How should a woman dress for success? It depends on the goal at which she is trying to succeed.
For the single woman, dressing to attract an eligible bachelor can be just as important as dressing to attract a promotion. Sophistication and femininity, however, need not cancel one another out.
"Many women have this idea that they should look sexy on a first date, so they wear a slinky, revealing dress," said Jennifer Butler, a Los Angeles-based color and design specialist. "That doesn't work for most people--it's too threatening.
"There's a difference between being feminine and being sexy," added Butler, who presents seminars in Orange County. "In the long run, a man does not choose a wife just because she's sexy. If he's going to be with her for the next 50 years, he wants a different level of partnership than that."
The other extreme--drab, matronly attire--rates equally unhelpful where men are concerned, Butler said. Somewhere in between Barbara Bush's sensible suit and Madonna's sensual miniskirt lies the look that will not only grab attention, but also maintain it.
"A dress doesn't have to be tight to fit the contours of the body nicely," Butler said. Color--adjusted to the individual's hair and skin tone--and soft, pliant fabrics can lend a subtle flirtation.
One of Butler's clients, Rebecca Ortega of Huntington Beach, claimed that her new-found sense of flair transformed her from a wallflower to a head turner.
"I used to wear frumpy dresses that didn't flatter my figure," said Ortega, 36, a marketing manager for a computer products firm. "My colors were boring, my skirts too long. I had no presence; I blended into the background." Since seeking Butler's counsel 4 years ago, Ortega has hiked her hemline up to her knee, taken to brighter colors, switched from "clunky shoes" to delicate pumps and donned "more dynamic accessories," such as large, bold earrings.
"Today when I walk into a party, men notice me--and so do women," said Ortega, who recently became engaged. "I receive a lot of compliments."
For an after-work dinner date, Ortega refocuses her office wear with a change of blouse and accessories. "I'll put on a hot-pink silk blouse and a choker, or for a more sexy look, a black camisole underneath my jacket."
Other fashion experts concur with Butler that less blatant can be more appealing. "It's fun to dress sexy, but don't overdo it," advised Al Beres of Huntington Beach, whose arty belts have been a Hollywood hit among stars including Goldie Hawn and Tom Cruise.
"A self-confident, classy woman doesn't have to wear clothes that are revealing," Beres said. "When I go out with my wife, I want guys to look at her and say, 'That's a pretty woman'--not, 'Hey, baby, what are you doing later?' "
"Take advantage of your best features, but don't flaunt them," suggested Liz Ayres of the FashionAyres consulting agency in Mission Viejo. "You can wear a garment that is a little clingy without looking like an advertisement."
Moderation is again the password when talking cosmetics, Ayres said, but don't be overly cautious with the stuff: "Most women are afraid of makeup, and end up choosing shades that are too pale. All that does is make them look washed out."
Although Butler finds jewelry "a fun feminine touch," Margaret Kent, author of "How to Marry the Man of Your Choice," warns that glittery trinkets can transmit the wrong signal.
"A man generally will not buy himself jewels, nor will he inherit them," the Miami resident said. "So when he sees you in your gold chain or bracelet, does he assume you bought it yourself or that it was a gift from your parents? No, he assumes there's someone special in your life buying you these things."
"Declaw yourself," Kent insisted. "How would you like a man touching you with long fingernails?"
She also recommends "an approachable hair style," as opposed to one that requires abundant spray. "If your hairdo looks too stiff, you're sending the porcupine message: Don't touch."
Although highlighting your hair may spark a healthy glow, stay within the range of nature's intent, Butler counseled. "It's best to be authentic. If I suddenly dye my dark hair Doris Day blond, I might attract a lot of men, but they're not going to be the type appropriate for me because I'm not being true to myself."
Which is the bottom line when making a fashion statement: State the truth. Otherwise, you risk misrepresenting yourself--as mild-mannered when you're aggressive or as aggressive when you're mild-mannered, for instance--and thereby luring incompatible personalities.
"I tell my clients to write down a vision of the person they want to be with and start dressing for him," Butler said. "If you want to attract a mature, sophisticated man, dress maturely. If you like the boyish type, put on a pair of jeans."
Fashion consultant Aggie Manville agrees.