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Years into her professional career, Packeteer Inc. GC Marie Wilson says her wardrobe has lost its zest. She looks down at her sleek, navy blue Kasper suit, accented with white pearls, and says, “It’s elegant, but drab.” Altera Corp. patent counsel Elaine Lee has a different problem. She works with a lot of engineers and rarely wears a suit to the office. When she does, communication falters. “[They say] ‘Ah, you’re a lawyer, I don’t want to talk to you,’” she said with a laugh. Both women were among about 30 other Silicon Valley in-house attorneys who eagerly sought advice from fashion consultant Anthea Tolomei. “The image is the main focus today,” she announced while fielding questions during a small fashion show organized by the Bay Area chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel in Palo Alto’s Garden Court Hotel Friday. Unfortunately, the San Francisco-based consultant added, the advent of today’s “business casual” style has thrown many women into confusion. Tolomei then provided tips to the mostly female audience on how to spruce up their professional wardrobe by balancing the casual dress of the corporate culture with the crisp professionalism befitting an in-house attorney. Dressing according to body types, wearing colors to compliment skin tone, eyes and hair, and mixing and matching fabrics were just some of the basics she covered. She introduced concepts such as “low-fat dressing,” saying weight loss can be instantly achieved by selecting the right ensemble — for example, drawing attention away from a body’s widest parts. She also suggested taking dress cues from supervisors “unless they’re clueless” themselves. Topping corporate counsel’s list of concerns was how to balance a look that is professional and carries an air of authority with a look that says “talk to me.” That can be a challenge, lawyers say, especially when the engineers and CEOs they work with wear shorts. Nola Mae McBain, an associate general patent counsel for Xerox Corp., said dressing the part at work is a delicate balance. “There’s a fine line between looking enough like [the engineers] so they are comfortable enough to tell you things” and being authoritative, she said. “If you don’t [look enough like them] you miss things.” McBain said she also struggles to strike a balance between the relaxed style typical of her West Coast office and the ultra-conservative dress code adhered to in Xerox’s Stamford, Conn., headquarters. “My GC wears a pinstripe suit and a tie with diagonal stripes,” she said. Describing her own wardrobe as schizophrenic, McBain sought advice about how to integrate her Palo Alto wardrobe into her bi-coastal work life. Tolomei’s answer was mixed dressing � transforming a sophisticated suit into something more casual by replacing the suit pants with denim pants. Wilson, who said her closet contains “too much black, blue and white,” left the fashion show refreshed. She liked Tolomei’s “block dressing” concept of combining a hot-pink tank top with a hot pink blazer, she said. “I feel like I have permission to go back to my hot pink tops that I wore in my more casual days.”

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