There are many examples of successful female entrepreneurs. From Mary Barra, the first female CEO of General Motors, to small business entrepreneurs pitching their companies to wealthy investors on ABC's "Shark Tank," more women today are walking into corporate America with confidence.
But women who decide to start a small business in midlife are sometimes faced with the challenge of what to wear. They may believe that being an entrepreneur eliminates fashion decisions until their first presentation to investors, clients or prospective business partners forces them to think twice about their style choices. Wealthy businessmen like Mark Cuban or Mark Zuckerberg may dress in a more laid-back fashion, but this isn't appropriate for the female executive trying to make a favorable impression. She wants to adopt a style that is serious, yet still find outfits that represent who she is an a businesswoman without losing her individuality -- or spending a fortune.
A man who owns a small business may be able to get away with a good suit, some nice shirts, and a few striped ties when needed, but women need to be more creative. They want to look professional and fashionable, without being boring. Budget can also be a challenge for the female entrepreneur who is just starting out, and doesn't have a lot of money to spend.
Denise Shaefer, co-owner of A'maree's, a fashion boutique in Newport Beach, CA, advises clients to think ahead when first assembling their boardroom wardrobe. "I advise female entrepreneurs to think of their clothing as an investment," she commented. "When they find the perfect piece in our store it will often stay in their closet for 20 years. You're making an investment in yourself and your business, and want something that is going to be durable, stylish, professional and flexible."
Start With The Fashion Basics
Based on her 38+ years of fashion industry experience, Denise says every woman should own a silk and cotton shirt, along with the perfect blazer. Similar to a man's "well-tailored suit," these fashion basics always look good and aren't subject to the whims of fashion. She notes that the way to keep an outfit fresh and unique is by adding a favorite accessory, like a belt or earrings. These personal touches can make the outfit feel truly finished. One affordable fashion tip is to keep the accessories updated. For example, if you tend to wear the same belt, think about investing in a new belt as the seasons change and the look automatically changes with it.
Denise believes that boardroom fashion doesn't have to be boring. "It's not just about fashion; it's about people," she emphasized. "It's about empowering women to make fashion choices that 'feel like you' and represent who you are, not some corporate automaton. You want to walk into the corporate world dressed appropriately, but without losing your sense of individuality and uniqueness."
Smart fashion choices for the woman just starting her own small business can lay a solid foundation for a lifetime of corporate fashion success. Don't fall victim to the latest trends, but think instead in terms of building outfits that can mix and match easily, and withstand the test of time. Look for unique accessories that can make the difference between beautiful and boring, and keep those in style as the seasons change.
As your business grows, set aside a small amount of your income and slowly begin to add options to your wardrobe that will enhance your professional look, while still allowing you to be the unique individual you are.