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Dress for success with runway flair

By Eliza Ridgeway for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The "Mad Men" fashion trend has given a boost to stylish work wear
  • Even subtle touches can send powerful messages in the office
  • Think carefully chosen accessories and discreet flourishes, stylists and consultants say

London, England (CNN) -- The dapper tailoring and stylish modesty of "Mad Men" has inspired a new attention to the intricacies of suiting in the fashion world.

That's good news for professionals looking for attire that fits the executive dress code but doesn't lack on the style front.

"We're seeing the suit very strong on the runway. They're seeing that it's not just for the office, it's also an incredibly cool look," men's wear buyer Stacey Smith told CNN.

She works at London boutique Matches, which she says has seen a post-recession rebound in suit purchases.

Sartorial style may not be a prerequisite for ascending to the executive suite, but how you dress can send powerful messages in the office, says image consultant and personal shopper Emma Graham.

"We all make assumptions based on someone's appearance, in some cases huge, sweeping assumptions based on really small things," said Graham.

First impressions, in particular, matter, according to Britt Lintner, a hedge fund sales executive who also designs her own line of work clothing for women.

"To dress like an uber-professional -- chic, corporate and elegantly put-together -- is what people initially see, which definitely helps win roles and win people's impressions," Lintner told CNN.

We all make assumptions based on someone's appearance, in some cases huge, sweeping assumptions based on really small things.
--Emma Graham
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Her pieces, she says, allow women to be fashionable and feminine, while still falling within the rules of corporate formality.

This season her designs are riding the "Mad Men" wave. Her faux-wrap "Mad" dress, for instance, features a v-neck (sans plunging neckline), knee-grazing skirt and shoulders with a trendy puff.

Playing within the rules, rather than flouting them, is good advice for those seeking to inject a little panache into their everyday office look.

"We're finding that jackets and trousers are being worn as separates," said Smith, the men's wear buyer.

"It might be a Prince of Wales jacket for the office, maybe with a solid trouser. It's still very much a formal office dress code, yet you're being slightly more playful."

For men, adding a personal touch can be as easy as playing with quirky cuff links, signature watches or bright colors in lining, shirts and ties, says Graham.

Women can also personalize their beloved basics with accessories. One client Graham had only felt comfortable in her standard black trouser suit but had a love of art deco.

"A really simple thing for her to do is go and buy an art deco style broach," Graham told CNN.

She said the broach worked not just because it reflected her personality, but because it would inspire a response in clients and coworkers.

"Do something a little bit different, for which in a meeting scenario, someone would remember about you."

Being on trend isn't for everyone -- and it doesn't have to be.

Suit styles change year to year, but the top priority should be placed on how well a suit fits, according to Michelle Sterling, founder of image consulting firm Global Image Group.

"In terms of projecting yourself as an executive, it's important to wear a tailored suit," she said.

But, Sterling added: "At the end of the day it comes down to the person." There are a lot of men at director level and above who don't spend a lot on what they wear, she said. "It's about how they conduct themselves."

Style and flair can help you get in the door, but it "will only get you so far," says Lintner, the hedge fund executive and designer.

"In the end, all you really see is someone's work. That's the bottom line."