Fashion Fridays: S.W.A.P., Personal CFO

I have a fabulous friend who hasn’t gone shopping in a LONG time.  She’s lost a little weight which was one of the primary reasons holding her back, and now she’s got a great reason to shop: a new business!

Here’s her Shopping With A Purpose submission: I will soon be meeting with prospective private clients as I build my business. These people would be high net worth individuals needing a “Personal CFO.”  I would mostly meet them in their homes, although some might have me come to their offices, but my work for them would not be in an office. I would work for them personally, not for their company. I want to look professional, but a black suit would be over the top. What type of outfits should I consider? Would your answer be different if I was meeting with a woman versus a man/couple? Or if I’m meeting them at their office versus their home?

This is a momma of three who is busy and working on a budget.  So first things first: don’t worry about different outfits for different gender clients or different meeting locations.  Stick with a few basics that you can mix and match; otherwise shopping will be a nightmare.

Importantly, if you’re serving high net worth individuals, you need to look high net worth even if you’re not.  One great way to do this is to buy a few well made “investment” wardrobe pieces.  People with extensive budgets will notice.  Also, regardless of your personality, go for understated.  It reflects good judgment and stability which someone will be looking for in the finance industry.  Look for unique detailing that speak to quality without being too over the top.

A great way to shop luxury on a budget is to look at the “outlet” branches of high-end stores that would normally be out of reach.  Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue all have stores in Houston (where she lives) but far more options available on-line.

I suggest, for the most part, sticking with trousers.  The driver for this recommendation is it’s a lot harder to manage creeping hemlines if you’re sitting on someone’s sofa for a meeting than if you’re parked under a desk in an office chair.  If you are comfortable in your clothes, and not pulling and tugging, you will come off more at ease and put the client at ease.

And, for the most part, sticking with a blazer looks more professional than a sweater, though there are certainly exceptions to this formula.  Before you go shopping, pick up some magazines (like Town & Country or Vogue) and pull some ideas.  While you don’t have to shop couture, the pictures can serve as your inspiration for style or color as you shop.

Finally, before you start, you must have a great handbag.  Quality leather.  Buy it on eBay or on sale or at an outlet, but you need a great bag.  It’s what you will carry every day and will be one of the first things the women notice.  This is where you spend your money.  And buy a big enough bag you can include your folder with any papers you have for your client.  This Diane von Furstenberg has been marked down from $450 to $200 and this Badgley Mischka has dropped from $475 to $240 – both at Last Call:

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Here’s a few great individual piece options:

This gorgeous ivory blazer with a muted giraffe print is Lafayette 148, it reads luxury and won’t need any accessorizing – it normally runs over $500 but you can get it for less than $200 at Last Call.

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This is a simple ice blue Cacharel jacket that normally runs $700, but is just over $100 at Rack.

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One way to soften your look is to get a belted sweater jacket, like this one on sale at Nordstrom by Vince (I’d pair it with something brighter underneath).

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If you can afford the splurge, get a couple of fabulous bottoms since you’ll be wearing them all the time.  These not quite ivory lined wool blend Giorgio Armani trousers would normally run you close to $1000, but at Rack, they’re less than $200.

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Another great “trouser” light option is the ankle pant.  Pair an overlong sweater/jacket with heels and an ankle pant and you’re comfy and sophisticated. These Vince ankle trousers are over half off at Last Call and come in under $100.

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And despite my recommendation to favor trousers, a number of this season’s skirts are lowering their hemline.  Depending on your figure and what you pair on top to balance it out, one of these sophisticated past knee numbers would be lovely.  (This inspiration is courtesy of Neiman’s and well outside most of our budgets…)

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How do you pull your pieces together?  Consider mixing a color palette that you wouldn’t typically.  Nothing in the neon family, but deep rich hues that show your sophistication.  Add a simple piece of jewelry.  Buy a new lipstick.  Try a few things out and text your best girlfriends pictures!

This is a great example of an outfit you could pull off in an office or home for a client meeting.  The jacket is courtesy of Rack (and on sale for $30, someone please stop me from clicking buy), but I love the pairing of the gold jacket with a thin maroon sweater and narrow black trouser (polished off with a skinny belt which actually does make you look thinner regardless of what you’d think).

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Here’s another great way to mix color and texture to achieve a polished, but not overly formal, look.

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For second meetings, feel free to break out the sweaters.  Pair it with a gorgeous pearl or gold necklace (quality, but simple) – think this top layered sweaterwith camel trousers (adding an oxford underneath or a blazer over immediately upgrades a little sweater).

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Don’t match – just play with patterns and colors.  But most importantly, have fun!  Wear what you feel beautiful in and buy clothes that fit well.

