Careers

Business Etiquette and Corporate Style Tips


Q: Can I wear the same suit to different job interviews at the same company?

A: Absolutely. A suit is the best choice for an interview, hands down. And if you have only one, you should definitely wear it again, no matter if you are interviewing with the same company or even the same individual. As an image consultant, I teach my clients how to create a multitude of outfits from a few key pieces. You can easily create a new look by wearing your basic suit with a different blouse or shirt color and mixing up the accessories. Ladies, try wearing a different necklace or adding a colorful scarf. Men can choose a tie with a different pattern or add a smart-looking pocket square to their ensemble. Unless your suit is a conspicuous color or print, no one will remember it was the same one you wore before. Most important to interviewers—and what they will remember—are your confidence and communication skills. Once you land the job, you can celebrate by buying a new suit.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: No matter how carefully I pack, my clothes always get wrinkled. Any advice?

A: If you find an article of clothing is wrinkled when you arrive at your hotel, run a hot shower and hang the item close by. The steam from the shower will naturally press your garment. Wrinkle-resistant sprays are also helpful and convenient, as they are small enough to stash in a purse or briefcase. If all else fails, try asking the concierge. Some hotels offer pressing services, while others supply the room with an iron and board.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: What's a polite way to escape from a nonstop talker at a reception or cocktail function?

A: When you want to break away from a conversation, be friendly but firm. Simply extend your hand for a handshake and say, "Mary, I have to speak to a colleague now. It was a pleasure meeting and talking with you." You can now take your leave without having offended anyone. If you feel you may want to reconnect with this individual at a later date, you might also suggest exchanging business cards.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: How can I avoid wrinkles in my clothes when I pack for business trips?

A: Both an overstuffed suitcase and one with too much empty space will lead to wrinkles, so pack lightly but tightly. Place heavy items (shoes, toiletries, etc.) on the bottom so they don't shift, crush, and wrinkle your clothing. Shirts, skirts, and pants can be folded, stacked, and packed in the center of your suitcase. By putting tissue paper in between layers, you will reduce friction and wrinkles. Knits and more casual items (T-shirts, polo shirts, jeans, etc.) as well as pajamas should be rolled and placed around the sides of your suitcase. On top, place face down any items on hangers. Leave them in plastic dry cleaning bags to reduce creases. Look for travel-friendly items (folders, cubes, compressors, etc.) designed to make packing more organized and wrinkle-free.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Is it necessary to say "bless you" when someone sneezes during a meeting?

A: Nowadays, people expect a "bless you," not out of concern for the sneezer's well-being, but simply as an acknowledgment of another's presence. Is it necessary? Probably not. No one says anything when someone coughs, so why do sneezes deserve special treatment? If the sneezer happens to be seated next to you, offer a discreet "bless you," if you like. If, however, the person is at the other end of the room or someone has already given his or her blessing, hold off. At meetings, you want to move past interruptions and distractions quickly and get back to business.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: Can I wear sleeveless tops to work in the summer?

A: This question comes up nearly every time I give a corporate presentation on image and style. If your company is conservative in general or has a traditional business dress code (i.e., suits, jackets), wearing sleeveless clothing—without a jacket or cardigan—is inappropriate. In a business casual setting, the answer is not so clear-cut. In the absence of a formal dress code, err on the side of caution and ask your manager or HR person. Exposed skin sends a less business-like message, so also consider the nature of your work. Do you have a client-facing role or is your work primarily behind the scenes? If you do decide to go sleeveless, avoid tank tops, halters, and camisoles. Instead, opt for a sleeveless style with more coverage and a modest neckline. Finally, make sure you have a jacket or cardigan at the office, in case you're called into an unexpected meeting.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Is chewing gum ever acceptable in a business situation?

A: As an image consultant and etiquette trainer, I must say it is never acceptable to chew gum in a business situation when interacting with co-workers, clients, or the general public. Gum chewing is a distraction and almost impossible to conceal during conversation, comparable to speaking with your mouth full of food. On occasion, however, I have suggested that a client chew a piece of gum to freshen his or her breath after a pungent meal, when it was impossible to use a toothbrush and paste. The secret is to be discreet: Excuse yourself from the table and chew a stick of peppermint gum in the washroom; then discard it. This way you can enjoy fresh breath and your chewing won't offend others.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: Can I wear my favorite pair of 4-inch heels to the office?

A: Generally speaking, heels higher than 3 inches are perceived as more suitable for a dance club than an office environment, especially shoes with thin straps that expose more of the foot, as well as shoes with very thin heels. Ditto for footwear in bright colors. If you decide to go higher than a 3-inch heel, opt for a classic, closed-toe pump in a matte leather and neutral color. You might also consider a platform style or wearing pants the same color as your shoes to camouflage the height of the heel.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I have pale skin and I wonder if a spray tan would give me an edge on a job interview. Do you recommend it?

