California Casual Business Attire is Still Professional

Office Appropriate Look

Hi Kathi,

I do not wear any makeup and have long hair. Is there a minimum amount of makeup that is considered appropriate (i.e. lipstick, mascara, etc)?

I have also noticed professional women tend to have short hair.  My hair is always clean and tidy, but I’m not sure if it looks professional.

These are questions that I wanted to ask you but was not dialed into your multi-cast when you presented to SAIC.

I have been struggling with on working on looking more professional. Also I wanted to ask if California has exceptions for professional dress attire. I have always been told that I do not need to wear a suit or panty hose because this is California.  As a result I feel overdressed when I come to work dressed in a suit. I struggle with this because when I do dress casually, I feel that I am not dressed appropriately either.  If you have any feedback for me I would appreciate it immensely.


Hi Norma,

These are common questions that many of my clients ask so I am glad that you took the time to write.

I don’t know your age so it is hard to determine how much makeup is appropriate. I feel that a little makeup can go a long way in creating a polished and professional image. The thing to ask yourself is if you look like you took time to put yourself together in the morning. It is a subtle and very important question.

Co-workers and managers might notice a less than polished image and unconsciously feel that if you don’t spend time on yourself, you might not spend time the appropriate amount of time on their tasks. This does not mean that you have to spend hours in front of the mirror every morning. A few quick tricks will help you pull your look together.

If you have mottled or uneven skin tones especially in pink or red hews, you might benefit from a lightweight natural foundation. If your facial skin tone is even, you can probably forgo foundation.  An even skin tone makes everyone look more youthful and healthy so this should be your goal.

Lipstick and mascara are the quick touches and perhaps the only touches you would need to look professional. You might not even need lipstick, so to speak. There are many glosses on the market that are quick and easy to use. My favorite gloss is Neutragena Moisture Shine® Lip Soother. It tingles my lips, feels great and I always have one tucked away in my purse and briefcase. It is provides a very light color and lots of shine with minimal effort.

Mascara is best applied to the top lashes only on most women. Choose black if you have brown or black hair and brown if you are a blond. Again, a quick swipe and you will instantly look more polished.  I love Cover Girl Lash Exact Waterproof Mascara. It has a great wand that does not smudge or clump and is very quick and easy to apply.

Take a trip to a department store and try on some make-up. When you arrive, go to a sales associate that has a look you like. Avoid the associates who are wearing massive amounts of make-up because they might not be sensitive to the subtle upgrades that you are looking for.

Long hair can be great if it is naturally full and well kept. Well-kept is the key. If you hair is long and thin, you might want to consider a shorter, more manageable style. Thinning, straggly hair, especially if it is turning gray, does look a bit outdated. Also, long hair tends to have split ends, which will make your entire appearance unpolished. Clean and tidy does not necessarily mean professional. If you are in doubt, pick up a couple of fashion magazines and notice how the models are wearing their long hair and see if you can emulate the styles.

My main advice about your hair is this, if you want to keep your hair long, you need to invest time into it. It will not look well kept without effort. This is why a lot of women in business forgo their long hair; it simply takes too much time to keep it looking great and stylish.

When it comes to California professional business attire, I think almost everyone is confused. We are a bit more relaxed here on the west coast but professional appearance is still very important. Depending on your industry, perhaps a full suit is over the top.

When styling clients on the west coast, I often turn my client’s suits into separates. Suits are a great investment but do not necessarily need to be worn together. Breaking them into separates makes them more versatile and your appearance less intimidating. For instance, you can pair your pencil skirt with a nice silk blouse and sweater while forgoing the jacket. Combine the suit jacket with a pair of dark blue jeans (if your company wears them) and a nice pair of sling back heels. A sheath dress broken apart from its trench coat is a great Audrey Hepburn look when paired with a small sweater. The trench coat jacket can be paired with a nice pair of dress slacks.  Mix and match your suits for a more current and versatile wardrobe.

No matter where you work, the jacket is the perfect remedy to looking put-together. If in doubt, top whatever you are wearing with a classic jacket and you will look more polished instantly. I advise my clients in the science industry to keep a classic dark colored jacket on the back of their office door so they can grab and go and look professional on a moment’s notice if the boss or a client calls an unexpected meeting.

Have fun and be adventurous! Change it up a bit, it sounds like you have been doing what you are doing for several years and it might be time to move into 2009! You do not have to spend hours making your look more professional; you just have to know a few quick tricks. Feel free to email me with more questions or send me a photo so I can offer more specific advice.

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One Response to California Casual Business Attire is Still Professional

  1. Alex Wright says:

    Great article and very helpful. I still don’t have a job where I can wear the great clothes you helped me pick out, but every now and then I get to attend a function where I can wear the clothes. I’ve updated a few of the items since your time with me. I appreciate the critical eye you gave me to help me weed out the clothes that no longer work for me.


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