Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pretty and Professional...

That's the way someone at work described me...since when did the word "pretty" added to the word "professional" start to seem like an insult? Then she said that I look "professional" but not "executive professional" because I wore a lot of color?!!! WTF?!!!!

So it got me thinking, "Are you only professionally dressed if you are wearing black, gray, navy or brown?" And are you a true "professional" if you just wear black?

Those statements have really made me ponder and caused me to ask myself, "Am I a leader, a follower or someone willing to walk my own path?" It's also caused me to wonder how did I end up in this particular sandbox - where style is a dirty word...uniformity is everything...and getting dressed in the mornings is one more stress added to an already stressful day.

After much thought and consideration, I have decided to follow my own course and to be true to me. If I'm not really professional in a floral print 2 pc outfit...then d*mn I'm not! To me I seem to do my job better when I like what I'm wearing and feel comfortable in it...and if I had wanted to be a funeral director...I would be doing that right now!! So I guess I just won't be dressed "executive professional" but will be "pretty and professional" doing the best D*MN job I can!!!

So ladies, my question of the day is style oriented..."Do you think pretty and professional is a compliment or an insult?" Talk to me...


  1. Depends on if she said "pretty professional" or "pretty and professional". I'm not clear from what you wrote which it was. Sounds like it was meant as "nearly professional" instead of "attractive and professional". And yes, if my goal was to be professional looking, I'd be insulted with the first version.

    Sounds like you work in a very stifling atmosphere. I couldn't deal with that. I'm so used to software engineers who walk around in scruffy jeans and Birkenstocks. Even executives out here wear color - nice sport coats, colored golf shirts and usually there's Hawaiian Friday where everyone wears a Hawaiian print shirt.

    Now that I work at home full time, I can wear what I want. Usually something comfortable. I only need to impress myself - but if I do go out for a client meeting, I dress nice. Yesterday I wore black slacks, my favorite black and pink top I made, and a pink jean-style jacket. I always try to wear a jacket with a collar when meeting clients.

    I say, follow your bliss. Do what is right for you because if you don't, you're no good for anyone. At least, that's my rule of thumb and it works for me. It might not work for everyone. But you did ask...

  2. I think she sees you as a breath of fresh air in a sea of gray. If she said "pretty and professional" I would take it as a compliment - of course that might be different give the tone of voice she used.

  3. I think it depends on your definition of "professional." Some might think professional = serious and what says "serious" more than dark & somber colors? It also depends on geography - I didn't believe it until i came to the west coast from the east, but really folks are much more uptight and serious on the east. Boston, New York, DC are not really known for their lighter looks whereas LA, Phoenix, Seattle, etc, people are more laid back and brightly (and skimpier in Phoenix & LA at least) dressed. Also, it depends on where you work. Are you an attorney or do you work for the government (serious) or are you working with children (more relaxed)? These are all variables that take into account your overall environment. Mostly I think you should just be confident in what you wear; own it, if you will. Professional is more of an attitude and demeanor and your dress is part of that but not all. Personally, I've always taken "professional" to mean coordinated suits but then again, I am from Boston. Really, the last time I wore a coordinated suit was before moving to Phoenix, but I consider myself a professional and most will say I look professional, too.

  4. Carolyn, I know you probably said what you do, and I can't remember, but my gosh, are you expected to be a robot? That is ridiculous in this day and age, since most areas have loosened up. Good luck and I think your things are wonderful.

  5. If you were wearing the pretty outfit from your June 10th post - take pretty and professional as a high compliment. I would have a fit if I couldn't wear some color some of the time. DO YOU!!!

  6. From the sounds of your post, I wouldn't take it personally. It comes across more like a compliment than anything else. You do have pretty clothes, and let's face it, stores these days are not coming up with nice things. I'm sure she's wondering how she can look like you :)

    I like some color in my wardrobe, but I have to stand behind my standard black color for clothes. I can't help it, I'm a goth at heart. lol Although I've tried to move away from all black everyday, it's a hard addiction to overcome. It's comfortable, it hides what needs to be hidden (problematic areas) and it goes with absolutely everything. Can that be said for a neon color? I think not :):):)

    As one of the ladies mentioned above, choice of color is also dependent upon your occupation. I'd like to see a lawyer in a hot pink suit win a case. Not that it should make a difference, a good lawyer will be efficient regardless. But it will distract the heck out that jury for sure. LOL I doubt I'll ever see that, but it would be fun though.