A: Several benefits can come from an artificial tan. For one, a little color may boost your confidence level, which in turn could calm your nerves and help you ace that interview. It may also send the message that you have an active lifestyle and are physically fit—something your potential employer should consider a plus. Just be careful not to overdo it. Straying too far from your natural skin tone could send the message that you are superficial, focused too much on extracurricular activities, and lack strong business ethics. Go only two to three shades darker than your natural skin tone.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I love all the bright colors they are showing for spring. Are they office appropriate?

A: No one can deny the merits of neutral-colored business attire, but sometimes we all need a color pick-me-up. This spring, designers are showing citrus shades of orange, yellow, and green as well as coral, pink, and bright blue. Because people perceive brighter hues as bold and playful statements, for a more conservative work environment, less is more. Add brighter colors in small doses by way of a scarf, tie, or handbag. Or you can incorporate more hues in a patterned shirt or blouse and team it with a neutral bottom or jacket. Generally speaking, for business, you will want to avoid wearing bright colors from head to toe.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: When a wine glass is placed on a table at a restaurant, how do I signal that I don't want any?

A: Never turn a glass or cup upside down to decline service. If you don't want your wine glass, coffee cup, or water glass filled (or refilled), hold your hand over the glass. If the server fills it before you have a chance to signal no, leave the beverage untouched for removal after the meal.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I frequently respond to business e-mails via my mobile device. Must I include a salutation?

A: The type of device you use to send e-mail has little to do with proper e-mail etiquette. Instead, consider your relationship to the recipient, the intended degree of formality, and whether your message is a standalone reply or part of a longer chain of responses. On a first reply when communicating for business, use a salutation that includes the recipient's name, whether it's "Dear Christine," "Hi, Christine," or simply "Christine." While a salutation is unnecessary thereafter, it is considered more formal and appropriate when communicating with a senior associate or an important client.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: What is the "silverware-placement code" for telling waitstaff you're done with your plate?

A: Rest your fork, tines up, and knife, blade in, with the handles resting at 5 o'clock and tips pointing to 10 o'clock on your plate. Leave any unused silverware on the table. Another way to signal the waitstaff you have finished your meal is to leave the napkin semi-folded at the left side of the place setting. Don't twist or crumple the napkin or refold it so it looks unused. Never leave the napkin on the chair. Don't push your dishes away from you or stack them for the waiter when you are finished. Leave plates and glasses where they are.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I will be attending several upcoming job fairs. What do I wear?

A: Think of a job fair as a series of mini first interviews. Because the dress code of participating companies can vary, it is safest to err on the side of more formal dress. A suit or jacket in dark grey or navy (or black for women) is always an appropriate choice. Wearing a collared, long-sleeve shirt or blouse underneath makes sense because it looks professional enough on its own, should you decide to remove your jacket. Men should opt for a dark-colored, lace-up shoe; for women, a mid-heeled, closed-toe pump or slingback. Clean and pressed clothes and polished shoes are a must. Less is more with accessories, jewelry, and cologne, so keep them at a minimum. These tips, accompanied by a smile, direct eye contact, and a firm handshake, will help you create a positive—and professional—first impression.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: What types of sunglasses are in style for a corporate look?

A: Go with quality. Look for metallic, tortoise shell, or black frames with charcoal, dark brown, or black lenses. Avoid sunglasses that are trendy, sporty, or brightly colored as they tend to look inexpensive—even if they aren't. Two classics that will never go out of style are the wayfarer and the aviator.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I am uncomfortable attending networking events. Can you help with some conversation starters?

A: To ease your way, arrive with a handful of open-ended questions. A logical place to start is by asking others what they do. Follow up with additional questions such as what they like about their job, current projects they are working on, industry trends they have noticed, or challenges they are facing. Remember, everyone is there for a similar reason. Be sure to ask others about the type of referrals that are useful to them and how you can help. Presumably other networkers will want to know your answers to similar questions, so make sure that you come prepared. Use current events to your advantage. Select one for discussion and ask others to share their thoughts. Avoid controversial subjects such as politics and religion. If you are truly at a loss for words, you can always start with questions such as: "What brings you to this event?" or "What have you heard about the speaker?" Follow up with your new key contacts in a timely manner. Don't forget to mention the event at which you met and what you discussed.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I'm a vegan and don't wear leather. What should I do as far as shoes for a corporate job interview?

A: In addition to pleather (synthetic leather), an assortment of footwear can now be found made from natural and sustainable products such as hemp and bamboo. Here are a few resources: www.mooshoes.com, www.zappos.com/vegan, www.shoes.com, www.planetshoes.com/vegan and www.shoeocean.com. Just keep the general professional dress code in mind. Men should look for a traditional oxford dress shoe (lace-up or slip-on), and women should opt for a closed-toe pump in a neutral color, with a heel no higher than three inches. Most important, shoes should be clean and well-maintained with no scuff marks or visible signs of wear and tear.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I look young and fear that I am not taken seriously at work. What can I do to project a more-seasoned image?

