Six fashion experts reveal... "what I would tell a career girl about dressing well"

Posted by Laura
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As a fashion historian, one of the clearest ways to chart changing modes in dress is through advice given to women in magazines. Usually relying heavily on the practical, advice in women's magazines discussed clothes within the reality of reader's lives—whether the housewives of Ladies' Home Journal or the career girls of Cosmopolitan, the rules were supposed to guide them toward making the correct fashion decisions that applied to their day-to-day experiences. At the end of the sixties, when fashion took on a distinct "anything goes" mentality, many women felt an even greater need for advice to help them navigate the ever-increasing multitude of options available to them. The May 1969 issue of Cosmopolitan asked six major American designers how a career girl should dress—perhaps unsurprisingly, the thoughts supplied by the older guard (such as Bill Blass) differed dramatically with that of more renegade designers like Rudi Gernreich. The emphasis on gloves, stockings and underpinnings is the most obvious difference from normal dressing today, though hopefully even today the emphasis on cleanliness remains...


Donald Brooks has the golden touch. In addition to his collections, supertalented Mr. Brooks has done costumes for seven Broadway shows and has received an Oscar for his creations in the film, Star!

"The career girl is usually mixing with all kinds of interesting people. Often she finds herself in the evening still wearing the same dress she put on that morning. This life-style calls for a carefully thought-out accessory wardrobe... maybe a collection of lovely scarves. Choose one to frame a neckline or tie around a bag handle. A simple little black dress worn in the office might take on a new look at night with a bright-green chiffon scarf at the throat, then add some creative makeup... perhaps a matching jade-green eyeshadow and change of lipstick. Psychologically, you'll look and feel different from your daytime self.
"One problem that women have is their inability to be truly honest about their looks. The average woman can't or won't see her own shortcomings. She must! She should also recognize her assets and capitalize on them. Analyze yourself, play down the faults, play up the assets! Yes, it can all be done with the right clothes. Create your image around your best features... small waist, slim hips, or whatever.
"Women sometimes make the mistake of buying clothes that are very fashionable but not particularly becoming. They often choose the wrong shape or an unflattering color simply because it's In!
"I love the pulled-together look. This means thinking about your wardrobe in terms of color and texture—what works together. You can study people you know who are well dressed and see what elements make them look marvelous.
"Naturally, the career girl should select her wardrobe and accessories with an eye toward multiple use. I always say fewer things of greater quality will make you look better and feel better.
"Please don't be sloppy. Careless grooming will undermine all the rest of the effort (I mean, you must have a good manicure, clean hair, polished shoes, no run-down heels, no dirty cuffs). I can't stand plastic pocketbooks, high heels, or too much makeup!
"I think a return to the fabulous neutrals is in order—the tans, camels, browns, beiges, and grays. Soft jersey fabrics are going to be very big: large sleeves, fullish skirts, and clingy, drapey things will look much more suitable than hard, severe tailoring."


Anne Klein is a superb example for any career girl to copy. She has been described as "a jet-stream of ideas," and twenty-odd years of fashion designing have not curbed her enthusiasm.

"I'm troubled when I see the right girl in a wonderful place in the wrong outfit. Our wardrobes have to be geared to the life we lead... and to our psyche.
"Far-out fashions can be fun, but I can't bear to see a girl who isn't relaxed and easy with these clothes. Watching someone yank at a hemline or endlessly fuss with her fall drives me crazy. With all this new fashion freedom a woman should surely be able to find a look that's right and comfortable for her.
"It's a time when you ought to be able to look better than ever, because you really can 'do you own thing.' You can choose from hemlines, hair lengths, cosmetics. You can be soft and curly with laces and eyelets, or sleek and tailored; you can be thirties, twenties, even forties; Russian, Oriental, Roman, Greek. Every fashion statement ever made in history is available again to the fabulous woman of 1969. It's fabulous!
"As to practicality, when you find something you like, buy it in quantity... shoes, bras, girdles, stockings, shirts, sweaters, slacks; you may never find it again! There is nothing more infuriating than discovering a bra that really does it for you, and finding, when you try to reorder, that it no longer exists. Naturally, you can't apply this rule to items of fad fashion or you'll end up with a lot of out-of-date clothes. But buying in batches is an old trick for many well-dressed women.
"Another rule is: Never pass up anything you want desperately when you first see it. Buy it! You may never come down that street again, or, when you do, the item will be gone. I presume I'm talking to a girl who knows her style by now and has great taste.
"Do be a bit daring at the same time that you are comfortable and right in your role. (I don't think a career girl needs to carry her office image home with her; I just assume she plays an entirely different part at home with the man in her life). Staying daring will keep you individual, staying comfortable will make you more efficient and help you never to be ludicrous, staying practical will make fashion simpler.
"And remember: Never try to be something you aren't—in fashion or in life."


