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Sophistication, elegance move into typically laid back seasons of spring and summer

Stylish and sensible for the upcoming Southern heat

The calendar says it’s March, and in Mississippi that means hot weather is approaching and with it the challenge of looking good and staying cool — preferably at the same time. That can be difficult in business and professional environments

The season’s top colors are bright and refreshing: pinks, lime green, oranges, turquoise and as Lauren Jabour of Ladies at Great Scott puts it, brown is the new black.

“We won’t see a lot of brown this summer, but it’s more accepted than it used to be,” she said. “It looks good with white along with the bright colors.”

Pencil skirts are also big at the Jackson shop and can be paired with a great shirt from Audrey Talbot for a business look that’s cool enough for the dog days of summer. “Robert Talbot has been making great tailored shirts for men for a long time. He got it to an art,” Jabour said. “Now Audrey Talbot is making them for women. They can be tucked in or worn on the outside with a belt with skirts or pants for a professional look.”

She said the shop does have some summer suits for business women that come in lighter fabrics and with shorter sleeve lengths. “We have a gorgeous linen suit that’s in an earthy tone and can be dressy or casual,” she said. “The pieces can be worn together or broken up for a more casual look.”

Many of their suits are sold with matching skirts and pants for more versatility. Plus, Ladies at Great Scott sells pants with unfinished hemlines and provides alterations as a service for customers.

Jabour recommends using colorful scarves to spice up whites and neutral colors this spring and summer.

Robbie Hales, owner of The Liberty Shop in Meridian, says long necklaces are a perfect accessory for any outfit, and that silver jewelry continues to be strong but gold is making a comeback.

In other hot trends, Hales says the explosion of handbags shows no sign of slowing, and other popular items are knee-length skirts, bohemian-inspired skirts and tunics, embellished jeans and easy, soft fits for day and night.

“While spring and summer are always more laid back than fall and winter, this year there is a sophistication and elegance making its way back,” said Hales, who’s been in the retail business for 31 years. “There are some dazzling, soft fabrics that are paper thin and cool and comfortable, along with soft colors that range from bold to khaki and earth tones.”

Kristy Mustin has worked in the women’s section of Neilson’s Department Store in Oxford for 23 years. She finds that styles aren’t as oriented to business women as they once were, sometimes making it difficult to find suits that don’t look mature.

“Some young women have to wear suits and dress conservatively; maybe they work in law or accountancy, and we try to find things for those customers,” she said. “We advise buying separates because most women need different sizes in tops and bottoms.”

Mustin says shorter suit jackets are in style now instead of the longer ones and that dresses are totally out of style.

“You just don’t see dresses anymore because customers can not mix and match them,” she said. “It’s hard to buy dresses even for church.”

Pantyhose are not in style now either, and that’s good news in Mississippi’s hot, humid climate. “I tell customers to put on some tanning cream and enjoy it,” Mustin said. “One day pantyhose will be back.”

She also notes that the popular shrugs are still in vogue along with oddities such as camouflage gauchos. “I think that sooner or later designers will run out of things,” she said. “What will they think of next?”

Although most suit styles have a mature look, fashion styles in general, Mustin believes, aren’t oriented to middle-age women. “All fashion trends coming out seem to be for age 30 and younger,” she said. “Designers are showing more and more skin and that is not appropriate for business wear.”

She said Neilson’s employees are not allowed to show skin while on the job even though a lot of items they sell are very skimpy. “We like to wear what we sell, but we must draw the line,” she said. “We don’t sell a lot of that kind of stuff to business people.”

Another clothing issue for business women is dressing smartly and comfortably when a baby is on the way. Mollie Gregory is vice president of public relations at Maris, West & Baker Advertising Agency in Jackson, and she and husband Larry Gregory are expecting their first child in August. She plans to work until her due date.

“I’m right at the point where I’ve exhausted or grown out of my original clothes,” she said. “In the first few months, I was able to make my normal clothes work. Now that I’m further along, I’ve made trips to stores to see what I can wear (or grow into) that’s also professional in look.”

The young executive said finding that look is a challenge as there aren’t many maternity stores around, and at least one department store she’s visited does not carry maternity clothes. She says there aren’t many options, particularly for clothes to wear to business meetings and luncheons.

“The difficult thing is to find something that is both ideal for professional situations, or looks somewhat tailored, and is still comfortable,” she added. “I guess you have to get creative. I’ve purchased things that aren’t maternity but are a little larger in size so that I can still look tailored at business functions.”

And a parting word to women: business casual is crisp, neat and should look appropriate even for a chance meeting with a CEO. It should not look like cocktail, party or picnic attire.

“Don’t confuse club attire with business attire. If you would wear it to a club, you probably shouldn’t wear it in a business environment,” states the Career Services at Virginia Tech Web site. “Also, most attire worn on television is not appropriate for business environments. Don’t be deluded.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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