A: Seemingly small changes to your appearance, body language, and speech can make a big difference in how others perceive you. To convey a more mature and credible image, opt for high quality, classic clothing in solid, neutral colors or simple patterns. Depending on your workplace dress code, wearing a formal suit can look as if you're trying too hard. However, the addition of a jacket, cardigan, vest, or other "third piece" to a shirt-skirt or shirt-pants combination will add a visual layer of authority and credibility. Don't overlook your hair and makeup: Aim for subtle and sophisticated. Your body language and speech should be in synch with your visual image and in support of your overall message. Pay attention to your posture and maintain eye contact with others. In addition, speak slowly and with conviction. Demonstrate your maturity and experience with an awareness of industry and current events.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I want to help my daughter sell candy for her school's fundraising effort. Is it okay for me to ask my co-workers to buy some?

A: I'm so glad you asked this question! Haven't we all experienced that awkward moment when one of our co-workers, employers, or friends asks us to help out their kids by purchasing something we really don't want or need? My suggestion: Instead of asking your co-workers face to face or passing around a sign-up sheet where everyone can see who bought (and how much), post a notice in the break room or other high-traffic area in your office announcing the "opportunity" to make a purchase to benefit your child's school or whatever the cause may be. Provide your home and office contact information. This way, no one will feel strong-armed into purchasing—or uncomfortable about choosing not to. You may not make as many sales, but you will preserve valuable relationships.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I love big, expressive jewelry. Can I wear it to the office?

A: It depends. While dressing for work should not mean forgoing your own sense of style, your accessories should suit your industry, company, and position. Think about the type of clothing that would be office-appropriate for your environment and mirror that level of formality with your jewelry choices. When accessorizing, aim to create one focal point of interest. For most people this means directing attention to the face with an interesting necklace, pair of earrings, scarf, or tie. When you do choose a bold piece, keep your other accessories understated. If you have doubts about a particular accessory, try the "blink test." Stand in front of a full-length mirror and close your eyes for a few seconds. When you open them, what is the first thing you notice? If it's the accessory rather than your face or overall appearance, it's probably too distracting for the office.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Does the old rule about cutting up food (say, eggplant parmigiana) one bite at a time still apply?

A: Yes. If you slice up your food all at once, it is unattractive on the plate and makes you look childish or immature. (Maybe this has something to do with the fact that parents often cut up their children's food at the beginning of the meal so they can then enjoy their own meal leisurely.) Cutting one or two bites at a time gives you a chance to put your utensils down during the meal and have a conversation with your companions. Other benefits: Your food won't get cold as fast, and consuming it slowly can stop you from overeating.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: How can I maintain a professional look yet still dress for the inclement winter weather?

A: Dress in layers and pay attention to your fabric and color choices. Start with an undershirt of cotton, silk, or one of the new high-tech fabrics. Then put on your shirt or turtleneck. Over that, layer a thin-gauge, high-quality cotton, wool, or cashmere sweater. Avoid fleece, chunky, or Fair Isle knits, which have a more casual look and feel. Make sure to check for pilling, fading, and any other tell-tale signs that your cold-weather wardrobe staples need replacing. Save the short, brightly colored down ski jacket for the slopes. Opt for a neutral-colored wool coat that is 3/4-length or longer to layer easily over a blazer or longer cardigan. Choose hats, scarves, and gloves without excessive detail or embellishment. Fringes, pom-poms, and furry earmuffs are more suited for the weekend. Invest in a professional-looking, all-weather boot in a neutral color. If your boots are brightly colored, patterned, or Ugg-styled, swap them for a more business-appropriate shoe when you arrive at the office.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Keep It Rosy During Job Interviews

Maintain a positive, upbeat attitude. Everyone wants to be around a winner. Never criticize your current or former manager or employer.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Q: How can I keep my New Year's resolution to stick to my diet when eating out with clients?

A: Select a restaurant with a varied menu to suit everyone's needs—not just your diet goals. Then try to be discreet about your calorie counting so you don't inhibit the choices of others. If possible, meet for lunch instead of dinner as the portions are smaller. For an appetizer, opt for a salad with dressing on the side. Order your entrée grilled, steamed, roasted, baked, or sautéed, rather than breaded or fried. Since most restaurant food comes adequately salted, use the salt shaker sparingly, if at all. Drink plenty of water throughout your meal. For dessert, ask for fresh fruit. Alternatively, order a few desserts with extra forks for the table so that the experience (and the calories) can be shared.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I tend to forget people's names, sometimes even moments after meeting them. Any advice?

A: Even the most socially savvy networker has forgotten a name or two. Don't let it hold you back from making a connection. You never know where that relationship may lead: a new client, a new job, or a new relationship. If the person is wearing a name tag, take a quick peek. Otherwise, apologize quickly and say you've suddenly forgotten his or her name. Most individuals will gladly fill in the blank for you.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I am in need of some last-minute holiday gifts for my administrative staff. Any recommendations?

