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What Not to Wear to the Office Party

By Laura Sinberg

The main mistake women make at holiday parties is dressing too sexy.

You’ve been working up the nerve all year to strike up a conversation with your company’s CEO, and the office holiday party can be your perfect outlet to shine–if you look the part. Women, more than men, tend to get in trouble in social situations because they have so many more options, says branding specialist Amanda Sanders of NewYorkImageConsultant. And in the quest to look good, women often choose revealing rather than understated outfits.

The wrong outfit–which might include a too-short skirt, backless dress or low-cut top–will quickly make you the subject of unwanted stares and gossip, especially during times when employees are being looked at under a corporate microscope. “These are times that people are being looked at in a more watchful eye, and you don’t want to be called into question for your poor choices,” says Sanders.

Sanders, who has dressed celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Rock, says the main mistake women make at company holiday parties is dressing too sexy. “People really lose sight of the fact … that this is still a business event,” she says.

This is particularly apropos for mid- and upper-level employees looking to take their career to the next rung, as the holiday party can be seen as an interview of sorts. “Senior employees tend to entertain clients more, and your boss may be looking to see how you act in social situations,” says business etiquette expert Barbara Pachter, who advises companies like Pfizer ( PFE news people ) and Microsoft ( MSFT news people ). She tells the story of a CEO’s administrative assistant who showed up to a corporate party with “cleavage pretty much down to her naval. …People were like, ‘What is she thinking?’ It was a distraction.”

Wearing an overly provocative outfit to a corporate event can even cost you a promotion, according to Sanders. “Dressing inappropriately will cause people to see you in a different light, and there is no going back from that,” she explains. “You just really don’t want to be remembered as the person who dressed too sexy or flashy.”

What To Wear

The rule of thumb, says Sanders, is understated is always better. That means avoiding sequins, flashy colors–metallics are big this season, but save them for social scenes like benefits or New Year’s Eve–and of-the-moment trends like shoulder pads and fur vests, which will simply make you look like you’re trying too hard.

A little research about the type of party and your corporation’s mindset will go a long way. With the economy in shambles, many companies are choosing to save money by holding intimate parties at the office rather grand events at hotels or four-star restaurants. Getting too dressed up at these gatherings can be just as detrimental (and embarrassing) as wearing jeans to a gala. If the party is at the office, Sanders advises that “the attire shouldn’t change that much” from what you put on that morning. For women, swapping your blazer for a cashmere wrap and floral earrings or your button-up with a silk shell and pearls, will add some femininity and sophistication without being over-the-top.

If the party is at an outside venue, you may want to zip into a more glamorous shift dress. Just remember, if it’s not an actual black-tie event, it’s always best to look like yourself–just take it up a notch. The best and easiest way to do that is with accessories and accents instead of ensembles. Put on a pair of strappy sandals or a statement necklace that can’t normally be worn at work. Adding a little sparkle to your outfit is also a great way to take a dress from plain to head-turning. “But a 12-karat diamond ring is overdone,” warns Pachter.

Erika Cohen, owner of the high-end clothing store Alchemist in Miami’s South Beach, says you can avoid some potential pitfalls by sticking to materials that flatter your body. Stretch viscose blends and jersey fabrics are usually the most forgiving, whereas silk will show imperfections. “I recently had a lady who worked for a production company and needed a holiday dress,” says Cohen. “We found a great black dress that was figure hugging but long sleeved. And the hem was down to the knee. She felt powerful in it.” And it shows when you feel good, notes Pachter, who says that if you show up inappropriately dressed, you’re going to feel self-conscious. “You won’t talk to as many people … and you’ll have to rise above your outfit,” she explains.

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Global Shopper’s Guide to Sizing

By Jeanine Poggi

guide-to-sizingIt’s tempting to splurge on clothing while vacationing overseas–particularly for European jet-setters shopping in the U.S., where the dollar is weak. But even American travelers on a budget will find themselves opening their wallets. After all, exotic designs and unique merchandise can lure even the most frugal.

According to a survey conducted by American Automobile Association, 25.1 million Americans will be traveling internationally this summer, an increase of 2.6% from last year. These travelers are expected to spend a total of $30.7 billion during June, July and August. And you can bet that those in Europe and Asia are following suit.

In order to avoid buyer’s remorse–and help you save time in the dressing room–you should understand how your size translates across the ocean before picking up a new pair of designer jeans on your next vacation. Clothing sizes–even shoe and bra sizes–can vary country to country, designer to designer, item to item and even season to season.

“There are no standards between designers. Some cut narrower or are more tailored to juniors,” says Amanda Sanders, image and wardrobe specialist at New York Image Consultant, a private style consulting company. “Within a brand or retailer, fit models can change season to season. So if you were a size 6 in pants this season at Banana Republic, that does not mean you will be the same size next season.”

The result is often an overwhelming and complicated shopping experience–both at home and overseas.

Coming To Terms With Size

One reason for these sizing discrepancies: outdated sizing standards. Most countries–the United Kingdom is one exception–have not updated these standards since the 1950s, says Sass Brown, assistant professor in the fashion design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Last year, Spain spearheaded a campaign to persuade the fashion industry to revamp their clothing-size standards. A study conducted by the Spain’s Health Ministry showed four out of 10 women had trouble finding clothes that fit because sizes varied from store to store and items were too small.

