The woman in the ‘too’ red suit

Dear Shelagh

I recently started my first job at a large accounting firm. Obviously, we have to dress “corporate”. I am only a junior secretary, so I don’t have a lot of money, but I went out and bought three suits that I could afford. I have recently been called in to my manager’s office and told that my red suit is “too red” and that I need to tone it down a little. I have three suits that I wear on different days, and I’ve spoken to the other girls and they say that they have about the same. I feel that my red suit is being unfairly criticised. There’s nothing in the company rules that says we can’t wear red. Am I being unreasonable, or are they?

Red Suit


Dear Red

While it’s wonderful to read that you’ve recently landed your first job, I’m sorry that one of your early learning curves should be about something as seemingly small as a red suit. Welcome to the world of ‘unfair’.

My second job ever was for a banking institution way back in the day of synthetic fabrics too awful to describe. My work uniform was a hideous turquoise trilobal frock that clung and crept like a crepe bandage. I’ve never been much of a style queen, but I knew I had to do something to liven it up a little, so I added red – very red – tights and white platform baby doll shoes. I though I looked amazing; sadly the branch manager didn’t (there’s no accounting for taste) so I had to follow the trend of thick beige pantyhose. Fortunately we were visible to our clients only from the waist up, so the public didn’t get to see the granny tights.

What this amounts to is that I’m probably not the right person to advise you on this matter, so I sent your question to the impeccably groomed Janine Carley-James of Restyle You. Here’s what she has to say:

Dear Red

Unless you work for Virgin Atlantic Airways, a red suit just isn’t the ticket to fast track your career advancement. The colour red is not the issue here, rather the amount of it in one go. Do not fret however, your red suit can still earn its keep as part of your work wardrobe – just never both pieces together. Always separate them; for instance, the red jacket with grey pants/skirt. It could also work with smart jeans on casual Friday or, at a push, black pants/skirt. Take care with black as I think the contrast is too great for a bright colour to work with black, unless of course, you introduce another item such as a scarf or a blouse that combines both black and red in one garment.

The red skirt can be worn with a pretty neutral blouse/cardigan such as white or cream accented with a bold necklace. This way your ‘red’ will still be impactful but not over powering.

In future get more bang for your limited budget by buying separates rather than suits. This way you can combine creatively to give you exciting looks for each day of the week; you sound like a bold fun girl and that should never be squashed, just conveyed a little more subtly. – Janine

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