    Anyway, I steered away from the post. Your clothes always look nice and well put together. Chances are she recognizes that. :)


  7. I think it depends on who said it and how. If a backhanded compliment, then I'd probably be insulted. If it's meant literally, then I'd think it was a positive. As to defining "professional," well ... I think it's both regional and industry-driven. If you're in finance in NYC, then conservative means professional. But if you're in NYC advertising, more fashionable with some bit of flair (not trendy, just not as conservative) will be seen as professional and creative, both important qualities in that field.

    As you know from visiting my blog, it's my opinion that here in West Central Florida, professional doesn't mean dark, matched suits. However, when I worked in Washington, D.C., I would not have dreamed of interviewing without wearing a true suit.

    I think you are both pretty and professional, and in the best possible way. :-)

  8. I wouldn't take it as an insult. To me it sounds like she was saying that you don't dress conventionally professional, safe - 2 piece dark suit and blouse kind of wear. Which is true! And you are happy with that right?! If you have the freedom to be able to express yourself through your professional workclothes then do it and be happy!

  9. I agree with the other comments - it depends on how she said it. I read a post on another blog recently about a woman who commented on a jacket the blog owner was wearing (sorry but I forgot whose blog it was). The woman asked if it was handmade. The question seemed to imply that it LOOKED handmade and not in a good way. How did this woman make you feel?

    Personally, I am extremely envious of your ability to put together such stunning outfits. You have an incredible eye for colour and design and the outfits I've seen are very sophisticated and worn with loads of style.

    Today in the middle of winter I am wearing an electric blue sweater with a checked skirt. Everyone tells me what a cheery colour it is for winter. I also have a buttercup yellow cardigan that gets loads of compliments. Be true to yourself. You're the only person you have to please. I'd love to have the flair you do.

  10. I look on the bright side of life are pretty and really professional, and I would agree.

  11. well, this is a situation where I would ask, what do you mean? just to make sure, I was in a similar situation last week,, but not about clothes, about my body type and I asked, exactly what you mean by that comment, to the person that said it. Just to make sure we are on the same so I will know how to deal with the situation. Pretty and professional is a compliment said in the right context,,,, that is, without sarcasm.

  12. In my world, I tend to stay with professional looking clothes with the base color of black. In my profession (teaching) there is a very, very wide variety of what people think is ok to wear to work. I view myself as a professional (well, at least for today, as today is the last day of school!) and I dress like a professional. I do wear colors other than black and I am taken seriously. My favorite color to wear when I need to be "powerful" and "in charge" is red. When I have meetings with certain parents, vendors or just need a boost, I wear red. I'm wearing the red linen shirt dress today!

    Now, to me, you look both. I don't think there's anything wrong if you can achieve both pretty and professional. That's a feat in and of itself - those two looks can go to extremes and I think there is a balance. I think you've met that balance nicely. You always look well put together and appropriate. Wear what makes you happy - you'll be more productive and do a better job. Doing you job and doing it well is the bottom line.

  13. I guess you have to ask yourself a few questions:

    Are you trying to climb the ladder? If no, then who cares what they think? If yes, then are you willing to compromise yourself to get there? Or is it really not that big of a deal when it comes right down to it and maybe a little more dark colour in your wardrobe might make you a bit less of a target to the professional dress police?

    Do you respect the person that made this comment to you? Do you even value their judgment?

    What are you willing to do to "fit in"? Or do you secretly enjoy being different and ruffling a few feathers?

    I don't give a flying flake what other people think of me - I am clean and well dressed, so they can go pound salt.

    Usually when people give a backhand compliment, it's because they themselves wish they had the b@lls to do what you're doing. Besides, how boring would the world be if we all looked the same? I'm guessing you've been a little different than everyone else your whole life and you're proud of that - so why change now? Personally, I love you just the way you are - so stand tall, stick out your chin and the next time this twit says you're "pretty and professional", smile sweetly and walk away (with a sashay in your step).

  14. I agree with the others - tone and inflection are everything. Being called "pretty and professional" would seem like a compliment to me, unless really poorly delivered.

    That said, I think if someone you don't know well gives you off-the-cuff or seemingly backhanded compliments, they generally tend to come across as a little awkward. The person could have been truly complimenting your personal style, or she could have been trying to be catty. Bottom line - do you care?

    Generally, if someone I like and respect gives me an awkward compliment, I take it at face value - if they meant to criticize me, I think the criticism would be clear.

    On the other hand, if someone I barely know or don't particularly get along with gives me an awkward compliment, I simply thank them and leave it at that, because only two things could have happened; either they meant it kindly, in which case, "thank you" is appropriate, or they were being a jerk, in which case, reacting any other way would simply give them the result they wanted, which was to discomfit me.

