Robin Givhan on Perfecting Your Professional Style
Award-winning fashion journalist shared tips at recent Jimmy Choo and Suited for Change event.
May 25, 2012
Jimmy Choo, the luxury brand of choice for many high-profile people, last week partnered with the DC-based charity, Suited for Change, for a well-heeled shopping event at the boutique at The Collection at Chevy Chase. Suited for Change, which provides professional clothing and career education to low-income women, and Jimmy Choo welcomed Robin Givhan, fashion correspondent and critic for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, as host. Capitol File caught up with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to get her take on appropriate footwear for commuting and how to look professional without wearing a pantsuit.
How long have you been involved with Suited for Change, and what has been your role?
ROBIN GIVHAN: I got involved with Suited for Change a little over a year ago. One of the board members contacted me about getting involved, perhaps even being a spokesperson. At the time, I was still at the Washington Post and serving in that sort of formal capacity was out of the question. It still is.
But much of what I write about has to do with the role fashion plays in the public square. Suited for Change helps disadvantaged women get back into the thick of the public swirl by using fashion as both a tool and a balm. I applaud their mission. My role is really informal: I spoke at their 2011 annual luncheon and participated in a Q & A with NPR’s Michel Martin during a cocktails and shopping night at Betsy Fisher.
How important is dressing well to one’s professional career?
RG: I think anyone who’s spent time in the work world understands that appearance matters because we live in a visual, frenzied culture. We make fast decisions based on an assortment of cues that we take in in a matter of minutes. Dressing for a professional career is not a matter of wearing trendy clothes or expensive ones. It’s about looking accomplished, polished, reliable and savvy to your employer. And personally, it’s about feeling confident.
Having covered fashion for many years now, what secrets have you learned from industry professionals about appropriate work gear?
RG: I’ve learned that no woman needs to be stuck in a business suit if that isn’t what makes her happy. Dresses, skirts and cardigans, and a host of other options look professional and contemporary. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned about appropriate work wear is fit, fit, fit. Have pants professionally hemmed to the shoes you plan to wear them with. Make sure jacket sleeves aren’t too long. Skirts should not pull across the hips. And if you’d wear it to a cocktail party or the beach, then no, it’s not appropriate for work. Nor is it appropriate for your commute to work. (I’m talking to you, flip-flop wearing folks.)
To whom can a career woman look to for solid fashion inspiration, and why?
RG: Look at the other women in your workplace and zero in on the ones who are respected. If you like their style, be inspired by it, but don’t slavishly copy it. I do think it’s possible to find inspiration in fashion magazines, as long as you remember that images are exaggerated for emphasis. Television shows can offer up style options. I’m thinking about The Good Wife (Kalinda, notwithstanding), Veep, and Scandal. And I think women who are professionals within the fashion industry can inspire other women to be more creative in their attire.
On a daily basis, for instance, Anna Wintour looks very much like the powerful executive that she is and she rarely wears a business suit. She doesn’t teeter around in four-inch platform heels. Diane von Furstenberg is both feminine and professional. And in politics, I think Nancy Pelosi looks sophisticated and elegant. Michelle Obama has pounded home the reality that the sheath paired with a cardigan is boardroom appropriate. Valerie Jarrett typically looks smart and stylish.
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.