THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Unleashing the Lady in the Corporate Suit

I was watching the news the other day, as it delivered with minute precision the horrors and pain of the human condition. Amid all the terrifying items, emerged an appalling revelation concerning the corporate world. One of the stories that night dealt with a bank suffering from some kind of financial hardship. I can't be sure anymore who or what it was about, such considerations really didn't seem important to me at the time. What did strike me as utterly horrifying was the realization that all the women shown in that piece dressed as they were like paragons of the corporate world, looked as if their femininity was sucked out of them, replaced by an unidentified blend of nothingness. As a matter of fact, I had the distinct feeling I was watching the '80s version of V. Not only did these women look like they were bent on conquering and enslaving the human kind, they also gave the impression they enjoyed munching on puppies and kittens whenever given the chance.

So there I was, holding my cat protectively, and wondering what went wrong. And then I had it. Remember Working Girl? Remember those horrible suits Meg Ryan, Sigourney Weaver and Joan Cusack were wearing? It looked bad enough back then, only we were so blinded by hairspray we could not see it.

In our world, rife with gender injustices, the corporate dress code actually seemed as one of the few areas in which women were the ones with the better end of the deal. While men are doomed to wear day after day the same old suit, with socks being their only means of expressing their individuality, women have the leisure of choosing between pant suits, skirt suits, midi, mini, bell shaped skirt, be it with folds, ribbons or frills, a shirt, a blouse, a sweater, a cardigan, high heels, flats, boots of all height (except thigh-high boots, that might be a tad too much, when you put it in perspective with the office coffee machine) and stockings of every persuasion. So why, oh why, can't we pull it off?

The problem arises when women dress like men would dress if they were women. When that happens, even a breathtaking babe can turn into an asexual android on a mission to kill. Somehow, as she zips her skirt, the ovaries take leave, and in the process of buttoning her shirt, a figurative Adam's apple bulges in her throat.

Maybe the secret is in the playful borrowing, and not in the "total immersion" attitude. Dressing up in men's clothes can actually be very sexy. Penélope Cruz and Julianne Moore wear pant suits all the time, looking only the sexier for it - with the right blouse (and cleavage), accessories and heels it can be quite a dashing outfit. A military-style jacket would give panache to a casual wear, and bikers' boots will add the perfect contrast to a short skirt. But when you pick your clothes out of the closet, trying to think like a man (and why would any woman in her right mind ever do such a thing, is beyond me), it all goes amiss.

So first and foremost, show some skin! I know, I know, we are in December, going on January and the arctic winds are blowing. But do not fear! Put your faith in global warming and embrace the cool air. Obviously, I'm not talking about going to the office looking like a James Bond Girl, strutting on heels and bikini. Showing some wrists and ankles is enough for a start. Folding in your jacket sleeves a notch can give it a classy touch, and if you are wearing a handsome pair of heels, why not make sure that absolutely everyone has had the pleasure of seeing them? Fold away those pants, I tell you! Oh, and did I mention cleavage?
One more thing that needs embracing is "accessories": necklaces, earrings and bracelets, scarves and glitzy hair pins. No need to look like a gangsta rapper, minimal chic will be enough. One single necklace drowning in your cleavage will do the trick just fine.

I know that the corporate world is not exactly the ultimate place to defy conventions, but a subtle mix of genres and trends can set looks ablaze. So, if for instance you feel like slipping in a skirt suit, no need to go for the white-shirt-black-heels total look. Colored pumps are a definitive step up and a blouse with frills or ruffled edges will break that unpalatable harshness. Personally, I would go one step further, donating the jacket to my sister and replacing it with a cardigan.

So with this in mind, go and beat those old corporate boys, but just make sure you don't end up looking like them. No doubt they're fabulous, in their own quaint way, but we are way better looking.

Ps. If you happen to own a Chanel skirt suit, ignore all of the above. The trick, in your case, is not how to lose the manly appearance, but how to make sure you don't end up looking like a sweet and innocent 17 year old in a ballet recital. That said, good for you, I think Chanel skirt suits are magnificent.