"Anyone who thinks it's okay to flaunt her body 24/7 is, to put it mildly, confused," Adam says. "It's understandable since the workplace dress code is so ambiguous now. ... American women desperately need workable guidelines. To develop yours, build a fashion database. Assess the nature of your profession. Observe what your boss wears—and your boss's boss—for clues to get-ahead style."
Work Style Mistake: Summer Casual Staples
"Hot weather is no excuse for looking as if you just blew in from the beach," Adam says. He'd ban the following:
• excessive cleavage
• exposed midriffs
• super short skirts
• tube tops and strapless dresses
• straw totes
• fabrics that crease easily (rayon, linen)
• visible lingerie under sheer clothing
Style Alternative: Summer Blacks
Instead of falling in a pattern of too-casual workwear, Adam says you can't go wrong with black—even in summer. "Black is a universal, multiseason color," he says. "In warmer months it just needs to feel lighter."
• Pick airy, diaphanous fabrics—voile, eyelet lace, chiffon.
• Avoid high collars and long sleeves or you'll look like a Sicilian widow. Better: a breezy shift dress.
• Relax with accessories in natural textures like raffia, wood, and leather.
• Try a graphic combination of black and white or khaki.
Work Style Mistake: Ordinary Separates with Buff Hose
"Basic separates don't make an impression," Adam says. "You'll get more oomph if you match your jacket with your skirt."
The bigger fashion don't, however, is the buff hose. Adam says pantyhose should always match the color shoe you're wearing. "[Buff hose is] only for nurses," he says. "Or if you're wearing a white shoe with it."
Style Alternative: Versatile Dresses and Jackets
"When you're wearing clothes in the office, you have to think about versatility. It has to work from the office to the evening," Adam says.
Avoiding dull separates is particularly wise when interviewing for a job too. A better solution? A jacket over a shift dress that has some stretch to it, which is great for traveling. "Everyone should have a shift dress in their wardrobe. It really is the perfect little black dress," he says. "You can dress it up. You can dress it down. It's really very easy and proper."
Work Style Mistake: Comfy (Minus the Cute) Shoes
Drab shoes and lackluster loafers are something that often stops Adam in his tracks. And gym shoes? A big no-no! "I cringe at the sight of a woman in a nice suit with white athletic shoes, looking like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl," he says. "Even sleek, low-profile sneakers, while fine for your commute, are too informal for a traditional office."
Style Alternative: Cute, Versatile Flats
When you want to kick off your heels in favor of a pain-free day but still look stylish, a comfortable flat is essential. Adam says to look for a pair with cushioning that will take you from work to the weekend.
Work Style Mistake: Schlumpy, Oversized or Logo T-Shirts
Tees have become like jeans—accepted just about everywhere, certifiably stylish, incredibly dressed up, and available at all prices. But there is a fine line at the workplace. You can go too casual. "Don't try to sneak in one of those schlumpy, oversize horrors in dorky pastels or a logo tee from your last trip to the Magic Kingdom," Adam says.
Style Alternative: A Sophisticated Tee Under a Jacket
Adam says a more polished t-shirt look is possible. "I'm talking about a nice, semi-fitted top in a sophisticated hue, with serious design details like draping, pleats, and gathers," he says.
Work Style Mistake: Sloppy Denim
Shredded jeans for the office? Oy. Adam says it's a not-to-wear-over-a-certain-age rule too. "If you wore this trend during the first go-around in the '80s, that's a sign you shouldn't resurrect it," he says. "In fact, follow that rule with every trend."
Also, avoid tacking a jacket onto dowdy mom jeans. "Too saggy, too high waisted, and way too light is not my idea of dressed-up denim," Adam says.
Style Alternative: Dressed Up Denim
Power trousers—yes, they're denim—are far sleeker than jeans and pair nicely with a knit jacket for the office. "I take the minority view that jeans shouldn't go everywhere," Adam says. "Denim—not necessarily blue, because I'm fond of charcoal and black—is another story, particularly now that it's available in a range of fresh, fashionable incarnations. Incorporating these new pieces guarantees that you'll look youthful, dressier than you would in jeans, and never overdone."
Work Style Mistake: A Tunic as a Dress
Tunics never go out of style, Adam says, however, you can definitely create an office faux pas without the right outfit accoutrements. Treated as dresses, tunics will cut you off at midthigh—not exactly office-appropriate, let alone, flattering.
Style Alternative: Tunic Paired with Leggings
Avoid "Is that a shirt or a dress?" looks by pairing pretty tunics with sleek leggings or slim-cut pants. Problem solved.
Work Style Mistake: Too Bright, Too Dark or Chipped Nail Polish
A surefire way to not look professional polished? Your polish. "As you age, skin gets more sallow—and [some] colors don't look good against it," Adam says. And stress relief should never come in the form of chipping off your nail polish.
Style Alternative: Clean, Buffed Nails with Neutral or Clear Polish
Whether you're extending a handshake or using them as your go-to gesturing prop, people at work notice your hands. Adam says it's best to leave the neon (and chipped) nails to the teenagers and opt for a more polished polish.