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What to Wear: Formal Business Attire & the White House

By Amalah

Wise, funny, lovely Amalah,
I have a small crisis and I don’t know where to turn … White House appearance. Yeah, my company is getting an award from the President (like, THE PRESIDENT) at the end of the month, and I’ll be there. I thought it was going to be an audience thing while our CEO goes up to shake the president’s hand, but I just found out that, no! I’m probably going to be up there with him … doing the hand shaking thing … with THE PRESIDENT. OF THE U.S.
(Obligatory side note: this is totally an awe-of-the-office thing, not awe-of-the-man. But, just as well, really, cuz I’d be so much worse and totally squee! if it were Obama …)
Anyway, I’m flummoxed on attire. I’m thinking a suit, of course, but I live on the west coast, so totally don’t own one … and I’m tall (6’3″) and not-waify.
Anyway, I just bought this jacket, or at least a version of this in a very smart dark gray with a suiting pattern, with a skirt and a purple blouse (the purple matches the lining of the suit). Is that okay? My only other option is really black slacks and a button down top (no jacket) …
Also I was thinking black (low) pumps. and no hose. And what about my hair? Pinned back? I’m afraid I look too young if I get a blow-out, not to mention the potential for sweaty nervousness and hair sticking to face or going all crazy humid …
So, yeah. Super excited (white house!), but don’t want to be That Poor Girl who was dressed all wrong … you can’t go wrong in charcoal, can you? Any other advice? I’m a little freaking out and this situation has never really come up before …
Thanks so much … you’re the best!
Sucker for Pomp and Circumstance

lanebryant%20jacket.jpgYou’re fine! You’re totally fine. Good instincts, all around, truly.
(Can I tell you, though, how much I love being the virtual version of a cheerleading friend in the dressing room? At this point I’d be all, “Let’s go look at shoes! And oh, look, we have to walk right by Nordstrom’s little coffee shop! have you ever had one of their Ice Storm milkshake drinks? No? You have to try one. In Cookies & Cream. But they can make it with skim milk so it’s like, way healthy and stuff.”)
Any sort of formal ceremony that ultimately revolves around your work or business generally calls for formal business attire. Unless said ceremony is part of a black-tie affair or something else where a different dress code is specified. The White House, however, definitely falls into the formal business attire category. Suit, jacket, conservative heels, etc. So…what you’ve bought already! Hooray!
I would encourage you to at least pack and consider a pair of hose — nude, black, more charcoal, whatever. Weather in DC at the end of September is a total wildcard, as it’s just as likely to be in the low 60s (or colder) as it is to be in the middle of some weird, early-fall heat wave. Hose is one of those subjective things now, with many women flat-out rebelling against it as a necessary part of business attire, but I generally lean towards wearing hose when the occasion or weather calls for it (goosebumpy legs are NOT A GOOD LOOK). Sort of falls into the better-to-be-overdressed-than-underdressed rule. Hose with a suit always looks polished, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with bare legs, you may feel weird if you look around and realize your legs are the ONLY bare ones in the room.
lanebryant%20skirt.jpgAs for your hair, I don’t know what style would be the most flattering, but I’d definitely vote for anything that minimizes any temptation to fuss and fidget with your hair during the day. When I wear my hair completely down, for example, I have an involuntary habit of fluffing and flipping my bangs to make sure it hasn’t “gone flat,” so I usually opt to pull all or part of it back when I know I’ll need to keep my hands still. (Important meetings or any other time when I suddenly need to pretend to be a grown-up instead of a gum-snapping, hair-flipping child.) Something simple and clean-looking, perhaps a French twist or a half-up/half-down look.
Other fashion don’t when it comes to formal business attire? Big chunky jewelry (opt for stud earrings or very small hoops), too many rings (no more than one per hand), and brightly-colored fingernails. Go for “day” makeup — no smoky eyes or glittery bronzers; keep your colors neutral and your lips mostly matte. (A little gloss is fine, but don’t slick on the super-wet-and-sticky stuff. It’s a little teenybopper now and you’ll just be plucking stray hairs off your lips all day.) Oh, and keep a tiny compact mirror in your pocket so you can check the lipstick-on-teeth situation before you shake hands with the leader of the free world.


Published September 11, 2008. Last updated September 11, 2008.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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