From the September 2000 issue of Startups

Don't fool yourself: Appearances still count, whether you have a casual office or a more formal setting with once-a-week casual days. Why? Psychologists say we size up strangers in a matter of seconds by their appearances-and appearances can either reinforce an image, or negate it. So, if clothes talk, shouldn't your wardrobe be speaking the right language? If you don't dress for the role you want to play, you'll have a hard time making it to center stage. Fortunately, dressing appropriately is an easily learned skill. Read on to discover formulas for packaging yourself for perfect impact.


Robert McGarvey and Babs S. Harrison live and shop in the San Francisco Bay area. McGarvey proudly limits his annual clothing purchases to under $500. Harrison confesses to spending "a bit more," a fact proven by her overflowing closets.

Dressing Down

OK, you probably don't want a stiff, banker-style look, but it actually is much harder to dress casually yet with authority. A $1,000 suit says "I'm important." How do you get your message across in more modest threads? Know this: Dressing down for work does not have to mean dressing sloppy.

  • Casual Everyday (careers.mainetoday.com/employee/casualdress.shtml). Have many companies arrived at a less formal dress code? Yes, ninety percent, in fact. Read this fun article, which includes interesting stories-including the case of the barefoot Yahoo! employee.

On A Budget

You don't have to go into hock to look right. If money is tight, outlet malls are your best friends. With $500, you can fill the trunk of your car with bags of clothing from Banana Republic and J.Crew, whose outlets all offer great basics for work. Just remember, choose classic pieces in a palette of neutrals, and accessorize with colors and prints of the moment.

What will you save? Discounts of 40 percent are common, and 80 percent isn't unusual. Stumped about where to find a nearby outlet mall? Try this site: www.outletsonline.com. It's not that easy to use, but Outlets Online does offer an extensive list for bargain hunters.

Help Is Out There

If you feel seriously fashion-challenged, get expert advice and assistance at these sites:

  • www.dressingwell.com. Get your closet in shape with tips from fashion consultant Mary Lou Andre, who believes anyone can be well-dressed if they have a few fashion strategies. Don't miss the "tip of the week" e-mail listserv.
  • www.leahfeldon.com. Style guru Leah Feldon, author of Dress Like a Million On Considerably Less (Villard Books, $22, 800-726-0600) offers a sampling of free advice at her Web site, where major trends are dissected (are reptile prints a happening look?) under "Tips" and "Buzz."

Brain Food

Some more good resources to peruse:

  • Casual Power:How to Power Up Your Nonverbal Communication and Dress Down for Success (Bright Books, $29.95, www.casualpower.com). Sherry Maysonave decodes what casual means, discussing the nonverbal aspects of clothes and body language.
  • The New Professional Image:From Business Casual to the Ultimate Power Look (Adams Media Corp., $12.95, 800-USA-JOBS). Susan Bixler lays out the casual and corporate standards for business dress with examples of what you need to wear to make a positive impression in those crucial first 30 seconds.