In the U.S., some blame vanity sizing (the manipulation of sizes to make customers feel slimmer), but most of the disparity actually comes from a lack of industry standards.

While there are loose nationwide sizing standards in the U.S., retailers, for the most part, tweak sizing based on customer demographics, said Dan Butler, vice president or merchandising and retail operations at National Retail Federation (NRF).

“Retailers,” he says, “develop their own size specifications based on dimensions they think will suit their target audience.” This accounts for why a shopper can be, say, a size 6 at Ann Taylor but an 8 at Liz Claiborne .

Will you be shopping this summer? Weigh in. Post your thoughts in the Reader Comment section below.

Before World War II, there were size standards in the U.S., but these standards went away after the war as the weight of the American population grew and the system no longer reflected the size and shape of the average consumer. “Bodies have changed over the past few generations,” Brown said. “The foods we eat have become unhealthier, as have exercise and fitness habits.”

No new set of standards has been adopted since.

This is, actually, often a winning situation for retailers–in the U.S. and abroad. “By varying their sizes, retailers can create loyal customers who keep coming back to the store because they already spent the time and energy to find their right fit,” says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group. “It also forces customers to shop the store longer because they have to try on the items.”

Though many shoppers tend to avoid the dressing room–according to a survey conducted in March by the NRF, 51% of customers say they do not like trying on items–it is really the only true way to know whether or not clothing will fit.

Top Tips

Of course, there are some guidelines to follow that will make your shopping experience a little less frustrating.

When trying on dress shirts and blazers, make sure the sleeves fit squarely around the shoulders, since this area is the hardest to alter. If you’re buying a men’s suit abroad, remember that suits in the U.S. are typically paired with pants labeled 6 inches smaller than the coat size, while in Europe, pants are 7 inches smaller. U.K. suit sizes are equal to the U.S.; European sizes are 10 more. In Japan, suit sizes are in letters.

For dresses pay attention to necklines. V-necks and scoop necks are better for busty women, while dresses with an A-line skirt flatter petites. U.K. dress sizes are two more than U.S.; European sizes, 28 to 30 more; and Japanese sizes, one less. Therefore, a size 6 in the U.S. is equivalent to an 8 in the U.K, 36 in Europe and 5 in Japan.

Dress pants and jeans should fit best where you are largest. Any baggy areas can be taken in.

Most important, whether you are going ashore or staying at home, the key to finding the right garment is purchasing what feels comfortable. If it’s tugging, pulling or pinching, it’s not your size.

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Stylish Ways To Stay Dry

By Jeanine Poggi

Don’t be surprised if the next rainy day elicits a smile.

That’s because this season retailers are rolling out a host of striking wet- weather gear–from utilitarian, stylish rain boots to elegant, silk umbrellas–designed to keep you dry and decked out.

Hush Puppies’ Riverbuck suede leather lace-ups, for example, are treated with Scotchgard and are both water and stain resistant. All seams are sealed, and the shoes, which come in white and “dirtybuck,” also feature a latex rubber sole.

Zegna’s Spring Elements three-quarter-length jacket is designed to be worn over a suit jacket or sport coat. An outer “Micronsphere” finishing process is applied; this makes it both stain- and water-resistant. What’s unique about this jacket is its climate-change, heat-sensitive technology, which adapts to the wearer’s body temperature, making it the ideal all-season travel jacket.

Women also have tasteful rainy-day options.

Amanda Sanders, a wardrobe consultant at New York Image Consultants suggests staying away from trenches in tan. “It’s too washed out,” she says. A better choice? Burberry’s cotton twill wax finish trench. The knee-length, metallic topper features gold-tone buttons, oversized buckle fastenings at the waist and cuffs and a buttoned gun flap and vent at the back.

Italian-made Pasotti umbrellas are embellished with such luxuries as Swarovski crystals and hand-embroidered flowers. Each boasts an extra-protective, double-layered canopy.

Though women have no qualms about tucking an umbrella in their bags or wearing a raincoat to the office, men, retailers say, generally do not invest in rainwear.

“We’ve got a fabulous Jill Sander raincoat on the sales floor,” says Butch Blum, owner of the eponymous luxury men’s and women’s clothing store in Seattle, Wash., where rainfall last year reached almost 40 inches. “But getting our guys to buy raincoats is almost impossible. Once it’s warm enough to put away the winter coat, men generally don’t bother with a transition piece and tend to walk around in their sport coat or shirt–even in rain.”

On the rare occasion that someone does come in looking for protection from the elements, Blum says his best sellers include Armani coats and Zegna’s reversible jackets with a cashmere/silk lining and a waterproof techno outer.

Saunders says men rarely carry a proper umbrella because they fear losing it.

Perhaps an investment in a wood-shafted English silk umbrella will get them to pay more attention.

Waterproof footwear is another stumbling block. Unlike the British, who are far more adept at dealing with inclement weather, American men have yet to catch on to the utilitarian, stylish rain boot.

Retailers say a dependable, classy rain boot in olive, navy or black might persuade hesitant males. Keep your feet and pant legs dry by investing in a pair of waterproof leather Hunter Royal rain boots with fleece lining or the company’s original green rubber Wellington boot with antibacterial lining.