re matched to your other clothes, aren’t heavily patterned, and don’t suggest anything other than a commitment to work. During warm months, or if you feel comfortable doing so, going without pantyhose is fine.

  • Shoes: Take care of your shoes. Keep them functional, attractive, clean, and shined. Most women find that low-heeled pumps or flats are suitable for the vast majority of business situations.

    Heels can be as high as, say, 1 1/2 or 2 inches, but heels much higher than that look unprofessional.

  • Accessories: Welcome to the bottomless pit of accessories! Just keep it simple and sophisticated:

    • Handbags: Large enough to carry a few items of makeup and whatever technology you use to plan your week, but no larger.

    • Briefcases: Some women carry a briefcase in lieu of a handbag, which is much neater.

      Increasingly, the briefcase and notebook computer bag are merging into one article. Briefcases traditionally are made of black or brown leather (black is the dressier of the two). Don’t skimp on quality. If you choose a separate notebook computer bag, in addition to a briefcase (and maybe handbag), make sure they all coordinate.

    • Belts: Leather, 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. Coordinate the belt's color with your outfit.

      Proper attire dictates that when a garment (such as pants) has belt loops, you are supposed to wear a belt to be fully and properly dressed.

    • Scarves: Made of silk, wool, cashmere, or a blend of these fabrics.

    • Jewelry: Less is more. Keep your jewelry simple and understated.

    • Eyeglasses: Glasses are among the few areas in business dress where you’re allowed to assert your individuality, even in conservative environments.

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