A: Though your gift may be last-minute, avoid having it look that way. Consider what you know about the recipient. If the person is family-minded, a picture frame or gift certificate for a personalized photo book would be a nice touch. For the animal lover: pet-themed stationery or mugs or a coffee-table book devoted to his or her favorite animal. For the film enthusiast: movie tickets or a gift certificate to Netflix, packaged with a few boxes of movie-size candy. For the athlete: a cool water bottle with built-in filter or subscription to a magazine devoted to his or her favorite sport. (To avoid looking last-minute, wrap the current issue with a note that the subscription is on its way.) If you do not know much about the person, you might give a gift related to his or her job. This can be a beautiful pen, writing tablet, desk accessory, or industry-related business book. Additionally, a gift certificate for a manicure and pedicure or massage (with tip included) is always appreciated. If all else fails, you can't go wrong with beautifully packaged candy, a basket of holiday treats, or a gift card to a local coffee bar. Don't forget to include a festive holiday card with a handwritten note.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: When is it appropriate to regift?

A: Never regift a present that was handmade or customized (think knitted, monogrammed, etc.) just for you. Stick it in a closet or drawer for a few months before disposing of it. Otherwise, if it's something you think someone else would appreciate or could use, you can regift if you follow a few simple guidelines. (1)�Keep a record of the name of the person who gave you the item and what it was, especially if you're not going to regift it right away. This way you can avoid regifting to the original giver, and you can recall the item when you next see him or her or when sending a thank-you note. (2)�Examine the item thoroughly for personalized notes or inscriptions from the original giver, remove them, and then repackage the object with new wrap. (3)�If you have regifted the item and any of the parties involved discover the fact, don't try to cover it up with lies. Be honest and considerate. You could simply state that the gesture was greatly appreciated, but you felt someone else would appreciate it (or could use it) more than you, so you passed it on.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: My boss has invited me to a dinner party at his home. Can you suggest an appropriate gift?

A: If you know the dinner party will be more of an intimate gathering, feel free to ask what you can bring. If nothing in particular is needed, give a bottle of wine. Go to a reputable wine shop and ask for a varietal that works well with any food pairing. Alternatively, consider a box of fine chocolates, tin of mixed nuts, or basket of specialty teas. With any wrapped consumable item, remember that it is the choice of the host or hostess to serve it that evening or not. Do not take offense if your gift is enjoyed at a later time. If you would prefer to bring something other than food or drink, a small potted plant or flowers—already arranged and in a vase—is a lovely choice. If you know your boss' hobbies or interests (golf, cooking, gardening, etc.), you may want to fold that into the theme of your gift. Whatever you bring, remember it's all in the presentation. Decorative boxes, bags, or wrapping will make give your gift greater effect. Sending a hand-written thank-you note the next day is also a nice touch.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Some fancy restaurants don't seem to have a coat check room—someone takes your coat when you walk in and hands it back as you leave. Are you supposed to tip them?

A: In some restaurants a host, hostess, or someone else takes your coat and excess baggage and returns those belongings. If this is the case, I would offer a tip to the individual when the item or items are returned. However, if the restaurant is small and that someone else is clearly the manager, or even one of the owners, I would not offer a tip, just my thanks.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: Every holiday season I have quite a few after-work social events. How can I take my look from day to night?

A: Opt for dark neutral separates in black or navy to bridge the transition. Consider taking an extra shirt to the office for a quick change. Men can swap out a lighter colored shirt for one with a darker or brighter color and replace a tie with a colorful pocket square for a more festive look. Women can opt for a sleeveless or embellished blouse and add jewelry with sparkle, shine, and movement with such options as rhinestone chandelier earrings or a series of bangle bracelets. The right shoes can also take your look from day to night. For men, lace-ups in a polished leather with thin soles and a streamlined shape do just the trick. For women, high heeled pumps or strappy sandals convey a nighttime sensibility. Women can pair their evening shoe with a small jeweled handbag that discreetly fits inside a bigger daytime tote. A more dramatic lipstick or smoky eye shadow also adds evening impact. A spray of cologne or perfume is the final step in gearing up for a festive night out.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Is a dollar a coat still the normal tip for coat check attendants?

A: The dollar standard per coat or other item checked seems to have been established many years ago and in most cases is perfectly appropriate.�But it doesn't take regional differences into account. In cities where the cost of living and meal prices are higher than the norm, or in a high-end restaurant, you might consider tipping perhaps two dollars—especially if there is a dedicated coat check attendant who is probably working for tips.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

What does your cell phone say about you?

A: Even before you answer it, the type of cell phone you use speaks volumes. A BlackBerry says you're all business, on time and at the ready with immediate access to e-mail, appointments, and documents. An iPhone pegs you as an early adopter, someone who's on trend, with equal emphasis on work and play. The Droid conveys tech savvy, independence, and courage to go against the grain—and that you do your homework. By contrast, a non-smartphone, like a flip phone, suggests you're practical, place little emphasis on bells and whistles, and appreciate the classics. The color of your phone or cover also sends a message. Bright colors intimate that you have a fun, creative, lighthearted side, and that you view your phone as an accessory. A darker neutral or metallic hue has an air of seriousness. Your ringtone is the final telltale. Choosing one that came with the phone suggests practicality, straightforwardness, and a penchant for the status quo. A song or TV-show theme says that you value choice and self-expression and feel free to show your personality.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: When a person is taken out for a business lunch, is it all right to order an alcoholic drink or two?