Fashion Fridays: S.W.A.P., Work Maternity Challenges

I have a hysterical friend.  She is pregnant with her second child.  This is an email she sent me to vent: 

Maternity clothes dressing for work is seriously challenging.  Stores have little selection and ordering online is hit or miss, resulting in multiple returns. (I do have some clothes from last time, but some items were worn and I need more.)  The worst was a cashmere and silk black sweater (sounds good so far) with a ruffle at the bottom that I tried on this weekend shopping with Mom.

This is what it looked like on.

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Runner up was a cute dress with a poorly placed print.  It looked like this.

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Sigh.

Well my friend, and any other friends out there struggling with looking professional for work with a growing belly, this is for you.  Today’s Shopping With A Purpose (S.W.A.P.) is having an affordable sophisticated work wardrobe during those pregnancy months (and maybe even after maternity leave…).

First of all, what are your options:  Seraphine (mainly on line, as most areas don’t have stores and that can be hard), Pea in the Pod (smaller size ranges but great selection), Destination Maternity (career and quality aren’t high on their list), Ann Taylor Loft (limited selection), Motherhood (not sure their “work wear” would work for some careers), and department stores (size issues can occur here).

Second of all, what do you need at a minimum for work:  two awesome pair of maternity pants, ideally black and camel; a great work maternity dress; one maternity suit; at least five maternity blouses (and if you dare, a skirt to give you more options).

Accessories are key when you are pregnant, so purchase some fun and diverse scarves and necklaces; since you’re never going to have an expansive maternity work wardrobe, accessories can make the outfit look different.

Here are a few basics, but try for quality as you’ll be wearing these pieces a lot.  Also accept  you may have to order on-line several times from several places.  Almost all of these pieces are under $100:

1.  This navy and white dress from Seraphine is a perfect work staple.  You can change it with a blazer or sweater, or in the summer you can just throw on a bold colored scarf to keep it light.  And Pea and the Pod has the widest variety of work dresses – this aqua and green shirtdress is lovely.

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2.  These are excellent trouser leg work pants from Ann Taylor Loft and will grow as your belly does.

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3.  Blouses are the EASIEST pieces to find to add interest and diversity to your work wardrobe.  Here’s a few of my favorites:  a bright and classic tie blouse from Ann Taylor Loft, a gorgeous ivory pintuck blouse from Seraphine (if you don’t mind wearing white while you’re pregnant), this classic navy and white striped tunic from Destination Maternity can be paired with slacks for work or jeans for weekend, and the bright blue short sleeved blouse from Macy’s will add the dose of color you need.

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4.  As far as I can tell, A Pea in the Pod is nearly the only place you can get a work suit if you need to don business formal for meetings during your pregnancy.  This blazer is tailored twill and actually looks like a jacket you’d wear if you weren’t pregnant which is a plus (but it is my rare item over $100).  They also have the largest selection of blazers which are pretty and feel more modern than most maternity clothes on the market.

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So what about you?  What did you do when you were pregnant?  How did you manage to stay professional for work?

A Day Away

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Mommy, LOOK, she happily exclaimed, pointing to the butterflies in vibrant colors darting overhead.  We were cautioned not to chase the butterflies or run on the trail, but often a butterfly would nearly light on her extended arm.

It had already been a long weekend even though it was 10 am on Saturday.  Extended work hours during the week bled into the weekend and calls started early that morning.  Another deadline loomed demanding Saturday afternoon attention, and the butterfly center was a brief, but deeply therapeutic, break from the pressure.

She hopped down the stone staircase urging me to rush after her.  We cycled between staring down at the plants and waterfall and craning our neck to catch the butterflies soaring against a backdrop of sunlight crashing through the atrium windows far overhead.

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I followed meekly, a servant to the force of her excitement and wonder, caught up in the warm dewy air and children exclaiming under oversized emerald leaves.

I did not direct our path.  I did not lead the way.  I did not suggest a timeline or itinerary.  She tired of the spectacular capsule well before I would, and we wandered on to the other adventures in the adjacent museum, driven singlehandedly by her curiosity and energy.

Leaders need to be led. 

Feeders need to be fed.

Healers need to be healed.

Protectors need to be protected.

An ever-increasing number of women are leading on so many fronts, they have no respite.  They lead successfully at work.  They come home and lead their children.  They lead in churches or community organizations where they spend their free time.  They even have to direct someone making their coffee.

Even the most successful leaders have to find time to be led.  Those at the top of their game still need mentors and wisdom and time off stage.  Leadership is a life cycle and part of it is stepping back to learn or be still.  There is no weakness in asking questions.  There is no punishment for letting someone else take the reins.  There is no condemnation for allowing yourself a turn to follow.  You may find the rest that will fuel your next challenge.

Fashion Fridays: S.W.A.P., Gala (Shopping with a Purpose)

Alright.  I apologize to all my friends that I totally bumped from their allotted Shopping with a Purpose (SWAP) slot.

But since it’s my blog, I’m taking a point of personal privilege.  I seriously need some input, friends.

