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Small Business Digest


In Dressing for Success, Sex Doesn't Sell

“Dressing for success” is one of the tips that industry experts most often recommend for helping people in the work force move up the corporate ladder.

However, women in the workplace should take this tip a step further, says Barbara Pachter, to ensure that the way they present themselves draws attention to their work ethic and competence and not their sexuality.

“Regardless of your company’s policy or the particular item of clothing that you are wearing, your clothing still needs to project professionalism,” she says.

Pachter, a speaker and coach specializing in business etiquette and communication, says some professional women think that wardrobe rules no longer apply once the warm weather kicks in. Pachter disagrees, saying then, more so than ever, is when women should be diligent about what they are putting on their bodies.

“You can still be feminine, just without flaunting your figure,” she explains. “Showing too much leg (even really good ones) is never an appropriate way to dress for the office...[and] I am amazed that I need to tell women that cleavage is not appropriate for the office.”

Even though fashion and temperature may not warrant it, Pachter suggests women wear stockings to give their outfits a more polished look, especially if their legs have a lot of veins, scars, moles or very pale skin.

She says spaghetti straps and see-through tops are no-nos, along with any shirt that exposes the midriff. Pachter reminds businesswomen that sex appeal has its limits.

“If your road to success is being based on how sexy you look, you are dooming yourself for failure,” she says. “Eventually you won’t be able to compete.”

Pachter shies away from recommending specific pieces that should be in every businesswoman’s wardrobe. However, she does say that no matter the item, it should fit the body properly.

“It can't be too tight. And it’s not so much the item, but the way that it is worn,” she says.

For example, a shirt shouldn’t be so skintight that the buttons are popping off; conversely, a skirt’s hem shouldn’t rise any higher than the tops of your knees.

“It’s not a matter of money,” she says, about dressing well. “You need to be a good shopper, know how to budget your money, and also mix and match your outfits.”

Pachter, a speaker and coach specializing in business etiquette whose client list includes such major companies as Microsoft and Pfizer, says her clients are the ones who pushed her into the field.

“My clients asked me to teach their employees some manners. They were losing business because an employee would take a customer out to lunch and not know how to behave,” she says. “Etiquette is how you represent yourself in the workplace through your words, actions and appearance.”

Barbara Pachter is a business etiquette expert and the author of eight books, including the latest, New Rules @ Work: 79 Etiquette Tips, Tools, and Techniques to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead.

For more information, log onto her Web site at

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