A: Alcohol and business don't mix. Everyone knows alcohol dulls the senses and may cause us to do or say things we wouldn't normally. I have heard more than one horror story where a little good "cheer" got out of hand and jobs were lost because of it. If you want to maintain your professional image and keep your mind sharp, skip the alcohol altogether. However, if it is a celebratory event and you feel you should (and want to) join in, follow the lead of your superiors. If your boss is indulging, have a drink. But consider making it a Virgin Mary or sipping some club soda with lemon or lime. Remember, those who observe your behavior at the luncheon will remember when they are considering inviting you to the next event, continuing a business relationship with you, or giving you a promotion.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: How do I incorporate the new fall clothing trends into my business wardrobe?

A: Everyone's wardrobe can benefit from an update, but a little trendiness goes a long way in most work environments. To avoid looking like a slave to fashion, incorporate both classic and trend pieces. For men and women, the easiest trend to adopt is color. Not only are camel and gray "fashion" colors this season, they are also work-appropriate. Pair them with this season's accents in shades of purple, yellow, or red for a more fashion-forward look. We continue to be mad for plaid this season, as well as for stripes and tweed. Cardigans for men and women are key items as well, particularly in a chunky knit. Additionally, the military trend remains strong and can easily be sported in a blazer or coat. Although animal prints are fashionable for women this fall, you'll want to add only as much as your environment (and comfort zone) will allow. A scarf or shoe might just do the trick. Remember, every season the fashion industry gives us a potpourri of trends to choose among, but not every trend is for everybody. The trick is to choose the ones that feel right for you.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: What white things can and can't you wear after Labor Day?

A: White shoes and handbags look out of place in the fall and winter months. And we all know some clothing colors are more appropriate at certain times of the year than others. For example, pastel shades of yellow are associated with summer, while rust, burgundy, and eggplant are associated with autumn. Wearing rust in the summer or light yellow in the fall will seem off. However, white after Labor Day is no longer taboo and can actually look quite chic.�As the weather gets cooler, instead of storing away all your whites, put more consideration into the fabric from which the garments are constructed. White clothing made of linen, gauze, and eyelet should be reserved for next summer, while white garments made from more substantial fabrics like denim, corduroy, and leather can carry you through the winter months. In fact, a white coat can be quite fetching and will stand out from the black and navy of most traditional winter outerwear.�Other great options include white sweaters, white jackets or blazers (of a sturdy fabric), and white jeans. In fact, most anything constructed from white denim works year-round.�Layering pieces such as white button-down shirts, T-shirts, and turtlenecks is fine in the cooler weather. To look seasonally appropriate, mix your white clothing with darker colors.�Black and white is a year-round classic, so consider using black to anchor your outfit.�Try pairing a white sweater with black dress pants, for example, or using black accessories. Also, consider pairing white garments with brown or navy accessories to add balance and interest.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I am very hard on my clothes. Can you share some tips for prolonging their life span?

A: How and when you clean your clothing is the most important consideration. Get serious about familiarizing yourself with the clothing care labels and following their instructions. Be sure to wash like-colored items together to avoid color transfer. Turn dark colors inside out before washing to avoid fading. Because heat can break down clothing fibers, wash items in cold water and hang them to dry whenever possible. Treat stains immediately by carrying a portable stain-removing wipe or pen with you. Be mindful to dry-clean your clothing only when needed. Unless they are stained, trousers, skirts, or jackets should be dry-cleaned no more than twice a season. Hang these and all items to air out after each wearing. Never store any garments on the dry-cleaning hangers, as the wires can misshape or damage your clothing. Additionally, remove your garments from the dry-cleaning bags to avoid discoloration. For pressing, opt for a steamer instead of an iron for a faster and more fabric-friendly alternative. Remember, to prolong the life of your clothing, you'll need to take the same level of care to maintain it as you did to select it.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: My administrative assistant says "yous," as in: "How are yous guys doing?" Should I say something about it?

A:Since this person is your assistant, she is in essence a representative of your business.�Just as you would call her attention to a spelling error on a document, you should advise her when she is using improper grammar or speech.�The issue should be more about how to tell her without embarrassing her or hurting her feelings.�First, don't interrupt her in mid-sentence.�Wait until she has completed her thought.�Second, be sure to have your conversation where no one else may overhear.�Third, simply state the problem and then provide the solution.�For example, you might say something like, "I love your Northern accent, but did you know the word 'yous' [alternately, 'youse'] is actually slang?�To maintain our professional image, it would be best to avoid the use of informal or nonstandard words at the office.�Would you be able to replace 'yous' with the word 'you?'"�By phrasing it as a question, you are asking her to assist with the problem, which may be easier to deal with than a grammar lesson.�If you are matter-of-fact with your correction, your comments are more likely to be heard and taken to heart.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: How do you find a good hair stylist?

A: A good hair stylist can make or break your overall image, so do your homework to find the best one for your needs. Start with personal recommendations. If possible, ask others who have both a hair style you admire and a hair type similar to your own. Visit a few salons (ideally on a Saturday, when they are busiest) to assess the atmosphere. Do you feel comfortable with the staff, service, environment, and fees? If so, schedule individual consultations to interview all of your prospective stylists. Bring pictures of past hair styles you've loved or hated and be honest about your time, expertise, and budget for hair-style maintenance. Ask prospective stylists about their training. Ask to see their portfolios. Be mindful of how they present themselves and see if your personalities mesh.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I love high heels but want to look professional. What's the height limit for office wear?

