The M Dash

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It’s Showtime! What to Wear to Own the Room

April 05, 2019 | Filed in: Your Closet

Now is your moment to shine—you’re delivering a speech, presenting to the board, or hosting a panel discussion. You might feel more secure in your tried-and-true (faded) four-year-old suit, but big-time work events demand your best. So bring it on all fronts. Sure, it’s what you say that really matters, but use what you wear to own the room. Here are 10 tips for stand-up success.

Frame your face. Details like pretty collars and notched necklines put the emphasis where it should be (on your mouth and the words emanating from it). While a super-low plunge is a no-no, a deep V-neck can draw eyeballs upward to your face.

The Beverly top‘s scarf-like panel elegantly frames the face.

Use color. If you must, stick with your go-to hue (black?) but know that a color like red, fuchsia, cobalt, or magenta usually gives your image a little more oomph. Even adding only a pop of color near your face (like a bright sheath under a suit jacket, a kicky neckerchief, or a pair of sensational earrings) wins every time. Unconvinced? Our last recommendation: offset your sober shade with a stand-out neckline, peplum jacket, or French cuffs.

The crimson color of the Etsuko dress is sure to turn heads.

Embrace body con. From afar, voluminous clothing overwhelms. It’ll swallow you whole, plus it photographs poorly. No matter your size and shape, a tailored (but not tight) silhouette will give you instant authority.

Our Italian jersey pieces hug in all the right places.

Complement the space. If at all possible, get intel on the color scheme of the space (especially for large events) and dress accordingly. A red dress against a red backdrop is a wash. Better, an outfit that contrasts with the background. And if you’ll be with others onstage, avoid prints. A bright solid is less likely to clash with your colleagues.

Don’t get fussy. If it’s even a tiny bit complicated (ties, buckles, pleats), leave it at home. Your audience will get distracted. Stick to simple shapes and smooth lines.

Minimize bulk. Hefty fabrics, like tweeds and brocades, are awfully interesting but don’t work at a distance. Plus, they’re hot—not in a good way—and harder to move in.

Skip exaggerated accessories. That armload of beloved bangles? Nope. The constant clinking and jingling may drive audience members to the door. Also, ditch wraps, oversized scarves, hats, and dramatic eyeglass frames.

Beware sweat stains. Silk satin, we’re talking to you!

Steer clear of see-through. Meaning, any fabric that can become transparent when the lights hit. Obviously, chiffon, but many other fabrics—cashmere, knits, linen—when thin or pale enough will sheer out under a bright beam. Test the transparency in advance using a makeshift spotlight at home or, better yet, ask someone to watch you when the sun shines. That’s the reality. Our parting secret: skin-tone undergarments disappear best under clothing.

Ready to find your stage-worthy outfit? Shop power pieces here.


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Susan Swimmer is a former magazine editor (Seventeen, Marie Claire) and television commentator ("The Today Show") and has spent 20+ years talking to women about fashion. She is now the Founder and Creative Director of Evie Marques, a line of bold, brightly colored, beaded necklaces. You can find her on Instagram at @Evie Marques. Read more of Susan's posts.


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