Tom Nassarre is the man behind the clothes at Junior Sophisticates and Sport Sophisticates. One of the few self-taught designers, he broke into the market on the basis of a portfolio of great fashion sketches.

"The career girl has a new problem today: her usual worries over how to dress have been compounded by the revolution in men's wear. So, don't be afraid to ask your date what he wearing for the evening. You don't want to clash with him. There was a time when you could count on a nice dark suit—no more, You don't want to look like two people who ran into each other accidentally.
"Accessories are important: good-quality bags, shoes, scarves—in fact, scarves are the 'jewelry' of today. But the accessories most girls overlook are the ones they have with them at all times. For example, glasses. Nothing is more damaging to a woman's good looks than that 'sudden squint' as the menu goes out of focus. Wear your glasses, but let them be chic, simple, contemporary.
"One thing i firmly believe is that young women must be contemporary. If you go against the current look, you call undue attention to yourself. When skirts are short, even girls with poor legs should wear them. You call more attention to your bad feature with an old-style hem length. Lots of women have bad legs, but after seeing enough of them no one pays attention. As Mark Twain said, 'A woman is more attractive in fashion than out.'
"Career girls certainly shouldn't try to be sexpots. That was the 'ideal' pin-up woman of the forties; not today. A girl must be natural, not overdone. Too many women dress according to some previous heyday... maybe high school or something.
"Nothing is more 'tootsie' in my book than evening hairdos in the daytime. You know, the kind of girl who comes in at nine A.M. expecting to knock the boys dead. She usually has too much makeup on, too.
"It's a good idea to find yourself a color story. Decide you best color and use it—perhaps for the entire season. This solves a lot of fashion and budget problems.
"Skip the extra dress and spend the money on good alterations, If the clothes you have are any good at all, you should pay to save them.
"If you wear short skirts—and surely you do!—make the switch from stockings and girdle to panty hose. Few things are more sexy and appealing - men love them. And be as attractive when undressed as you are fully dresses. Mother's old cry as you pinned your bra strap—'What is a bus hits you?'—was pretty smart. What is a bus did hit you and the handsome intern zipped off your (Junior Sophisticates) dress and there was a hideous safety pin? How could you?"


Geoffrey Beene started his career as a med student, making fashion sketches all over his chemistry and biology papers. When he turned to designing, fifteen years ago, his knowledge of anatomy was helpful, making him a master in the art of cutting cloth to serve the body.

"I can tell you in one second all my 'dos and don'ts'. The wrong accessory piques me more than any other mistake a woman can make. You have to remember that everything you put on is part of the total look. Shoes have never been so important as today... they're no longer a simple matter. Once a girl just had to buy pumps in a few colors. The heel height was constant and she could wear the same shoe morning, noon, and night. It isn't so any more. Proportion is the key to the right shoe.
"Hosiery has become the key accessory. Stockings can enhance or ruin the effect of your outfit. No longer can a girl just go and buy a dozen pairs of stockings in a neutral shade and forget about them. She has to choose daytime, evening, sport, dress stockings in different colors and patterns.
"Gloves are important, too. There is the right length and style for each ensemble.
"A woman's hair is always an accessory. With falls, a girl has a complete wardrobe of hair to choose from.
"I believe the total look is all that matters. Back away from that mirror - what do you see? Are you in balance? Top-heavy? Pear-shaped? Too long and thin or broken up into clumps? If you are not satisfied, then try changing your shoes, your jacket length, your glove length; imagine how you would look with shorter hair, or longer. Consider everything.
"Do it all with a sense of humor. After all, you're alone and you can't hurt anything by experimenting.
"I prefer black, always. Start with a basic black something-or-other - say, a coat, beautifully cut. A good suit. It's so crisp, clean, and American.
"Do learn how to use separates; although I don't design them, I appreciate them so much. They can stretch a budget farther than any other part of a wardrobe. And there is something about separates that is just so right for the American woman."