A: When it comes to�women and their shoes, it's hard to make a blanket statement. Generally,�I would advise a maximum heel height of four inches in a professional setting.�That said,�I believe the style of shoe is more important than heel height. For instance, many offices have a dress-code policy that states no open-toe or sling-back styles. Even if it isn't stated in the dress code, some shoes just don't look professional and should be saved for after hours (thigh-high boots, gladiator-style sandals, bright colors, or prints, etc.). In my corporate workshops, I always make the point that if you have to stop and ask yourself if it is appropriate for the office, it probably isn't. Many women feel a sense of empowerment when they wear high heels, and that the extra boost in height�keeps them on an even level with their taller male counterparts. If that is the case, by all means wear a three-inch or four-inch pump with your office attire. On the other hand, if you can't keep your balance or your feet start killing you halfway through the meeting (and it becomes a distraction), go with a lower heel.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: Can I wear leggings to the office?

A: While leggings continue to be a popular style trend, let's not forget they are a derivative of the sweat pant, so proceed with caution. Assuming that your workplace has a business casual dress code, think about the type of industry you are in. Leggings are more accepted in fashion, design, and other creative industries. They are a no-go in financial and other professional service industries (accounting, law, insurance, etc.). Also take into account your position. If your role is client-facing or that of senior management, leggings are best left for the weekend. If you determine leggings to be a suitable option, opt for full-length ones in solid neutral colors, such as black, brown, gray, and tan. Pair your leggings with long tunics, cardigans, jackets, or sweaters that fully cover your hips and upper thighs. To elevate your look, wear your leggings with elegant, well-coordinated accessories. Finally, make sure leggings are in excellent condition, not faded or pilled.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: What's a tactful way to tell the office big mouth I'm not interested in hearing gossip?

A: Avoid the rumor mill by simply walking away when you suspect the conversation is heading in that direction. If the break room is a hot spot for rumors, get some fresh air instead. Or try changing the subject to something more productive. Ask for feedback on a project or the agenda for an upcoming meeting. If the conversation keeps drifting back to gossip, saying something like, "I don't feel comfortable talking about Jan when she's not here" should do the trick. "I really want to stay focused on work-related issues and don't want to discuss our co-workers' personal lives" is another direct approach that should let others know where you stand on gossip.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I am not wearing some of the clothing in my closet and would like to recoup part of my investment. How do consignment shops work?

A: Consignment shops are a great outlet for unwanted and gently worn clothes and accessories. Some will accept only pieces from top designers and from the past year, while others will take any quality clothing that is just a few years old. Call before you visit, as many stores work by appointment only or have specific hours to review potential consigned items. Make sure your pieces are freshly cleaned and pressed. Terms and conditions will differ from shop to shop, but generally the store determines the selling price. When your item sells, the dollar amount is divided between you and the store, usually a 50/50 split. Most stores keep clothing or accessories for three months. If your items have not sold by then, you can take them back. Remember that these types of stores have limited selling space and can be discerning with their selection. If the store doesn't accept everything you bring, don't take it personally.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I'm having a housewarming party. Should I invite my boss?

A: Under modern rules of etiquette, it generally is not necessary to invite employers to your personal affairs. Base your decision on the size and formality of the party, whether you are inviting co-workers, and your relationship with your boss. If it's a small, intimate party with just a few close friends and family members, there's no obligation to invite your boss. If you are inviting everyone else from the office, however, you should include your boss, or it will appear as though you have a problem with him or her. Use caution if you plan to overindulge in alcoholic beverages, swing from the rafters, and dance scantily dressed around the pool. In this case, refrain from inviting your boss, as it may jeopardize your professional image and even hinder your career. Finally, if you invite your boss because the two of you have developed a personal relationship, don't be offended if he or she chooses not to attend. Your boss might want to let you kick back and enjoy the event with those closest to you.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: My closet is in desperate need of editing. Where do I begin?

A: Set aside a few hours of uninterrupted time. If you live in a locale with seasonal climate changes, divide your wardrobe into two seasons: spring/summer and fall/winter. Begin by reviewing your clothing for the current season, plus items that can be worn year-round. Try on each item and assess via a set of objective criteria. Is it a good color, fit, and style for you? Is it current, in good condition, and relevant to your lifestyle? Does it convey the message that you want to send? Release from your closet those items that are: unflattering in color or style, don't fit (and have a high likelihood of never fitting), have not been worn in two or more years or are outdated, uncomfortable to wear, damaged, or worn out. Questionable items include those that have nothing else to go with them or are in need of repair or alteration. Consider whether they merit the time, energy, and money it will take to make them work. For multiples of the same item (i.e., eight pairs of black pants), take inventory and keep only the best of the bunch. Finally, limit yourself to only a few sentimental pieces and store them in a special location, out of your main closet. Don't be afraid if you are left with only a fraction of your original clothing inventory. It's better to hold on to only those items that look great on you, that you wear with frequency, and that you enjoy. In this case, less is truly more.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Is it acceptable to send flowers as thank-you gifts to men? If so, what kind?

