Guest Columns

What to wear when you want to influence people

The Colorado Statesman

Lobbying: The process of influencing public and government policy at all levels: federal, state, and local. Lobbying involves the advocacy of an interest that is affected, actually or potentially, by the decisions of government leaders. (From thefreedictionary.com)

If you want to see what professional women should wear, go see a lobbyist. Not because they will convince you to dress a certain way, but because they understand the importance of image. Style Matters took its own advice and met up with the four women principals of Aponté & Busam Public Affairs Consultants, a firm that’s been around for more than 20 years. There’s a reason they have about 35 clients. These women convey such confidence, experience and knowledge, that I am thinking of giving up my persuasion technique, which basically consists of: Pleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease — and adopting some of theirs. Each has their own fashion sense, but all understand the power of professional dress.

The four principals of Aponté & Busam Public Affairs Consultants — Ruth Aponté, Sara Odendahl, Edie Busam and Amy Redfern — pose in the rotunda of the state Capitol with flair and a sense of fashion. The well-known lobbyists understand the importance of portraying a good image.

Ruth Aponté, the founding member of the political consulting firm that bears her name, has been lobbying in Colorado for 20 years. Her work as a lobbyist has resulted in millions of dollars annually being directed to her client needs. Aponté describes her fashion style as “conservative with a little bit of whimsy.” When we spoke with her, the whimsy of the day was a dashing, large yellow hand bag by Marc Ecko, snagged at a TJ Maxx. (Aponté is a confirmed “Maxxinista.”)

Sara Odendahl is a little bit of an iconoclast when it comes to dress. She is the only principal to wear slacks and not carry a yellow handbag. Here she sports a black and white striped Kate Spade bag she received last Christmas. And as far as taking sides in the ugly Tory Burch divorce, Odendahl seems to favor ex-hubby Chris Burch, who started his own line called C. Wonder. Here she wears a C. Wonder leopard belt and necklace.

Style Matters is always curious as to what women professionals select to wear to the office when they know they will be having an important day. Aponté defaults to a pencil skirt. The skirt has several ruffles in the front but is flat in the back — trendy mixed with conservative. She pairs the skirt with heels and a blouse. No suits, she says. “Matchy-matchy is out.”

Edie Busam pulls together a simple outfit of pencil skirt and white blouse with a colorful scarf. The scarf immediately adds a touch of professionalism to her look. Scarves are an easy way to dress up an outfit. They convey to potential clients experience, expertise and the ability to tie a scarf correctly.

Aponté has this advice for newly minted women professionals: “Err on the conservative side of dress. That means no minis, black fishnet stockings or cleavage.” (You know who you are.)

Amy Redfern wears an outfit she put together from thrift shops. She pairs the ensemble with low-heeled sling back pumps, gold tone necklace and matching hoop earring from one grandmother, and a jumbo link bracelet from the other.

A blond bombshell wrapped in traditional mid-west values, principal Edie Busam first started out working in a hospice. From there she branched out and has become an expert in the fields of health care administration including hospice administration, and medical device manufacturing.

Ruth Aponté wears an outfit that illustrates her philosophy of dress — mixing classic with current. Her conservative black suit is paired with an oversized trendy green glass necklace.
Photos by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

Perhaps the most sophisticated dresser in the firm, and the only grandmother, Busam favors pencil skirts and wrap-style blouses. She loves color and can pull it off as witnessed by the bright turquoise blue number she was wearing the day Style Matters spoke with her. Busam will sacrifice style for comfort when it comes to her shoes. The capitol building where she spends most of her time had all marble floors, beautiful but deadly on the feet. Busam favors Joseph Seibel, a line of Eurocomfort shoes.

Busam’s go-to outfit is a khaki suit from Ann Taylor worn over a silk blouse and accessorized with pearl earrings. 

Her advice to women just entering the workforce: “Dress to your audience. Wear clothing that is not too expensive or showy.” And finally, “Carry around lots of breath mints!”

Amy Redfern has many areas of expertise. A few include tax policy, Internet security and data protection, education policy, PAC management, issue campaigns, and community investment strategies. Whew! That’s all well and good. But more importantly, Redfern is the most daring shopper of the crew. She will venture out to thrift shops and mass market department stores such as Kohl’s and Target and combine these finds with heirloom jewelry from her grandmothers.

Redfern’s take on the importance of dress in her profession: “Clothes are the first ‘words’ people hear about you. I want to be confident about what I am saying. The last thing I want is for people to be thinking about how I look and not the information I am sharing.”

Sara Odendahl is a veteran of the advertising and marketing community, with more than fifteen years of strategic communications experience. She has managed statewide advertising campaigns and specializes in social and cause marketing initiatives. Her clothing philosophy is to dress in classic, comfortable clothing with “pops of color.” You will mostly find Odendahl in slacks. “I feel more comfortable and assured in them,” she told Style Matters.

How important is dress in the lobbying profession? “Very important. It’s key to look professional. See where we work — the capitol. It is steeped in tradition and we should respect that.”

The women of Aponté & Busam are sharp cookies, and they dress that way too. Individually and collectively, they represent the cutting edge of working women fashion today.

Style Matters’ 10 principles of professional dress

1.  A professional wardrobe is a business tool that can help advance your career.

2.  No matter what anyone tells you, very casual dress in the office is perceived as less professional.

3.  Casual wear reveals more about a person than the traditional business suit, which functions as a protective uniform.  

4. A person must be able to dress casually and still convey credibility and expertise.

5.  You represent your business whether you are the CEO or the receptionist, so still dress professionally.

6. The office is not the place to make a personal fashion statement. It’s the place to show your good judgment in a business environment.

7. Your clothes talk. While you’re saying one thing, your clothes could be saying another. Colleagues cannot absorb what you have to say if they’re distracted by inappropriate attire.

8. Adhere to high standards of business casual wear regardless of how dressed down your co-workers are or how relaxed your office dress code is.

9.  Persistently sloppy dress at work can eventually erode your self image.

10.  Your image is one thing over which you have total control. Exercise it to your benefit.

Judie Schwartz, whose Style Matters columns appear in The Colorado Statesman, is the co-author of two best-selling books on the best places to shop in Colorado. Called “A Fashion-Lover’s Guide to the Best Shopping in Denver and Beyond,” the books are available at stylematters.us. Schwartz presents seminars on the importance of a professional image, shopping tips and fashion trends. She can be reached at:
• stylematters1@gmail.com 
www.stylematters.us
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