Rudi Gernreich is the most daring and youthful of U.S. fashion trend-setters (remember the topless bathing suit?). Designing under his own name for about ten years, he has produced a veritable fashion revolution in his demand for the "total look": the colorful use of stockings, tights, boots, and concepts of bareness.

"A new fashion must be overstated to make its point. You don't think I seriously thought women would buy and then wear a topless bathing suit? But the impact, startling as it was, made my point—that nudity was the thing of the future. And now it is. But modified!
So the first 'don't' I would tell a woman is: Don't accept verbatim what has been done and imitate it. Do extract from that look and adapt it to your own personality.
"Personally, I'm rather philosophical about clothes and I would love to see all women react this way, too. The world is too serious today, so don't take fashion seriously. It should be 'spoofy'.
"I like clothes to be expendable. One of my biggest don't is: Don't invest a fortune in clothes and then be stuck with last-season's look, when your heart is breaking for this year's new things.
"And as far as spoofing fashion goes, I an not suggesting that a girl should always look 'kooky'. There's that fine hairline between good and bad taste.
"This brings us back to adaptation. I'll use a classic example to illustrate. A career girl must have clothes that are basically practical. The most practical dress a girl can include in her wardrobe is the basic shirtdress. But—and here's the challenge—how does one adapt this classic to today's times? The timid girl sticks to her 'safe' look of years past. Her skirt is too long, her heels are too high, her bag is too big, and her makeup is too safe. Yet, the same shirtdress can be bought in an up-to-date shirt shift at the right length and worn with colored tights, Capezio's little-heeled pumps, a modified Sassoon haircut, and her own imaginative makeup. She may not know it, but what she has done is adapt fashion to suit herself.
"Don't imitate. Do adapt. But most of all, have fun with fashion."


Bill Blass is one of the darlings of the Beautiful People and of women everywhere who like the pretty, feminine look.

"Let's start with the woman inside the clothes. Whatever she does about fashion will be pointless unless she is thin, healthy, and clean. Without these basics nothing else matters.
"America has never had a fashion 'look' the way the French have. You can tell a Parisian anywhere. About the only thing American woman seem determined to do with a vengeance is match their accessories! This may be the single worst crime in fashion. I just assume if you intelligent enough to have a career, you are surely too smart to be trapped in this dreary match-up of shoes, bags, and gloves. A best-dressed woman like Mrs. William Paley spends a lot of time and money on buying the right mismatched accessories. Why not try it? How about a small red alligator bag with navy calf shoes! Also, you must be a little practical about the realities of your life. Do you go to formal parties often? If not, don't let yourself get hung up on an evening dress for one occasion, no matter how beautiful it is or how important the man who's taking you to the ball.
"The next rule may surprise you: Don't shop with your girl friends. They may adore you but, psychologically, women do not particularly want to see other women look great. You just can't trust their advice. Put your faith in a reliable saleswoman. Try to have the same person help you each time you're in the store. If she likes you, she'll give you good advice and help build your fashion sense and self-confidence. Of course, you make the final selections.
"Do you have an open mind about fashion, or do you say, 'Oh, I never wear splashy print' or 'I hate pink'? How do you know until you try them? Maybe you haven't tried them recently enough. Let the saleswoman bring them out, anyway. Just think of all the people who told they would never wear tights, patterned stockings, or a mini-dress. Maybe you ought to some new—becoming—things you said you would never wear."

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