A: Yes, flowers are perfectly acceptable as thank-you gifts for men. Keep in mind, however, that certain varieties may have hidden meaning. Dating back to Victorian times, flowers have been used as symbols to communicate specific messages. For instance, red roses said "I love you" and white lilies stood for purity. (If you want to do some research about flowers and their meanings, try AboutFlowers.com.) For a male business acquaintance or client, consider a mixed bouquet containing several floral varieties and colors. Another option would be a potted plant. Since plants have a longer lifespan, your gesture of thanks is guaranteed to remain on their minds for a longer time.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I'm often late for work. Can you share any wardrobe time-saving tips?

A: The best way to streamline your morning routine is to streamline the organization of your closet. Think assembly line. Hang clothes by type (i.e., shirts together, jackets together, pants together) and on hangers that are of uniform height. Make sure your closet contains only those items that fit and are clean and in good condition. Hectic workday mornings are not the time for wardrobe surprises. When pressed for time, opt for outfits that are easy to put together. With a two-piece suit, you've already got a coordinated jacket and pants. With a dress, you just need accessories. For frequent handbag switches, put items in a purse organizer so it's easier to change from one bag to the next. Store accessories in clusters. For example, if you have a silver necklace, bracelet, and two pairs of earrings that work together, keep them together. Store shoes in clear shoe boxes so that they are easily identified and pairs stay together.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

When is it appropriate for a man to wear a bow tie?

Basically, any time a tie is required, a bow tie can be worn.�In fact, the bow tie is making a major comeback since first becoming popular to close necks of shirts about 300 years ago. The classic black bow tie is a common choice to accessorize a tuxedo, but bow ties can also make a fashion statement when worn to semi-formal events, at the workplace,�or at parties. Bow ties tend to be associated with intellectual professions such as professor, architect, and attorney.�They also have been chosen�when�longer ties could get soiled or in the way (think pediatricians interacting with children or business luncheons involving soup or salad dressing). A bow tie offers an opportunity to stand out from the crowd…for those who are comfortable with their style and status in life.�However, it is�not suggested attire for job interviews or to pitch new business ideas as people may tend to�focus on the tie instead of�what you are saying. A few things to keep in mind: Consider the shape of your face. Bow ties are more flattering on oval or oblong faces.�They can make round faces look even rounder. Wear solid, dark-colored bow ties for formal events.�Stripes, prints, and polka dots are good choices for daytime and�less-formal events. To avoid looking clownish or juvenile, abstain from�bright colors and exaggerated prints or shapes. Always tie the bow tie yourself, even if it isn't perfect. Ready-made bow ties are only for children.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I have a hard time finding clothes that fit. When is an item worth buying and having it altered and when is it not?

A: Truthfully, "ready-to-wear" is a myth. Only 10 percent of the population walks into a store, tries on an item, and finds it a perfect fit. The rest of us need some sort of alteration. To properly assess fit when trying on a garment, don't just stand still: Sit, stretch, and bend. The garment should fit well in all these positions. A jacket should fit through the shoulders, back, and body without bunching or pulling. Similarly, a pant should fit through the stomach, thighs, and backside. Both the hem and crease of the pant should fall straight. Relatively easy and inexpensive alterations include shortening or taking in a pant or sleeve. Alterations such as adjusting the shoulder or armhole of a jacket or the rise in a pant are more involved and costly. Unless you have a master tailor or big alterations budget, take a pass on clothing with these fit challenges. Skip any item that needs to be lengthened or let out, especially in fabrics such as silk, rayon, or velvet as they can show marks. Before cutting the tags off an item in question, ask your tailor for an estimate of the alteration costs. To determine if it's worth it, consider the item's versatility, the fabric quality and potential life span, and if you really like (and need) it. If the item gets high marks for all these factors, it's a keeper.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I seem to have a talent for accidentally spilling wine on people at receptions, happy hours, and so forth. Any advice on handling this graciously?

A: The worst thing you can do is cause a scene that will just embarrass the hapless victim even further. Don't apologe profusely;�it won't make the situation go away. One very sincere "I'm so sorry" should suffice.�Then offer to help mop up the mess right away.�If necessary, request additional napkins or towels from a member of the wait staff.�If it involved a colored beverage, ask for club soda, which may help�remove the stain. If it was the other person's drink you caused to spill, order a replacement on your tab.�Offer to pay for cleaning the soiled garment(s).�Even if the person refuses the offer, provide your�mailing address and advise him or her to send you the bill.�If the item�is permanently damaged, offer to�pay for a replacement. If it's a client, you may be able to write off the cost as a business expense.�And if it was a very expensive item, say a pricey Chanel jacket, check with your insurance company—your policy may cover it.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I want to stretch my clothing budget. Can you provide some tips on doing more with less?

