Week 6.5 – Secrets of Executive Image – Answering Reader Questions

Week 6.5 – Secrets of Executive Image – Answering Reader Questions

When I first tackled this subject, I had some feedback from readers that really encouraged me to continue.  In responding to such a huge issue, I asked 7 women to participate in a Series addressing the Secrets of Executive Image.  With the launch of the Series, and the other components of Executive Image other than wardrobe, it has been awhile getting to answering the specific questions asked earlier, but I didn’t forget!   Yesterday’s post provided guidelines to wardrobe decisions, but this one gives specifics:

Marion asked:

My biggest concern is that what worked so well in my 20s and 30s will cause me to fall behind in my 40s and 50s. How can we purposefully change/grow, while maintaining the best of who we are and projecting the right image?

This is a tough question.  As we age and mature, we not only have changes to our body that we need to consider, but we also have increasing responsibility and a corresponding need to portray a different image.   All of yesterday’s recommendations apply, but I would also recommend:

  • Browsing at a high quality store – Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, etc.    When I am in New York I go to the upper floors of Bloomingdale’s, and although I can’t afford, or choose not to afford, a suit costing $4,000, I get ideas of fashion and pairings and then mimic it with Jones New York or Ann Taylor clothing.   If your budget doesn’t allow these, don’t go for a really cheap suit, wait for the end of season sale at the upscale stores and then shop the discounts.  They are often significant and the quality is such that it doesn’t go out of style or wear out in a season.  Another alternative is to visit the outlet version for similar style and quality at a more affordable price.
  • I recommend having at least two weeks worth of clothing in your wardrobe.  That is 10 complete outfits.  They can usually be mixed and matched to create more, so this is a solid foundation for  your professional wardrobe.  If a suit isn’t your day to day attire, then you don’t have to have 10 of them.  Just one suit for the occasions that require it and 9 other outfits for your typical work week.  Plan to replace one or two each year.  Maybe one for your birthday and one for Christmas?  That would be a 20% turnover and mean your wardrobe is replaced every 5 years.  This will insure you are staying up to date.
  • Get a really great girlfriend, husband or child that will tell you honestly if you are dressing too  young or too frumpy.
  • Ask a couple of people at work to do a dress inventory with you.   Each day you give each other feedback on whether if you are portraying an executive image, what works and what doesn’t with what you are wearing that day.   Remember this is just a person’s opinion, but if it mirrors  your own thoughts it is good validation.
  • Find someone you admire, either in real life, on TV, or in the media that portrays the image you are striving for and copy them.
  • Allow one or two fad items in your wardrobe each year.  Typically these are blouses or jewelry.  You buy classic core wardrobe pieces that never go out of style, but spice them up with a bit of new and trendy accessories.  If you are shopping in the right stores (not Forever 21), you will find fresh pieces that are appropriate for your age.
  • Ask your stylist to recommend a new hair cut.  Change up the color or add highlights.  Hair makes a huge difference and it is very easy to keep a style that flatters you, but eventually dates you too.
  • Get your makeup analyzed periodically.  The mall counters are happy to do so for free in hopes of the commission they get when you buy all new makeup.   Your skin changes as you age, so changing bases and having your colors redone can be helpful.  Learning different makeup styles, where on your cheeks to place your blush, lipliner or no lipliner, etc. is another place we learn how to do it one way and then never change.   Like hair styles, your makeup style and colors can date you also.

Melissa asked:

1. Pantyhose w/ business suits in summer– yeah or nay? If nay, tanner on the legs or glowingly Casper white?

If you are asking yourself whether you should or shouldn’t, then I think you should.   This relates back to yesterday’s tip of “If you ask yourself if you can get away with xyz, the answer is no.”  Pantyhose are traditional and there are many baby boomers that consider them appropriate at all times.   My poll of two confirmed this.   Huge statistical study here I know, but my mom and a coworker both said “Absolutely.” when I asked them this question.

2. Professional purse when also carrying briefcase? Or do I have to shove all my personal things in the case?

I think a purse is professional and is acceptable.  Just make sure you are organized and prepared, that there aren’t diapers and a tampon hanging out from the top and I think you are fine.  Anyone have a different opinion?

3. Winter coats that work with business suits… ditto rain coats– w/o feeling like the Michelin Man.

A nice wool trench coat is incredibly warm and makes a very professional appearance.  They also have trench coats for rain coats.  London Fog is the brand my mother prefers, but you can find them made by a variety of manufacturers.  I would go with black for the trench coat so that it compliments the most items, and may even go to far as to say it is a must have in a professional wardrobe.

