Fashion Today: Women Redefine Career Wear

Twenty years ago, a “career” woman had a closet filled with power suits—with padded shoulders and double-breasted styling that aimed to place women in the same fashion category as men.

Today, research shows that professional women wear a traditional two-piece suit less than a quarter of the time, according to the Wall Street Journal. The move away from suits is representative of women’s comfort in being a female in the business world—and no longer needing to don masculine-inspired clothes to be successful.

What that means is that today’s career women are much more interested in fashion for the office—a fact that marks career wear as one of the strongest projected retail categories during the next few years. As a result, the fashion industry is clamoring to create edgier career wear that is office-appropriate and versatile for after-work, yet feminine and modern. Specialty stores like Ann Taylor and Talbots have been quietly updating merchandise, and designer brands like Calvin Klein and Oscar de la Renta are launching more affordable lines targeting this market.

Such a significant shift in women’s fashion has implications for the jewelry industry, too. Not surprisingly, more and more fashion-forward jewelry companies are leading the way with jewelry that is versatile and nontraditional. A woman need not be wearing only diamond stud earrings or a pearl strand to look “professional.”

With the demise of the power suit and the embrace of fabrics like satin and cashmere for the office, fine jewelry must keep up. That means merchandising modern, innovative, versatile designs—for example, a pearl or diamond pendant that can be worn on myriad cords or chains or converted into a brooch. It also means offering advice and honest feedback. According to the Wall Street Journal, the retailers who are logging the most success in this changing world of career dressing are those who offer practical solutions (such as a catalog that illustrates how to coordinate collections or colors) and in-store advice (such as that available from Lord & Taylor, which hosts informal fashion shows and invites fashion editors to evening in-store events to speak to women about their wardrobes).