The New Power Suits

By Sharon Mosley

July 8, 2011 5 min read

What to wear to work this fall? Just relax. That's what fashion designers are doing when it comes to suiting up for the new season ahead. After all, women are tired of getting all uptight when choosing clothes that look professional but still are pretty and polished -- and comfortable.

"The suit is fashion's equivalent of an Elvis CD. We all own at least one," says Paula Reed, author of "Style Clinic." "Whether it reflects your entire lifestyle or reflects just an element of your taste or is simply something you once thought you ought to have, the suit is the common denominator of modern wardrobes."

Even though most people don't wear a suit to work every day, Reed says it is generally "our first line of defense when we need to be taken seriously."

Choosing a suit can be daunting, she adds. "A lot depends on its making the right impression. A sloppy or badly made suit will impress in all the wrong ways. A well-made suit becomes your backdrop, setting you off as the serenely capable and elegant person you know the world wants to see."

This fall, fashion designers have given women many more alternatives to the traditional "power suit," softening up office wear with unique styles that offer dozens of creative possibilities. Reed shares some tips for "working" these new power suits:

--Avoid boxy jackets under all circumstances. They look heavy and flatter no one. Make sure your waist is defined, if only by the inward curve of the side seams. It doesn't have to be extreme; even the hint of definition will make a suit look sharper. A straight drop from armpit to hip has an instant thickening effect.

--Nothing will mire you in middle age faster than chunky fabrics, patch pockets and buttons resembling costume jewelry.

--The best investment starts with the perfect top, and that isn't necessarily a jacket. When you find a top you love, it's worth buying both trousers and a skirt to match it. In one go, you'll maximize your suit's versatility and longevity.

--If you feel your effervescent self is suppressed by the sober suit you have to wear to work, express yourself with a bright lining -- but never with novelty items, such as suspenders and bow ties. Girls, we don't have to dress like men anymore. Remember?

--Nothing ages or dates a suit faster than fussy details. Avoid flouncy peplums, embroidery, wide lapels, intricate pleats and shoulder pads with a life of their own. If you want to make statements, do it with what you have on underneath and with accessories.

--Consider a curvy suit with a hint of stretch. The curves deliver impact. The stretch ensures comfort, practical packing and instant recovery to its sharp and sexy self, even after a long flight. At all times, think lean, not tight.

--Cost should not be your only indicator of quality. Technology today ensures that a great suit can be found at every price point. What matters more is that it fits and flatters you. To be sure of what a great fit feels like, why not try on an expensive suit and get the benefit of advice from an experienced salesperson? Then apply what you've learned in a shop that better suits your budget.

--Vertical lines created by pinstripes or princess seams will elongate your body.

--If you're worried about your hips, opt for a longer jacket. Long trousers worn over heels will slim your legs.

--Dark tones create a long line, and a colorful or light-colored top will shift focus to your face.

--Double-breasted jackets add width, will make a large bust look larger and overwhelm petite women. However, they also can camouflage a small chest and add power to a boyish figure.

--Single-breasted jackets are more flattering on just about everybody. Full busts are most flattered by the deep V-neck of a single-breasted jacket.

--Petite women look great in cropped jackets that sit on the waist or the hips.

--Take some advice. A trained salesperson or a tailor will be invaluable to you.

Sharon Mosley's column, "In Fashion," can be found at creators.com.

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