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FedStyle: How to dress for success

Washington has been called many things, but stylish rarely gets a mention. But that mentality needs to change, and young government workers should take note to rediscover what fashion really means, says Kate Michael, president of online magazine K Street Kate, who spent her early years in Washington working for federal and district governments. Here, the former fed and beauty queen -- she competed in the Miss America Pageant in 2007-- discusses fashion tips for young feds and gives advice on how to dress for success.

Q: What are some fail-proof business fashions for young men and women when they take their first job within the government?

A: Black, blue and navy are not a government uniform, no matter how much the city may try to force this into its drab "Washington Wardrobe" handbook. Actually, color is welcome, and appreciated, as long as it's not distracting or causing inappropriate attention. Note: Head to toe orange is odd -- on everyone. Every young professional should have a few well-tailored suits or suit separates to mix and match. Men look sharp in suits but can play power ball in pants, shirt collars and a variety of blazers as well. And if you're not feeling super savvy, let's leave seersucker to the more seasoned professionals in the style department, OK? Women, cardigans may sound cliché, but they are actually clutch. Temps in those big air-conditioned offices can be chilly year round, so be prepared. Stock up on well-fitting pencil or A-line skirts, pants, colorful but modest blouses. And my favorite two day-to-evening looks: sheath dresses and wrap dresses.

Q: What are some clothing items to stay away from?

A: In any office environment, the best advice is to stay away from anything too tight -- and ladies, too short. To keep your look polished and professional, choose pieces that have fabric of substantial weight and, while they can be stylish and colorful, do not attract inappropriate attention.

Q: Any colors that are perfect for a young fed? What colors to shun?

A: The standard Hill uniform of black -- or navy blue and grey -- is just fine. But who wants to be just fine?! I'm a huge fan of aubergine (or dark purple) on both men and women. Dark green and teal are other alternatives to boring blue. And remember red! It's patriotic and powerful -- one of my very favorites.  It wouldn't be right to call out specific colors as "ones to shun," especially if one's confidence can handle any hue. So, if you're unsure, start small by using accessories to add a pop of color.

Q: Is there any room to be creative when it comes to shoes and accessories?

A: Any room?! Creativity is just the biggest room in the house! Large jewelry can be distracting, but consider colorful scarves (now very in style), fun belts, interesting buttons or trendy tights. Shoes, handbags or briefcases and other office accessories are also an easy way to showcase personal style, but remain professional.

Q: How casual can you be on casual Friday? What are some considerations/pointers for dressing “casual”?

A: Some offices allow for jeans, others prefer slacks and tops in lieu of suits. I'm often known to say (again, this is for the ladies) that tights are not leggings, and leggings are not pants. Nothing but pants (or skirts/dresses) have a place in an office.  While it's fun to be comfortable on casual Friday, remember that you may still be required to attend meetings or perform other professional duties. No matter what your office's casual Friday policy, as an up-and-comer, it's best to keep a blazer or other meeting-suitable garment at your desk, just in case.

Q: Choosing from some our top government officials, whom should young feds model themselves after when it comes to fashion?

A: [Rep.] Aaron Schock [R-Ill.] knows how to dress well, as does presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Kelly Ayotte are great models for females to consider, especially when it comes to adding color into a woman's work wardrobe. Want power? Look to the Oval Office and the president's savvy suited style. And despite the incessant chuckling at her famous pantsuits, Hillary Clinton does always look sharp!

Q: Washington is rarely described as a Mecca for fashion -- some jokingly call the city, “Hollywood for ugly people.” How true is that in terms of fashion?

A: That term is as out of fashion as people claim Washington to be! In fact, D.C. is increasingly a style destination, not only for established fashion houses, but also for the city's promotion of talented local designers. But we can't escape the stigma until this next generation embraces their responsibility not to just get up and get dressed, but to get up and get dressed.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Jan 18, 2012 at 12:19 PM


Reader comments

Fri, Feb 10, 2012 Jason Maryland

PURPLE Suits!?!? FYI: You can be the most stylish person in your bank of cubicles but if your an idiot don't draw attention to yourself by taking this advice. You're in Government for what is in your head, not what is on your rear.

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