4. NATURAL makeup- help!

Above, I suggested going to get your makeup analyzed.  I think that is a great first step and something we should do periodically anyway.  Finding a makeup brand that works for you is important – your aging and changing skin may require oil control in your 20’s and age defying in your 40’s, but most lines will carry both.  I like Merle Norman, but am currently using Loreal and enjoying it too.

Yesterday, I suggested that mascara and lipstick are musts.  If you are blessed with porcelain clear skin, then you hit the jackpot and I would not wear anything else.   Me?  I have the incredible honor of not only have crow’s feet, but acne at the same time.  I won the genetic lottery there!  My whining aside, if you are wanting or needing to wear makeup and are uncertain what is enough, then just stick with foundation, powder, and a light blush.

Please keep in mind that I am not a makeup expert by any means, but I will show you my makeup in progress from yesterday morning:

Can you tell which 1/2 has blush and mascara and which doesn’t?  My whole face has foundation and powder, but I only applied mascara and blush to one side to demonstrate whether it is natural looking.

This shows the same makeup as above, but just applied to both halves of my face.  Yes, it is clear I am wearing makeup, but I think it is still pretty natural.  Am I off base?

Here is the above makeup with the addition of lipstick, eyebrow pencil, and slight eyeliner.  My cheeks are a little too pink, but it wears off pretty quickly and I don’t like to reapply during the day.  To me, this is pulled together and professional makeup.  It is such a personal preference issue though, I would love some feedback!  What do you think? Too much?  Too little?

Elizabeth asked:

With no more corporate life, babies, massive body changes, and an upcoming career as a mental health therapist, I’m in desperate need to “find my true fashion.” Where my personality fits fashion is what I need help with!

I have recently seen my mom go through this same transition.  In her case it was going from executive level position to retirement.  She still wants to dress well, but doesn’t want to iron or be professional looking – just herself and well dressed.   I think many of the suggestions above and yesterday apply, but I would also add that finding the right store is really what is key for you at this point.  Maybe it’s J. Crew.  Maybe it’s Coldwater Creek or Ann Taylor or Eddie Bauer.  However, finding that style that works for you, that you feel confident wearing and that works for your position is key.  Typically a store sells multiple outfits with the same “feel”, so finding the store that fits you will likely help you find the wardrobe.

Try on different things, order catalogs and flip through the pages, maybe even hire a personal shopper to get you started?  I know of several ladies that make a living advising people on wardrobe choices for just these transitions.  I think you can search for personal shopper and find some names near you.


I am still learning as I go too and would love some feedback on yesterday and today’s posts.  Were they helpful?  Anything I said that you disagree with?  Tips you’d add that I didn’t mention?

Oh, and really important…Is my makeup more suitable for streetwalking than boardrooms?  Don’t hesitate, I definitely need to know if that is the case!

11 Responses to Week 6.5 – Secrets of Executive Image – Answering Reader Questions

  1. Thanks for the specific responses to my questions! I agree with some of the comments on yesterday’s post, that the image is one part of the whole. However, I am very aware that it is something that can take away from your overall presentation. A woman leader in the bar here I admire a lot, but she’d be much more effective if she re-evaluated her wardrobe “style”. Like you, I am in a profession with mostly men (dealing with construction law issues) and need all the help I can get to be taken seriously.

  2. Love it! So true too! I’d add that if you are interviewing I’d go with a conservative purse the coordinates with your portfolio and/or shoes. Those first impressions can’t be undone.

  3. Great point Anje! I know some of that matching is sometimes thought old fashioned, but I think when it really counts it’s better to be safe than sorry.

    • So glad that you found some things that will help you! And very excited to have you as part of the Mim community. Thank you SO much for the kind things you said about Mim on twitter! I really appreciate it.

  4. Lipstick a must: Daria I think your makeup is professional and just right. The comment that lipstick is a must is hard for me to swallow. I think something on the lips is a must, just for polish. I have very large lips and I feel like lipstick at work on me is a little too sexy because of the size of my lips.

    • Thanks Jes! Everyone has to figure out what works for them considering their features, environment, etc. You always look great and are one of the examples I think of when I look for a real life professionally dressed women that I’d like to mimic. I wouldn’t recommend that you change a thing! So, good point that everyone has to find the variation of these guidelines that works for them. With your features and coloring you have natural color on your lips, so a light gloss or even chapstick is probably enough like you said. Thank you for commenting! :)

  5. […] for Christmas morning and a craft to do with the kids for family bonding.Put on a suit – not too masculine but not too girly.  Add makeup – not like a hooker too much and not like a wallflower too little.  Find […]

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