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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

What to Wear?

Dear Sue: My company needs some information about appropriate business attire for women. Our salesmen wear conservative suits, white shirts and shoes. What does the up and coming saleswoman wear?

- Joanne

Sue Says: When most people think of formal business dress for men, we think of a suit and tie. Yet, when we think of business dress for women, we often end up confused. Women never have had a business "uniform" the way men have. And today, with so many companies allowing casual dress, the confusion is even greater. Part of the decision in deciding how to dress will depend upon the industry you are in and your objectives.

Part of the confusion comes from the media and the fashion industry. While it is important to look "up-to-date", wearing the latest trends won't add much credibility to anyone unless they are in the fashion industry. The way businesswomen usually are portrayed on television does not mirror the way they should present themselves in the real business world. Short skirts and tight clothing certainly draw attention to a woman's body, but that is not necessarily what women should draw attention to. Most women prefer to be recognized for their skills and contributions, not their bodies.

In my book, I list a number of clothing options and then rank them in order of professionalism from the most professional to the most casual. For example, the two-piece matching skirted suit is the most formal and professional option in clothing for women. Although not right or fair, for some reason, when a woman wears a skirt (and exposes her legs) she looks more professional. However, it is slowly changing. A matching pantsuit is an acceptable alternative, as is a skirt or dress with a jacket.

Wearing a jacket will always add a sense of completion and polish to a business look. I always recommend that women wear one.

I am often asked about short-sleeve dresses and suits for women. I have never seen a short-sleeved suit made for men, therefore, I don't recommend them for women either.

Establishing guidelines and communicating expectations is essential and helpful for both the employer and employee. It will eliminate future problems and makes it easier for an employee to know what to wear. For further clarification and more specifics, I recommend my book, How to Gain the Professional Edge. There are several chapters devoted to appearance and clothing.

Dear Sue: I recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from a prestigious University in the Northeast. I've sent out hundreds of resumes, but am getting no response -- just letters stating they have received my resume and will keep it on file. I lack work experience in my chosen field, but my educational experiences are extensive. Any suggestions on how I make myself more presentable to organizations and "get my foot in the door?"

Once they meet me, I am sure they would be impressed, but I can't even get an interview. I've even traveled to several organizations to submit resumes personally. They accept them, but that is the end of it. Please Help!

- Looking for work

Sue Says: Start by having your resume evaluated by a resume specialist or some experienced business people who may be able to offer you advice. Are you submitting cover letters? If not, create one and make sure your personality and ambition is coming through. Perhaps noting that what you "lack in experience, you make up for in enthusiasm" might help.

In the interim, perhaps you can do some work as an intern to try to gain the experience you lack. Look for ways to take any experience you have and tie it in to the type of work you are looking to do. Consider including a letter of recommendation from an instructor, counselor or past employer.

The key is to keep yourself out there and begin to approach potential employers with creativity. You may want to request "informational interviews" - not necessarily where a job opening is posted, but in the type of company you want to work in. And, expand your network. Utilize friends and relatives and other contacts to learn about potential opportunities and to connect with people who may be able to help you.

Looking for a job can be a full-time job in itself. Keep on changing your approach until you find one that works. Good luck and let me know what happens and what worked for you and I will pass it along!

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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