    Neutral darks absolutely CAN play a part in a professional wardrobe, but in my own sphere, I tend to think that projecting professionalism is more about cut and fit - sloppy or overly tight clothing is unprofessional, while properly fitted ensembles show care and attention.

    Judging by the outfits you sew and the way you style them, I'd describe you as fresh and crisp, put-together - these things say "professional" to me, personally.

    Also, I think the clothing you sew is pretty and flattering - but I don't believe that "pretty and flattering" and "professional" are mutually exclusive - I think you can have both, and I think you've achieved both.

    To sum up - if you get the sense that your co-worker was trying out her claws, the best way to combat it is to, as another commenter said, smile sweetly and sashay away. To this, I add; screw 'em if they don't know fashion.

  15. Well my friend, knowing where you work and the environ there, I doubt it was a compliment. However, as Shannon said, unless you're trying for that next promotion - tell them to "go pound salt".
    In terms of what is acceptable as professional attire - I agree with everyone here who's talked about regional differences. The east coast is still the bastion of suits and somber buttoned-up formality. Nowhere else in the country is it like that anymore. That is a double edge sword though. You can get away with an elegance and formality in dress on the east coast that will garner you looks of suspicion anywhere else - especially in the casual mid-west.

  16. Long-time lurker here...

    I'm not in NYC (rather, the relatively "casual mid-west" Marji references), but you always look "pretty" and "professional" to me - and those are two qualities that are difficult to balance! You're an inspiration to this young professional who also likes to sew.

    If you're not an executive, and don't have aspirations to be one, then who needs that extra adjective applied? ("not executive professional", peh)

    Besides, she was one opinion with a questionable compliment - so far you've had at least 16 of us telling you otherwise... who ya gonna believe? ;)

  17. Dear Carolyn,
    Compliment or insult, the most important thing is how YOU feel about your attire. I have been reading your blog for some time now and I know the love and effort that you put into your style. And that's what it is...your style. You know what looks best on you and you build your wardrobe to highlight that. Some people have a very narrow vision and that is their problem. There is always going to be someone trying to undercut confidence. You are pretty and you dress professionally and those two attributes can live together...Mary

  18. I'm with the others who say it sounds like more of a compliment. If someone told me I looked "executive" professional I would be highly insulted because that to me connotes cookie-cutter suits and lack of personal style.

  19. Carolyn - it could have been meant either way. I work in NY too (although in a much less conservative industry and office) and struggle with looking professional vs wearing what I want. I'm younger than all of my clients and everyone I supervise, which is an added complication. For me, I tone it down when I need to. When I start a new job or meet new clients, I tone it down a lot, and then slowly amp up the color once they know me well enough to trust my professional skills. Today I'm wearing an Amy Butler print sheath dress and a white linen jacket to client meetings. Its a little colorful, but they are casual meetings, the clients know me well and trust me, and heck, its a friday, in summer.

    I've been told (by my boss) that "being feminine and businesslike is hard, you balance it really well". It was a little weird, but I took it as a complement.

    Once at a meeting I was running, an older man who worked for another agency doing what I do told me that I looked too young to have been in the industry long. And I was fully suited that day. Sometimes you just can't win. I smiled and told the guy I wore lots of sunblock, hence my youthful appearence. I was still in charge of the meeting and there was nothing he could do about it!

  20. I have to wonder if your style is beginning to slowly sink in to some of these people and make them start wondering just how it is that you can look professional, pretty and wear color all at the same time, when all they can do is wear black. Probably ill-fitting black at that! It does sound a little back-handed, but consider the source. Is it someone who considers you "the competition"? If so, it's unlikely to be completely objective. One thing's for sure, if you stand out with your work the way you stand out with your wardrobe, (and I'm sure you do) that would definitely be a challenge to others in your office, and this may be one way some might deal with it. Unless you think this person is truly trying to help you and has no ulterior motive, I would let it slide off.

  21. The individual may have been complimenting you and said it awkwardly causing it to come out off-handed. Whatever the case, the important thing that matters is what makes you happy and that's your sense of style.

  22. I would take it as a compliment as long as her tone was an "admiring" tone and not condescending.

    I too think that she was looking at you as a breath of fresh air.

    I feel more "formal" in the winter when I'm wearing jackets and darker colors. But, I don't think I personally am more"professional" in the winter or less professional in the summer months when I'm wearing color and my personal dress code is more relaxed.

