How to Dress Differently in a Conservative Industry

How to Dress Differently in a Conservative Industry

Fashionable Business Attire

We were fresh out of school with that newly minted diploma and took our first jobs… We learned that to “dress like a man” was to be taken seriously, fashionable business attire didn’t even exist then.

Remember the ’80s and ’90s when corporate clothing for women mirrored that of men? Suit, bow tie at the neck, starched oxford shirt, sensible shoes. ICK! But in case your head (and your wardrobe) is still there, take what I’m about to say as a lesson in love…

You are TOO GOOD to look like
every other lady in the room

As women, we simultaneously want to be unique and profoundly want to belong. This state of mind creates a conundrum in the closet. Pile on top of that the psychology of social norms such as dress codes, executive title expectations, and salary structures.

Being bold is having the panache to defy your “position” and dress yourself in a way that makes others take notice and respect you even more. It’s all about perception.

Your CEO isn’t going to want you to join them with the 5-star restaurant client if you come in with a drab, ordinary appearance day-in and day-out. When you dress for success in fashionable business attire, your employer and your clients will take notice of your effort to look the part, and you’ll be given a greater level of respect and responsibility.

In short, it’s time to shine!

A glance at these top-of-the-org-chart looks below and you can’t help but get the boss-lady vibes…

Glen Plaid Suit by Express

Glen Plaid Suit by Express

Victoria Beckham in her suiting

Victoria Beckham in her suiting

dark floral dress

The recipe to dress differently is simple. As Clairee from “Steel Magnolias” says:

“The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.”


Start with your CLOTHES:  

  • Tailored Suit:  Pin stripes; solids; windowpane check
  • Skirt:  Vertical stripes; solids. Try to move away from only black, charcoal gray, or navy and branch out into red, burgundy, camel, or chocolate.
  • Blouse:  Stripes, paisleys, patterns… go bold with your patterns.
  • Pants:  Vertical stripes; small checks; solids.
  • Dresses:  Again, don’t play it safe. A dress in a colorful pattern makes a confident statement.

Then, select your SHOES:

  • Pumps:  Express some style outside of the predictable black, brown, or nude. Wear a colorful hue or a bold pattern on your closed-toe pumps that are under 3.5 inches high.
  • Boots:  In the winter, there’s nothing like a pair of slim, black knee-high boots in a sharp-point toe that’s slimming and subtly sexy at the same time.

And, the main attraction… Your ACCESSORIES:   Here’s where you capitalize on your femininity.

  • Jewelry:  Small in size and in quality materials like gold, silver, or pearls.
  • Handbag:  Yes, use your black tote for stowing a laptop, paperwork, a spare pair of pantyhose, and makeup bag for touch ups. But stand out with your handbag… especially for after-5 events. See Accessory Trends for Fall for more ideas.


Even though you’re in a conservative industry, your outfit should reflect the intelligent, hard-working, confident person you are while displaying your own personal style. For more ideas on what to wear, read How to be Fashion Forward, Yet Age Appropriate, This Fall.

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