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Cracking the Office Dress Code

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Grab your handbag; grab your iPad; grab your flip-flops? Whoa, not so fast. Dressing for the office may be a little more relaxed now than it was in the days of padded shoulders and stiff suits, but it is still important to look polished and put together when it comes to work wear, says Jenny Levin, author of Harper Bazaar's "Great Style: Best Ways to Update Your Look." "Whether you spend your day in front of a computer, in meetings or at luncheons, dressing professionally and appropriately counts," says Levin. "Thankfully, fashion has become more interesting, and there are loads of exciting options out there that will pass muster even in a conservative office environment. So while many of us are restricted by our office dress code, that doesn't have to mean boring and basic."

Here are some tips Levin says to remember when dressing for work:

— Obey the rules, whether you like them or not. Dressing against office dictates won't impress the boss — or your colleagues.

— Never show your midriff. Wear shirts of a proper length, and shun pants that ride too low.

— Avoid revealing too much cleavage. Work is definitely not the place for it.

— Keep your straps under wraps. Never let your bra show, and make sure your shirt is buttoned up properly.

— And don't wear anything see-through without proper underpinnings, ever.

— Keep your hemlines in check.

Even if you have great gams, super short skirts should be saved for evenings out or weekends. A few inches above the knee is the shortest you should go.

— Save your flip-flops for the beach and your sneakers for the gym. Wear a pair of simple flats for your commute instead.

— Use your best judgment: Save slinkier styles, like lacy camisoles and strapless dresses, for the evening.

— Try not to go too tight. The office isn't the right place to hug every curve.

— Don't get too wacky. It's fine to express your personal style, but keep it refined. Crazy hats, over-the-top makeup and raucous patterns or colors will make you seem too eccentric.

The traditional two-piece suit is the office standard. In a well-cut jacket with matching pants or a skirt, you know you'll always look smart. There is a suit to flatter every one of us. Stick to the classics and you can't go wrong.

When it comes to dressing professionally, polish is what it's all about. And that isn't restricted to suits. The right dress can say power just as much as a suit, and since frocks are an all-in outfit, they are even easier to wear than a suit.

Sharon Mosley is a former fashion editor of the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock and executive director of the Fashion Editors and Reporters Association. To find out more about Sharon Mosley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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