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Office Fashion Tip: Looking Grown Up Whatever Your Age

October 17th, 2005


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Even if they are a trim size, Evie Groenstein tells the executive women she dresses to leave the low-rise pants and sheer blouses on the rack. “If you are 50 and trying to look 30, you’re going to look older than 50!” says Ms. Gorenstein, who runs the personal-shopping service for Lehmans a New York designer discount store. “It is OK to look your age, especially if you want to be taken seriously.”
Knowing how to dress for work has gotten a lot more complicated since companies loosened rules about business attire. There is a perennial question of when to don a pin-stripe suit and when to wear casual khakis. But lately, the issue has been more about age.
At a time when more companies are headed by chief executives in their 40s, no executive, male or female, wants to look too old. But on one aiming to wield power, wanting to look young can come off as looking adolescent.
Recent fashion trend such as stiletto heels, camisoles and tight jackets for women, and nipped-at-the waist suits with skinny lapels for men-have youth written all over them. “You look absurd wearing something made for a 25-year-old if you are twice that age,” says Bill Gray, 53, president of WPP Groups Ogilvy & Mather advertising unit. He buys well-cut suits made of quality fabrics “that will last 15 years to outlast at least two trends and are wrinkle resistant” for traveling, he says.
THE ANTIONS fashion designers, who are showing their latest collection on New York runways this week, finally are responding to many executives calls for more mature clothing, “Fashions for the spring and going forward to 2006 are more grown up than I have seen in years.” Says David Wolfe, creative director of Doneger Group, a New York retail consultant. Designers and retailers “are waking up to the fact that baby boomers are not the only ones who want an older version of a young look.

Some designers are catering to professional middle-age women. Ralph Rucci, known for his workmanship and luxurious fabrics, says his clients “want nothing that has to do with a notched collar or gold of eccentricity.”
Oscar de la Renta, 73, agrees, “The most important consumer today is the professional women who does not have to ask her husband what she can buy and who is not loyal to any one designer.
Mr. De Ia Renta, who dresses first lady Laura Bush and her twin daughters, does not differentiate among generations in his designs, but instead tries to offer a variety of styles so any woman can find something she likes.
Kisa Gresh Hall, 46, president and chief operating officer of Oxygen Media, favors edgy designers such as Stella McCartney, but avoids overdoing any one look or label.
“You do not want the suit to walk in before you,” says Ms. Hall, who started her career as an attorney and always wore a skirt to work.
Now that she works in a less conservative setting, she favors pants suits, and balances an experienced but youthful look at work by astute mixing and matching. Following the latest trend of pairing the chic with the plan, she wears a Chanel jacket with an inexpensive but well-tailored pair of slacks and a Gap T-shirt, or puts on plain dress with pair of expensive designer shoes. “You can get away with very high heels if you are wearing a longer skirt, but with a short skirt you need flatter shoes,” says Ms. Hall, who has long, blond hair and a trim figure, and sometimes wears low-rise pants, but only if she can keep her shirt tucked in.



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