“Susan says it’s a good idea to get some blazers so I’m going shopping.”

So said Leah, my friend Barbara Kalosieh’s 25-year old niece, after reading Chapter 7 of my book. Of all the strategies I laid out in my book, the thoughts around dress code were the last thing I thought would matter. I even balked at writing that chapter, but something urged me on and I figured I’d let my editor, Jeanette, decide if it should stay, which she did. Now it seems in every interview I find myself talking about the basics of dress.

I know there are some real challenges we face as we get ourselves ready in the morning:

That’s too wrinkled.

That has a stain.

That will show off my neck.

These are real challenges. But I’m not talking about any of that; instead I find myself talking about what business casual means, and whether to wear a Catwoman costume to an office party. In Silicon Valley, I led a session with management women. A few wanted to talk about freedom of expression, and dress was a part of that. On a radio interview, a female listener called in and asked about her client – she dressed very provocatively at work, but had great reviews, so on principle she stubbornly refused to tone down the short skirts and low-cut tops. How might she get her client to see the harm in dressing this way?

I’d sum it up like this: If you work with men, dressing provocatively will either make them uncomfortable around you, or appear to be an invitation. The outcomes of either of these are not good for your career. As I say in the book, there is no such thing as provocative dress for men. If you walk into a meeting and a man sitting there has 3 buttons of his shirt unbuttoned, he’s probably one of my Italian relatives. No one cares. If a woman does the same, it can spell disaster.

Blazers or sweaters are always a good addition to work attire. I used to keep a neutral blazer in my office all the time, kind of like security folks keep bulletproof vests within easy reach. You never know when you may need to throw one on. A garment that covers your upper assets keeps your career healthy. I’d say Barbara’s niece is a pretty smart young woman. So is my editor.

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