Fashion Forward: How Business Style Really Works

By Alleyne, Sonia | Black Enterprise, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Fashion Forward: How Business Style Really Works


Alleyne, Sonia, Black Enterprise


Any successful business meeting involves a desired outcome, a well-planned script, a stellar delivery--and the right attire. It may not be "all about image" as pop culture dictates, but how professionals present themselves physically is a key component to a positive reception.

Of course, certain environments maintain a standard of business dress. But the executive who creates a signature style that complements all other aspects of his or her business manner is a standout. BLACK ENTERPRISE talked to three successful executives in three very different industries who know how to strategically use their wardrobes. Check out how they are redefining business style.

Janet "Jazz" Armstrong

Senior Director of Technical Design

Polo Jeans Co. (a division of Ralph Lauren)

New York, NY

* Armstrong suggests keeping a jacket and a pair of shoes in the office. "You always want to be prepared for any meetings or engagements after work." She will wear a sweater or a jacket over an evening outfit to tone it down for the office.

* "Invest in knit T-shirts," she says. "They work well under a suit or jacket, instead of the traditional white blouse, which can be too stiff and conservative."

Clothing: Skirt, blouse, denim jacket by Polo. Shoes by Manolo Blahnik

Janet Armstrong has a staff of eight and spends little time at her desk. Constantly in meetings, she shuffles between appointments and fittings with designers and vendors to determine fabrics and detail garment specifications for new designs.

Most employees wear jeans and T-shirts. Polo Jeans Co. imposes a dress code with few restrictions: no exposed navels, no badly tattered jeans, and no noticeably tagged clothing from other designers. In fact, they prefer employees to wear the Polo line. As an executive in the company, however, Armstrong likes to bump up the take on business casual a few notches. "At a certain level you dress differently," she explains. "I won't wear jeans; I will wear a denim skirt, though. I don't want to be called into the president's office and not look presentable." For Armstrong, building her wardrobe is all about the shoes--mostly Manolo Blahniks. "They dictate the outfit. I figure out what shoes and then I decide on what I'm going to wear."

Max L. Siegel

President, Verity Records Vice President, Jive Records

New York, NY

* For all his dress shirts and slacks, Siegel wears Giorgio Armani because of its classic cuts. For better business casual, he selects Kenneth Cole, where his choices range from jeans to pants, which he describes as "relaxed but dressy." Siegel favors three shoe brands. He enjoys comfort and style from Prada, Via Spiga for men, and Kenneth Cole.

* Siegel suggests that men invest in blue and black pants with white dress shirts. "That offers incredible versatility for dressing up or down. …

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