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. Carolyn, you should come work down in the south. We're all pretty down here - even the executives. Well, maybe not me so much, but the attitude in this part of the country is that "pretty" is good. So we're considered pretty (ha) backward by some folks in the NE.

  25. I think you would have to be there to hear the context and tone. So only you would know.

    But I can't believe anyone would comment at all....unless they were giving you a compliment!

    Dressing for the part can be very important when you are trying to progress in your career. That is just the way it is (you may not vote for Obama if he toured in tracky daks!). But when you are there - dress as you want!!

  26. Hmmmm ... all in all, it sounds like a back-handed compliment. If you got that vibe, then that's what it was. It sounds like she created some kind of caste system for professional attire. Evidently "executive professional" is an actual category. To her.
    Well, so what? Does it really matter to you? I know it is a drag and very stifling to be surrounded with the somber attire, but when you dress brightly & beautfully, you are rising above their narrowly focused viewpoint.

    For what it's worth, I have been on the dark side myself. For many, many years I wore suits and pantyhose and pumps every single day. It was just a choice I made that fit my career at that time. Sometimes I felt I wasn't really true to myself, because I am a more creative person than I appeared to be. I was pushing my career & I was ambitious. And that's OK, too, if that's your thing.
    So- it's about what you really want.
    It's up to you! You look glorious in your bright outfit, by the way. Utterly glorious. So I am guessing THAT IS REALLY YOU. I bet you inspire lots of other people at work, and they may never mention it.

  27. One I think you are pretty and professional looking; I think a person can be both! Now as to whether this was a compliment or not, I can't say.

    I use to read Working Woman magazine years and years ago. (Telling my age here) For awhile, a lot of the articles addressed the approprite attire for the professional, corporate woman. Somewhere along the line, I read an article that said if you made it to where you want to be in your career, you can dress how you want. I took this to mean that you should be confident in who you are and what you have achieved. So I went from black, blue and grey neutral uniform to black with red, black with fuschia, bright greens, yellow and black, teal and brown and thank you Nancy Regan-red power suits and jackets and dresses.

    I think you are competent, professional and you do your job. I think this person just may be a little jealous. So girl if you want to wear florals in pastels or greeens, instead of black, black, brown, brown and black, go for it.

    Tell her to kiss your grits, that's southern for whatever you want it to be.

  28. It sounds like a compliment to me. "Pretty and professional". A very nice compliment, too.

    To me, "executive professional" looks harried, stressed out, and wears a nondescript suit of a dark color. Contrast that image with "pretty and professional", and colorful to boot - this is somebody who knows who she is, unafraid to wear colors that flatter her, and doesn't look stressed out because she has balance in her life.
    People envy that.

  29. Compliment. Definately. Who says professional has to be boring? Now as to the semantics, executive professional vs. professional. huh? Professional is professional.

  30. I'm still laughing about the comment you left on my blog. You'll be very happy to know that I fitted the pattern and cut out the denim skirt today *before* I saw your message. ;o) Hey, there are still 2-weeks left in the month. Once the JCC is over I'll have to work extra hard to catch up with the coat sew-along. I'm sure there will be a tornado behind me pushing me along. ;oP

  31. I always tend to read the worst into others comments myself and that's usually not justified.

    That said, if your co-worker was "being ugly" with her comment, then she is probably intimidated with the self-confidence you display everyday you go to work wearing a well-chosen, nicely-fitted outfit!

  32. I would like to think she meant it as a compliment! From the pictures you post you look wonderful in all your outfits!
    Enjoy making what "you" like and wear what "you" like :)

  33. Carolyn, don't sweat the comments from co-workers. We all work with some nuts out there. Besides, you have a fabulous wardrobe. I was just thinking about how put together you always look in your photos. I think you look very professional. So there Miss Co-worker, whoever you are!!

  34. I worked for an attorney for years, she only wore dark suits on her 'in court' days. She told me that on her first day in court a judge told her to go buy some suits and to borrow the money if she had to, that she could lose a case based on how she was dressed in his courtroom... but all other days - she wore whatever she wanted and most of it was very colorful! She felt that you were paying for her opinion not her clothes... She was the most smart & confident person I have ever known and I would say she was comfortable at being a professional!

    So as long as you are also confident in what you are doing and there is no specific dress code, wear what makes you feel good and to heck with the others! They are just jealous anyway :)

  35. Oh I thouhgt it was a complement! :) At the end of the day there are a million things she could have said that would have been easy to interpret as an insult!! You know you are stylish (or at least I think you are)-- don't sweat it.

