- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

Many nurses lament the fact that their personal flair is squelched beneath the animal- and flower-prints of the typical medical-practice garb. Often they feel frustrated their matching apparel might influence their ability to receive individual accolades or promotions. While most uniformed professionals are evaluated based on their skills and performance rather than their snazzy dressing, when fashion often plays a role in defining who you are, uniforms can become a major barrier in attempts to break away from the pack.

If you fall into this category, feeling fashion-challenged by your hum-drum workaday wear, here are a few ideas you might use to stand out, at least occasionally, from your colleagues.

*Jewelry and accessories can make a big difference. Sweep up your hair with a fun rhinestone-studded hair clip, or give yourself a splash of color with a beaded choker.

*When the dress code is merely color-coded, such as white tops and black pants (this is often the case for hair stylists and restaurant staff), revel in the fact that your fashion universe has been somewhat narrowed for you, and then find the outfit that best expresses your style. Perhaps it’s black pants with stretch and a white criss-cross top, or black jeans and a white button-down oxford.

*Occasionally, meet up with your colleagues outside your place of business in venues that allow you to show off your fashionable side. Invite the boss over for dinner, or meet the crew out for happy hour. Along those same lines, arrive in style at the next holiday party or office picnic. Ladies, now is the time to pull out that new ruffled skirt — or to roar with a different kind of animal print. Guys, spring has arrived with colorful jackets and more slim silhouettes, mixing casual with elegant and feminine with masculine, so take your pick — there’s something for everyone.

*When you’re most fed up with your uniform, look on the bright sides: Work wear, like all apparel, is benefiting from advances in fabric performance and comfort. Best of all, you don’t have to figure out what to wear!

Finally, remember that clothes are important, but the people who really count will see beyond a uniform to the real you.

Dear Jen:

I am growing out my blond highlights and unless I chop off my hair I will have to withstand the half & half look. Even when washed and curled it has an unprofessional look. Any ideas?

Maggie - Chevy Chase

Dear Maggie:

Lessen your highlights in stages to reach your goal but maintain an attractive look. Go from 30% down to 20% and then to 10% blonde. Go gradual to be less conspicuous.

Dear Jen:

My figures lends itself to the “Annie Hall” look. Can I still get away with this?

Joanna - Dupont Circle

Dear Lynne:

If you want to update your look, read through the newest fashion magazines and check out online websites that showcase the latest trends paying attention to pictures of others with the same “shape” and what looks great on them! There are so many happening styles out there, you needn’t stay stuck in a time warp!

Dear Jordan:

Can denim shirts be worn with suits or are they strictly casual day only?

Joe - Bethesda

Dear Joe:

Unless, perhaps, you work at a bank or a law firm with strict dress codes, today, you can air open-neck shirts and even T-shirts with suits, so wear that denim with confidence.

Dear Jordan:

I work out and like to show off my legs. How high can my heels go and how short can my hemlines go? Can I be a knock out and still be taken seriously?

Stephanie - Reston

Dear Stephanie:

You can show off your best features and maintain a serious profile. One-and-a-half inch heels and a short skirt are fine if you stay “buttoned down” on top. You want to be admired — not fired.

Dear Jordan:

I travel a lot on my job and so I preferred high quality knits but they are very expensive. Can I wear the same top and switch from pants to skirt in a 2-day period?

Corinne - Vienna

Dear Corinne:

Absolutely, and I’ll take your two days and raise you one. Unless it’s an outrageous print that attracts a lot of attention, that top can work triple duty for you. Don’t be a slave to your clothes - make your wardrobe work for you, your lifestyle and your budget.

Jordan Speer is the senior editor of an apparel business and technology magazine and has been writing about the industry for more than nine years. Send workplace or corporate fashion questions to [email protected]

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