Wear What You Own: Styling Your Work Wardrobe

Last week, I had the privilege of visiting with the Urban Land Institute Women’s Leadership Initiative kick-off meeting in Downtown L.A. and delivering a styling presentation on making efficient use of your existing work wardrobe to create powerful first impressions and adaptable looks for your evenings and weekends.

My husband works in commercial real estate and is a member of ULI, so I was familiar with the organization and it’s mission to “provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide”. Until recently, however, I was not familiar with the Women’s Leadership Initiative within ULI, which promotes the development and advancement of women in the industry and within ULI – a mission I support wholeheartedly in any industry, but especially in the real estate industry that is historically dominated by men.

WLI’s request – presented to me by a college friend and Present Perfect reader – was simple: demonstrate practical ways to style the clothes we already own with tips that any woman can apply to her wardrobe.

A summary of my styling tips

My first challenge was to consider the most important styling lessons I’ve learned over time and to condense them into a few tips that could be easily communicated, demonstrated, and applied. I also wanted to be sure the lessons I provided could be applied to women’s personal wardrobes for their evenings and weekends, as well as their professional lives.

Considering which items to include in the presentation
This Maje coat was a natural choice for Heidi’s monochromatic look
The Grace pump from Malone Souliers was the perfect ladylike addition to Jeanne’s look (and looked beautiful on her tiny feet!)
My pint-sized assistant, helping me select shoes for the event
Selecting the best items to include took about four weeks.

Once I’d settled on the styling tips I thought would be most useful, it was time to select my models and start working with each of them to pull looks together. I didn’t want real models – I wanted real women with real closets and real needs for the same styling tips I had prepared to give the women of WLI. Fortunately, I have a lot of beautiful friends and enlisted a few good sports to model for me!

To see my styling tips and the looks I put together for the event, check out the ULI – WLI Style Guide I put together, as well as the Pinterest Board I created with more ideas and inspiration for ways to apply my style tips!
Sherylin’s AllSaints Biker Jacket added some tough-girl edge to an otherwise conservative collection
Dorey’s workwear look ended up being my favorite of the eight looks
Dorey’s pearls and fabulous embroidered clutch
Each look, organized and labeled the night before
Shoes, handbags, and accessories grouped together and tagged according to their model
I loved this covet-worthy croc-embossed MCM handbag

We arrived in the beautifully designed offices of CB Richard Ellis on the top two floors – with views to rival a five-star resort – around 5:30 p.m. and went straight to work. Since I would be demonstrating ways to adapt an office-worthy look for evenings and weekends, each model had a fairly simple wardrobe change mid-presentation. This would be taking place in a nearby conference room that didn’t have a mirror, so I asked my dear friend and style maven, Eileen Neuwirth, to assist me by being my eyes and ears behind the scenes while I addressed the group.

I happily listened in on the presentations ahead of mine and was thrilled by the conversation taking place, as it was clear I was among women who were passionate about their work and about supporting one another.

For my part, the presentation began with a quick review of some statics I’d gathered from my friend and personal branding expert, Tim O’Brien:

  • People form first impressions in 1/4 of a second
  • The first impression is more important than the next 11 impressions combined
  • People who are perceived as attractive make 19% more money on average than people who aren’t
  • Tall people are perceived as more intelligent than short people (a great case for wearing heels!)

But since there are other things besides making a good first impression to consider when we dress in the morning, we talked about how to cover all our bases by asking ourselves a few simple questions (something I call “The VIP Test”.)

Squad selfie with my models!
shoes-bags-outfit change
Shoes and bags set out and ready for the model’s quick change mid-presentation
My assistant for the night, the always-stylish Eileen Neuwirth
One last pic before showtime (please excuse the bad lighting!)

The presentation went smoothly and I was pleased when the audience wanted to continue engaging after the presentation, asking some great questions: how do you feel about using a tailor (I’m all for it!), where do you allocate most of your budget (high-quality staples first, then shoes), do you have any fashion “misses” (you bet!), and more.

Spending an evening among capable, smart, friendly professional women is always lovely, and I was grateful to be included in the night’s agenda and I’m told some of the women have already been applying some of the tips we presented!

Please be sure to check out the looks I put together in the ULI – WLI Style Guide!

A selfie texted to a friend following a successful event


For my own outfit, I chose a this beautiful sheer blouse with gold thread by Frame and paired it with this embroidered skirt by Sam Edelman for a demure take on a sheer-on-sheer ensemble, with black, pointed toe pumps. (The skirt is sold out, but for something sheer, this baroque skirt is similar. For a more formal look that isn’t sheer, I love this metallic, jacquard skirt in a similar silhouette.)




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ULI- WLI Style Guide
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