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Power Dressing Tips for Women

07/07/2010 02:47 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When it comes to power dressing, I always think of the late 1980's in Los Angeles, where I had moved from London to become a film agent, before throwing it in for a freelance writing career.

For me, power dressing is frozen in time.

The women wore big shoulder pads and carried fat Filofaxes; the men sported dark Armani suits. Both sexes shopped and cut movie deals while dining at the Palm, the original Spago's or the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Of course, my male friends in England at that time, many of whom worked in finance, wouldn't be caught dead in Armani. Power dressing for them was about Savile Row suits and Hilditch and Key shirts, maybe a Harrods tie.

When I picture their female counterparts, I think tights and court shoes (panty hose and pumps).

My point is -- power dressing is culturally relative, even job specific. But there are certain universal principles that apply.

The key for women is to look professional, yet retain their femininity. When power dressing, I propose the latter be achieved through subtleties, the faint scent of perfume, a waist cinched with a crocodile belt, a slight ruffle peeking out of a suit jacket's neck or cuff.

The good news is that women no longer have to look like quarterbacks. The shoulders came back, but thankfully, not with a vengeance. So let's play ball with some basic power dressing rules.

10 Tips for Dressing with Power and Style

1. Suit Up: I don't care what business you're in. When you have the right occasion for power dressing, you wear a suit, or perhaps a tailored shift and matching jacket. Think iconic designers, Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, dare I say it, Giorgio Armani. When suit shopping, pick a classic cut, a lightweight fabric that's not seasonal (no crumply linen, no chunky tweed), and a neutral color that suits you well. I favor darker colors for suits and minimal patterns. Trousers or skirts, mox nix.

2. Tinker Tailor: Go to a tailor in your chosen suit. Nothing looks worse than an ill-fitting suit, so make sure it fits perfectly. Especially have any hems adjusted to work with the shoes you're most likely to wear with it. If in doubt, keep the skirt length just above the knee and the pant length below the ankle.

3. Slinky Shirt: You want a great shirt that fits snuggly under the suit, but not so snug that buttons pop. Don't go too low cut, though a little plunge is chic, especially under a jacket with lapels. Get an ivory or white shirt -- most skin tones work better with one or the other. No black bras! I'm partial to Anne Fontaine shirts, my splurge. A creamy silk is also a winner. The other Anne (Taylor) always has solid silk top selections.

4. Neat Feet: Shoes must be comfortable yet have a bit of height. Toes are a no-no. If you can pull off red-soled Christian Louboutin pumps with a pantsuit, I'd be in awe.

5. Read my Lips: Now I LOVE color, so you're thinking why such a stick in the mud with all the neutrals. Sorry, it's power dressing: fuchsia, orange and turquoise are luscious but they just don't say take me seriously. BUT I will do red. Red is a power color to me. A red bag, if feeling sassy. Red lips, if nothing else... and only with minimal makeup.

6. Strategic Jewels: A pearl necklace, a brooch (think Madeline Albright kicked down a notch or two) or a simple sculptural gold cuff work. Do not wear too much bling.

7. Time Keeper: A fine watch says something about your orderliness, not to mention style. Wear one. If you don't have a Cartier, no worries, a vintage watch will be less expensive and just as striking, pun intended.

8. Legwear: In the winter, I would do opaque tights or trouser socks. In the summer, I would do bare legs. Pasty white legs, no, but a little self-tanner and you're good to go. Peds with pumps are a given.

9. Bag Lady: A good-looking bag that goes with your suit is a plus. I'd stay away from too bold a color. Aim more for a graphic logo style, like Fendi or Louis Vuitton, if you can afford it. Bag shouldn't be so big that it looks like a weekend tote and not so small that it won't hold your iphone (I currently covet a Gucci iphone case), wallet and a compact.

10. Be Groomed: I can't stress how important this tip is with respect to power dressing. Cut and blow-dry the locks into a clean shape. Wear minimal makeup. Have a manicure, no 'flamingo pink' or 'salsa red' please, just the palest pink or better yet French. Wax your upper lip and pluck your eyebrows.

Above all, remember power dressing is all about the right attitude, as well as the right clothes. Be confident, stand tall and smile. Good luck.