Power-dressing – the next generation…



By Mandy Lehto



Meet Shelley and Livia, two career high-flyers from North America.  They’ve both reached a level of success that allows them more freedom to express themselves with their clothes.


Their work wear is anything but neutral or mannish.  They have no aspiration to blend in, or indeed to obliterate their femininity with the black, bullet-proof suit.


In fact, their individual styles are assets that highlight their influence at work.  They are part of the new generation of career women who demonstrate that a love of clothes doesn’t have to undermine one’s gravitas.


Shelley Paxton, Global Digital Strategy Officer, in a Chicago-based advertising firm.

Even in my industry, where there’s a bit more latitude with clothes, I probably still stand out.  My boss, our CEO, comments on my style – not in a bad way, since he sees that clients compliment me.  Clients think of me as a person, as Shelley, which makes me more interesting to do business with.  After a recent presentation, three clients said that their wives or girlfriends would love my shoes!

I don’t think that influence is expressed through a trouser suit.  Actually, I don’t own a single suit (and I own very few pairs of conventional trousers).  People say that suits are easy, but frankly they squelch everything that I’m about.

My clothes are quite simple.  They need to travel well and be adaptable.  I don’t actually have masses of clothes – a well-curated collection of sleek, wearable pieces makes my life much easier.  It’s all about accessories for me.

I’m into statement bags, shoes and jewellery.  I love stumbling on unique pieces in small boutiques.  I don’t want to wear things that other people have.

Typically, I wear dresses with boots or interesting shoes – always with heels.  I feel elevated in heels, longer, leaner and more purposeful.  I just gave a presentation where I wore a navy silk dress, funky grey tights, a belt (I love belts!) and fabulous Christian Louboutin shoes.  I’ve found a way to look senior, polished and still be myself, even when dealing with a staid audience.

My industry allows me to break from the formality of the more corporate world.  I do push the boundaries style-wise – I’ve always been a bit of a rebel – but people still respect me for my work.  Part of my allure is that I’m also stylish and individual.  It all works together.

Being confident about where I am in my career has definitely allowed me to let loose a little more with my style.  Success comes from being true to myself, and if I felt like I was in a straightjacket with regard to my clothes, I’d be really unhappy.

I keep it simple and tweak my clothes with jackets, belts, jewellery and shoes.  When I look good, I’m projecting my uniqueness and creativity in the workplace – the inside and outside are aligned.  That works for me.


Livia Zufferli, Managing Director of Strategy and Planning in a leading Canadian marketing agency, based in Toronto.

I’ve never wanted to dress like everyone else, and feel strongly about having a defined, individual style. I am finally in an industry where I feel more liberated in what I can wear.

I used to have a corporate job where I tested the boundaries with pieces that were unique or bold – or simply didn’t involve a button-down shirt and boring black trousers!  And while I never dressed provocatively, I’d often get the look from more conservative colleagues, undoubtedly asking themselves, ‘what IS she wearing?’

Fortunately, the advertising industry is far more accepting of creativity, and I consider my style to be a personal form of creativity.  Instead of judging me, I now find my colleagues get a kick out of what I wear.  They particularly love my shoes.

My latest love affair is with a line of feisty, yet feminine shoes from Argentina – killer heels, unique design, and best of all, so comfortable, as they are actually intended for tango dancers.

My entire work wardrobe consists of fitted dresses (not a single suit in sight!).  Typically, I’ll wear a dress in a bold colour, print or with some unique detail.  I’ll team it either with high-heeled boots or fabulous shoes.  I don’t actually own a pair of plain black court shoes!  A deep purple pair of platforms with metallic heels is the closest I have to black pumps.

I put my look together by wearing one or two things that really stand out.  If I’m wearing a dress that’s a bit involved, everything else is subdued.  If my outfit is neutral, I punch it up with a great necklace and shoe combination.

Having a defined sense of style does demonstrate confidence, polish and a sense of decisiveness.  A strong point of view in the business world is a must.

For many people, style isn’t a top consideration.  For me, it’s about showing different facets of myself at work: creativity, attention to detail; a sense of the aesthetic; and generally, a pride in one’s self.




Takeaway tips:

  • Could you add more dresses to your work wear?
  • Blitz your closet to get rid of the white noise in your work wardrobe. Having a well-curated collection, as Shelley put it, will make your life easier.
  • Muscle up your accessory wardrobe to work with simple clothes.
  • What is, or could be, your style trademark – are you a shoe person, like Livia?


Seeking more? Let’s get you there.

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“Transformational, life-enhancing stuff.” Joanna Chin, COO, Langland