I have a very fancy event coming up.  Black tie gala with star power, dinner and dancing.  This event is also my first time I’ll have a seat at my company’s sponsored table (normally lawyers don’t get those seats; I go as invited guest of other companies, not mine).  Inevitably, this will be located at the front of the room.  My hubby has it easy.  He just throws on his tux.

I have not attended a black tie gala since I birthed triplets.

This is the only dress I have.  It certainly is an option and is classic and formal.  (With industrial Spanx.)

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However, I’d also like to really blow this out of the water.

If you know me personally, you know (approximately) my size.  I’m 5’10 and most of the time wear a size 12.  I carry weight in my post-triplet middle, and while I can disguise it with suits and blazers at work, most gala dresses are column.  I used to embrace column dresses, but now feel like I look like a spare tire has run loose.     
 
Here are the Pros & Cons of the gala dresses under consideration:

1.  galaPros – Elegant, well draped for body type concerns, reasonable;
Cons – While I love me some gray, this pale shade won’t be that flattering, and I’m a little worried about those pleats over my middle.
 
2.  gala1Pros – this has a wow factor, I love this bright red, and it feels sophisticated with an awesome back (without actually showing a bare back);
Cons – this is the fitted column that may not work for my current figure.
 
3.  gala2Pros – so lovely, great cut, both for my arms and hips, and the bright blue color won’t go missed;
Cons – this may be too much on top, and I worry sometimes the royal blue “cheap” looking, I always hesitate with this shade for formals.
 
4.  gala3Pros – so dressy, which this event is, and charcoal gray is a flattering shade on;
Cons – it’s still probably cut too narrow and puts sequins across my middle; plus the fabric could read inexpensive. 
 
5.  gala4  Pros – classic, black, slimming, timeless;
Cons – unclear how the inset will fall, and definitely understated (which may be fine, but obviously I’m drawn to color), and it basically feels like another version of the dress I already have. 
6.  gala7Pros – also classic but with color; I love the crepe-y feel of the dress with that gorgeous back, but the green is also one of my best colors;
Cons – it is very simple so I feel I’d have to dress it up with hair and accessories, and there’s no room to hide flaws.
 
Here’s the thing.  I don’t know that any of these really WOW me.  I have a budget, so nothing may, which means I can live with the classic dress in my closet.  Just for perspective, if I had an unlimited budget, and I most certainly do not, these are the two dresses that would top my list.  I really love the color, fabric and style:
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{An Aidan Matton encrusted blue dress and Sherri Hill emerald embellished gown.}
 
Would you VOTE on your favorite one or two dresses (on FB, Twitter or in the comments) OR (for extra bonus points) propose an entirely different dress you’d recommend?  Pretty please with sequins on top.  Are their colors you think I should avoid?  Is bright color frowned upon?
I promise, we’ll return to others challenges next week.

The Construction Site

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This is a picture just outside my office.  I’m working in a brand new office building this year.  A new campus.  It’s lovely.

Well, parts of it are.  The gym is finished and amazing.  The main food court is completed and serving a global explosion of cuisine.  Most of my building is done, but on my walk to the front door each day I pass ten feet tall safety fences and PPE-required signs while men in hardhats make sure I don’t cross the barrier to the unfinished.

This muddy mucky construction mess is my view for a few more months.  Even as I walk out of a break room with freshly ground coffee and into a conference room with state of the art technology.

It’s unfinished.

I sat staring out at the scaffolding and thought how much it resembled my life.

There are really pretty parts of my life.  I have a good faithful husband and three healthy kids.  (They’re the tricked out conference room.)  I have a great job I enjoy and work with people who have become personal friends.  (They’re the freshly ground coffee.)  I get to write books and blogs and kind people have me come and encourage audiences of women to lead well and hang in there.  (That’s the new building.)

But it seems there’s muddy mucky scaffolding over other areas still raw and undone and into which you should not wander without full personal protective equipment.

Areas like unloading the worst of myself on my husband and kids even though they love me more than anyone.  Areas like lacking self-control about what I spend or what I eat or what words I choose to use.  Areas like offering up judgment instead of mercy and inflexibility instead of forgiveness and selfishness over service.

Yuck.

Even surveying all that mud and debris and piles of unfinished material, I hope.

I still hope.

Unveiled Faces

I serve a II Corinthians 3 God that offers hope of transformation day-by-day.  A transformation that leads to ever-increasing glory; His glory:

Such confidence we have through Christ before God.  Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God…For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold… Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

We know that the construction at long last will be done.  The scaffolding comes down.  The fences are packed away.  The dirt is replaced with lush grass and trees.  The roar of power tools is replaced with birdsong.

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Every day I walk to work and see the progress.  And every morning I wake and see a new thing He is doing in me and know there is progress.  It’s slow, but it’s worth the wait.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  Revelation 21:5

Photo Credit: Dallas Morning News