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Anna G. Larson, Published August 10 2012

Staying sensible and stylish in the workplace

FARGO - Dress for the job you want.

Mbang Umanah, stylist and wardrobe consultant at Ultimate Image in Fargo, considers that one of the most important sartorial tips for women in the workplace.

“It makes a big difference,” she said. “It can make you feel more confident and perform your job better.”

More women than ever (51.4 percent) hold management, professional and related positions, according to a 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics population survey. With professional jobs Umanah said, come professional dress codes.

The most common dress code in the Fargo-Moorhead area is business casual, she said.

“A lot of people are clueless as to what business casual is,” she said. “Business casual means you don’t have to wear a suit, but you need to still look dressy.”

The stylist said each person’s definition of dressy is different, so it’s best to find out what a company expects employees to wear based on its dress code.

Key business casual wardrobe pieces suggested by Umanah include a white button-up shirt, pencil skirt, properly fitted dress pants and trousers, belts, and a tailored blazer.

“You don’t necessarily have to follow fashion rules because I feel it can be restrictive, and it’s kind of outdated as well,” she said. “But keep looks classy, clean and professional, and let your uniqueness come through.”

A key to dressing well for the office is making sure clothing fits correctly and complements a person’s coloring, said Jeanie Anderson, owner and manager of Apricot Lane in Fargo.

Umanah said that fit is a common problem.

“People 25 and younger tend to buy clothes too small, and people older than that age group tend to buy larger sizes than they need,” she said.

Buying clothing too big makes areas of concern more noticeable Umanah said. She said belts and flattering cuts of clothing camouflage problem areas successfully.

“I teach people to dress to flatter their figure,” Umanah said.

Christine Ilvedson, owner of Clothes Mentor in Fargo, said focusing on fit rather than size is important.

“Not all size 12 are true size 12,” she said. “Great undergarments make a difference too.”

Buying clothing that is too small can make people appear unprofessional, Umanah said.

“Don’t wear anything that you’d go out (to a club or bar) in,” she said.

Common offenders are short, tight skirts and see-through tops she said.

Women can transform their daytime professional outfits for post-work cocktails by trading out dress pants for jeans and button-up shirts for tank tops Umanah said. She recommended layering for a smooth transition.

“You can keep your blazer on with the two different outfits, and mix it up by bringing a different pair of shoes to wear out,” she said. “Shoes can really change up the feel of an outfit.”

Trends can translate to women’s work wardrobes too Umanah said.

“You don’t have to pull off every trend, but it’s good to get comfortable trying new things,” she said. “I think a lot of people get stuck in a rut and wear the same thing all the time.”

Slim-cut dress pants in colors like red, blue and kelly green bring the color blocking trend (combining colors that complement each other, such as red, white and black) to the office the stylist said.

“Paired with a dressy top, the look is cute, on-trend and professional,” Umanah said.

Shantelle Peterson, manager at Clothes Mentor in Fargo, said sticking to the classics and having confidence are key to looking and feeling professional.

“Wear the clothes; don’t let the clothes wear you,” she said.

Ilvedson was reminded of a Coco Chanel quote when she summed up dressing well and appropriately for the workplace: “Fashion passes, style remains.”