  36. I think it was a compliment, too. Your clothes are always well-made, well-fitted. You do wear color--lovely soft muted colors that look very professional ("I know my business and I'm here to do it!") and are probably very refreshing in a sea of uniform/unimaginative gray and black. Keep true to yourself--after all, that's who they hired.

  37. I agree with whomever said she probably meant you are a breath of fresh air. She probably looks forward to seeing what you are gonna wear next and since you obviously know how to put a professional look together and look pretty as well. I would not be insulted by the compliment. I used to get that when I worked in corporate! LOL Now I get, do you ever wear jeans!!

  38. I am very awkward with compliments. I have had lots of comments taken 180 degrees from how it was meant. I NEVER mean to hurt someone's feelings, but I just don't have that gift of easy speech. I would give the person the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe, she, like I, trip over their tongue. But, having worked in NYC in my day, I would say that almost any color is OK and professional, but a flowery print in a color, maybe not so much. Well, now didn't that sound like "there she goes again"?

  39. Ahh..the age-old question of dressing for work. I'm such a newbie in the sewing blog world that I hesitated to comment. Also, I tend to try to be helpful and end up insulting someone. I'm trying to sew but can't concentrate so here goes. In your blog, you come across as a professional, pretty, intelligent, and talented woman. I imagine that you come across the same way at work. I am a counselor by profession so I look for small, meaningful statements. With that in mind, I'd like to share my experience so that you can take any pieces of it that apply to you. I worked as an administrator in Student Services in a highly political community college. I dressed in colorful suits or dress/jackets, and wore pants when working with student groups. Life was good until we got a new VP. I noticed that she looked at me in a strange way on several occasions. So, I discussed those "looks" with my boss. He said that people like and respect people who look like them. She was a black, conservative suit dresser. I did not look like her at all. I was not career ambitious, but I liked my job and wanted to keep it. I changed my dress code. I started feeling like I had lost my identity. After a year or so of that, I started sending out resumes and left my job soon afterward. I'm glad that I did. My food-for-though questions to you are: Are you comfortable with how you dress (several times you mentioned being a sea of color in a sea of black)? Could the commentor be jealous or simply not clear in meaning? Are you working in a political environment (the comment bothered you so cover you backside if you haven't already)? Can you talk to your boss about the issue (I was fortunate there!)? Frankly, I'm hoping that I'm making a "mountain out of a mole hill" but maybe not. Keep us informed on your thoughts on this topic.

  40. I've been thinking about this post for a while, so let me start with some assumptions. Am I correct that you work in support for an investment banking firm?

    If so, then "executive professional" does have a specific meaning to me. I would consider that a description for one the investment bankers. Typically, they'd be pitching deals to and working with high level corporate types? Therefore, they're going to look very corporate. In other words, dark suits, pumps, etc. Very expensive, very subdued looks that say "money," which in turn says, "do business with us, we'll make you a lot of it." Frankly, if I made what an investment banker makes-you could put me in a chicken suit. I wouldn't care.

    As support, you don't have to follow this code so much because you work primarily with internal vs external customers (an assumption but not too off I hope?) Yes, you need to look professional and competent but not in the same way. I think you dress upscale while remaining true to yourself, and that's great.

    Hopefully, I'm not too off the mark in saying all this. I'm on your side, and love how you put your look together.

  41. I would hope that whomever made the statement didn't mean it to be insulting. The color shouldn't matter at all, however some people associate color with power. I think your wardrobe is AWESOME and you ROCK IT GIRL! SO, keep doing what you do. I'm sure what you wear makes you feel alive, don't stop being who you are. You are an inspiration to me and many others and hopefully they'll read this and see what we're saying!

  42. In my current working environment "pretty and professional" (in Portuguese: linda e profissional) would always mean a compliment. But I don't know your environment or the type of professional relationship you mantain with this particular co-worker, so I can't tell...

  43. I'm very late to the party, but that's never stopped me before...

    I think there's a flip side to not being in lock-step with company dress. To me, someone who's both polished and unique = self confidence and a certain amount of power. As someone who has dabbled in male-dominated fields, as a young woman who looked much younger than she was - I needed every ounce of "fit in" armour I could get, and it usually wasn't enough. So those people who keep their jobs, and can still wear what they want? Those are prized employees ;). I hope regardless of her meaning, you still get to do what you want and wear what you want at the same time!

    Speaking of which - I have to sort out my own returning-to-work wardrobe. How does one do "I'm interested in three diverse fields, don't know where geographically I'm going to end up, and don't want to be pinned into black suits"? Sew an awful lot I think!


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