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If you like to read society pages to see who's wearing what, you'll notice that socialites who can afford to buy couture often say so. The caption under a photo might read, "Jane Doe in Versace, Susan Smith in Donna Karan, and Tiffany Jones in Givenchy couture." Translation? Jane and Susan bought their gowns ready-to-wear, while Tiffany had hers custom made.
So should YOU indulge in designer labels as your income allows?
Yes, designer labels have a certain cachet and are associated with an elevated income, and yes, you can look like you have a lot more money than you do by buying your favorite labels at discount designer websites or at overstock retailers like TJ Maxx and Marshall's.
But you have to be careful of message you're sending.
If you're a receptionist dressing like a jet setter, it will raise eyebrows - particularly your employer's. Your boss may wonder how you're funding your clothing obsession. Are you living in a dive and driving a junk heap? Maxing out your credit cards? Skimming a little off company coffers (which is how one fashionable thief was caught, showing up to work every day in designer apparel)? Whatever reason, unless you're very vocal about how you cleverly come by your high-end finds, your luxury image may have your higher-ups questioning your ability to handle money - and stall your career in its tracks.
Similarly, if you have a job with a typically high income (doctor, lawyer, stock broker) but are running around in discount apparel, you'll have people wondering just how bad you are at your job that you're not able to afford nicer things. True, illness, school loans, job losses, and other financial hardships happen, even to people with high incomes. But if you're dressing discount in a designer environment, people will begin to question your ability - and your income will suffer. Call it human nature.
So how can you dress appropriately for your income WITHOUT raising eyebrows? By keeping number of labels you wear in line with amount of your paycheck.
If you have a lower income, one or two pieces by your favorite designer (like a jacket or pair of jeans) would not be out of line - provided you buy them second hand (like on eBay) or at an overstock outlet like Loehmann's or TJ Maxx.
Have a higher income? A status handbag, watch, or pair of shoes will instantly telegraph your position. Even if you don't care about such things, your status-y clients will, and since people talk, you may be surprised by how your business grows by adding a few of these pieces to your wardrobe.
And who knows? If you play game right and meet your goals, you may someday find yourself seriously contemplating whether you should buy a special piece ready-to-wear, or have your favorite designer whip it up just for you from his couture collection...
Not sure whether your designer brands are sending the right message? Diana Pemberton-Sikes is a wardrobe and image consultant and author of "Business Wear Magic," an ebook that shows women how to dress appropriately at every rung of the ladder. Visit her online at www.fashionsavvy.com .