A: Think about how you spend your time and then balance your wardrobe and budget accordingly. For example, if 40 percent of your week is spent at work, 40 percent of your clothing should be work appropriate. Create a closet of mix-and-match clothing items that coordinate in color and are interchangeable. Remember the ratio of 4 to 1: That means 4 tops to every bottom; 4 solids for every print; and no more than 4 accent colors per neutral. Make sure any new items work with at least three other items in your closet. Allocate more funds for staple pieces, such as suits, jackets, or bottoms. For these items, opt for three-season, midweight fabrics in neutral colors, such as black, navy, gray, and tan. Neutrals work well with any color, they don't date, and they can be worn with frequency without being identified. Spend less for shirts and blouses, as these items are cleaned more often and can therefore have a shorter shelf life. Look for items that work for multiple occasions and can be dressed up or down, i.e., desk to dinner. For maximum longevity, buy the best quality you can afford. Think timeless classics that will wear out before they go out of style. Consider not only the item's price tag but also how much use you will get out of it and its projected cost-per-wear. Remember a bargain is only a bargain if you wear it.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I'm too vain to wear reading glasses. Is it rude to hold documents at arm's length in order to see them? How about asking someone else to read a menu item for you?

A: No, it's not rude to hold a document at arm's length to read.�You might look a little funny, but you are not disturbing others.�Once the arm trick stops working, however, you'll need to find another solution. For some people, donning a pair of "readers" just doesn't fit their image.�So, is asking your co-workers, family, and friends to read for you the answer?�Think:�Is your vanity disruptive to others?�Requesting help when you really need it or every once in a while is just fine.�For instance, when my husband underwent cataract surgery, I was perfectly happy to read everything for him.�But constantly being asked to read for someone just because he or she doesn't want to look old or dowdy�can quickly become annoying, and it's the wrong thing to do. There are so many cute and stylish reading glasses available now. You can make it fun by choosing colorful frames that enhance your eyes or hair color.�And if you absolutely detest the idea of wearing glasses, you can opt for contacts or try using a magnifying glass.�At my cosmetic studio we sell a small, decorative magnifying glass on a long chain that women love to wear because it doubles as a trendy fashion accessory.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I work for a conservative company. Do I need to be mindful of my social media habits?

A: Absolutely. Some employers monitor employees' (or potential employees') personal pages on Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Apply the same filters you would in a face-to-face interaction. Send a private message if you would like to share a comment or photo that is at all questionable. Your superiors really don't need to see you in a Friday-night snapshot with empty beer bottles in the foreground. When inviting someone to join your social media network, include a personal note that describes your connection—where and when you met, for example—so it's clear it's not a boilerplate message you're sending to dozens of people. Understand that some professional contacts may not feel comfortable connecting in this way, so don't take it personally if they don't respond. Avoid bombarding others with frequent posts. Think quality, not quantity. And, while there is appropriate shorthand for social media, don't go overboard, i.e., "U coming 4 lunch?" You want to distinguish your writing style from that of a teenager. Otherwise you may be misunderstood or perceived as lazy. Refrain from posting social media updates at the office, as that can speak poorly about your work habits. Remember that how you are perceived is the sum total of your visual, verbal, and online brand.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: What's an appropriate gift for my boss's birthday?

A: As I discussed in a previous Style Q&A, in many cases it's not necessary to give your boss a birthday gift in the first place. But if you'd really like to, you can start the process by thinking about your boss's hobbies and interests. For a golfer, a box of quality golf balls with his or her name printed on them would be nice. For an avid gardener, a perennial plant would serve as a longtime reminder of your thoughtfulness. A CD or DVD makes a nice gift for music or movie lovers. If you know your boss frequents a local coffee shop, give a gift certificate so the next cup of joe is on you. To avoid any possibility of awkwardness, stay away from the following five items. 1. Jewelry: It could be considered too personal or too elaborate. 2. Clothing: Too tricky to judge another person's taste and inadvisable to guess at size. 3) Food: Too many people have food allergies, and your boss may have just started a diet. 4) Liquor: Many people don't imbibe, and you probably won't know if they or members of their families have recently joined AA. 5) Items with a religious or political meaning: Definitely taboo in the workplace. If you absolutely can't decide on a gift but feel you want to acknowledge your employer's special day, hand-write a message on a meaningful card. Say something truly heartfelt, like you really appreciate how he or she gave you the time off to attend your child's recital, or how much you enjoy your brain-storming sessions together. The thoughtful words will be appreciated and long-remembered.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner, Totalfashionmakeover.com, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I work in an office that's business casual. How can I still look professional in the warmer weather months?

A:Remember that business comes first in the business casual equation. Rather than take your dressing cues from others, consult the official company dress code, if you have one. You might also ask yourself: "Would this clothing item work at the beach, pool, or park?" If the answer is yes, don't wear it to work. Whatever you decide to wear, remember that a jacket or cardigan adds instant credibility—keep one handy for impromptu meetings. For men, long sleeves (even when rolled up) are perceived as being more professional than short sleeves. Ditto for a shirt with a collar. Women should avoid showing too much skin. Balance is the key. If you are wearing a skirt, wear long sleeves.


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