How To Dress For Success


When John T. Molloy published The Woman’s Dress for Success Book in 1977, he invented a whole new discipline: "The name of the science I practice is wardrobe engineering. It is an elaborate process that involves sophisticated data-collecting techniques." And that's not all: "After the information is collected," Molloy writes, "it is analyzed and stored in computers."

(Very cool!)

The book is currently retailing for one penny on Amazon, but if you'd prefer to hang on to that penny, I've compiled an index of crucial tips from Molloy's book.

Into The Gloss endorses literally zero of these tips.

•Wear a skirt suit.
•Carry an attaché case.
•Wear a camel coat.
•Wear glasses.
•Wear a maroon fedora with a little feather.
•Wear colorless nail polish only.
•Wear expensive perfume, and just a tiny bit.
•Wear a blazer.

•Wear floral patterns.
•Wear peasant dresses.
•Wear clothes that make noise when you walk.
•Wear corduroy.
•Wear platform shoes.
•Wear mismatched plaid.

"Skinny women can’t wear pants, because they don’t have enough natural padding. But pants on the average well-rounded woman are widely acclaimed to be a hit.”

“Anyone who wears fur in this enlightened age is either cruel, stupid, or a weakling who follows fashion and should be treated accordingly.”

“Never buy an acetate scarf.”

“Research indicates that when a women wears a vest, she draws attention to her bust.”

“Sweaters give out nothing but negative impulses. They say 'lower middle class' and 'loser.'”

“An extraordinary hairstyle is going to work only with extraordinary clothing. Your hair must be medium length. It must lie neatly in place without constant attention.”

"A gray blouse destroys your authority, credibility, and upper middle class image. I don't know why, but it just works that way."

"Mustard tests so poorly that if someone gives you a mustard suit, I suggest you burn it."

“American women have five times as many foot problems as men. That’s because they’re wearing trash on their feet."

“Makeup works best with men when they don’t know you’re wearing it."

“Wear only skin-colored pantyhose. Anything else at work is unthinkable."

“Anything that clangs, bangs, or jangles should be avoided."

“No young lady over age ten should wear mittens.”

—Molly Young

Read Molly's other ITG stories here. Also follow her on Twitter. Photos by Devon Swartz.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Ailyn Koay

    but sweaters nowadays are pretty! not loser...

  • mlle p

    The only one I would have to agree with is "Never buy an acetate scarf.", but I'm a long haired, sweater-wearing loser, so what do I know?

  • Mary_333

    “No young lady over age ten should wear mittens.”

    I am definitely guilty of this one, actually! I mean it was in the single digits most of this winter in Wisconsin.

  • Mary

    as advice for what to wear to work, especially in a corporate or formal environment, it's actually scarily spot on.

  • Franquie

    I thoroughly agree with the fur statement... The rest is hilarious. "I don't know why, but it just works that way."

  • Eliza

    I agree that mustard-colored suits aren't cute, and mismatched plaid does sound like a "Don't," but other than that I think this misogynist picked his outfit rules out of a hat (and has a real thing for girls in vests, apparently). I mean, "A grey blouse destroys your authority?"

    Also the part about pantyhose made me can immediately date a piece about clothing if "pantyhose" are (is?) mentioned.

    • magicmollys

      I feel like I would actually be fired if I wore nude pantyhose to my office.

  • heather adair

    (burning grey blouses posthaste. would hate to draw 1977 uppity male ire!)

  • Kat

    Hahahaha what is this bs? I hope I don't look back on books I own and think the same.

  • emilyc1978

    Oh man, I have this hot mess of a book. Classic crazy

    • magicmollys

      "Hot mess" is the right word. There are some pages that are so offensive that I feel bigoted just by, like, proximity.

      • emilyc1978

        It's pretty bad in general... I couldn't believe some of the stuff in there for 1977. It's good for being amused by though!

  • beeswaxnoneofyour

    Oh man, I'm just old enough to remember the days when everyone wore thick nude hose. L'eggs pantyhose ads were rampant in the late 70's/early 80's. On a side note, if you wear everything in the Do column, but then add prodigious late 70s makeup, you'd look like a Virginia Slims ad. They seemed to have a permanent ad slot in Good Housekeeping back in the day.

  • Babou

    There should have been a scene in "Working Girl" of Tess reading this book while rummaging through Katharine's closet !

    • Lily

      "It needs some bows or something!"

  • Bella

    He's right about heels, fur , camel coats and expensive perfume, but I had a good giggle at much of the rest. cf "Pants".

  • LGandaB

    I could not agree more about the mustard.

  • Lark

    It just so happens that I have read the entirety of Dress for Success several times because I collect this sort of advice book. I actually like it a lot - not because I think the advice is particularly helpful now, today, but because Molloy is pretty frank - he says he's run a lot of surveys of managers and people in a position to promote, it turns out that these people have a lot of prejudices about women in the office, and you can overcome some of these by dressing in ways that send the right message.

    He says clearly in several places that women face sexist discrimination, that this is stupid and terrible, but that sometimes you can't just say "fuck off I'm wearing a sweater" because you actually need to get a job. When he says "don't wear sweaters", he's not saying "the platonic ideal of sweaters is terrible"; he's saying that if you're trying to get hired into a formal office where there aren't a lot of women, he has found that the hiring manager thinks that sweaters say "lower middle class" and "loser". (I add that he's not talking about wearing sweaters on the weekend. I've definitely worked jobs where I am expected to wear a button front shirt and jacket and where a sweater is too informal.)

    He's also not talking about working in a boutique, working on the factory floor, being self-employed, being a gardener...he's talking very specifically about a period in the seventies when women were trying to move into roles that had previously gone almost exclusively to men - jobs in business formal offices at a time when business formal was a lot more formal than it is today, and when most people had a LOT fewer clothes. Yes, I look pretty good in mustard - but if I had to wear suits to work and could only afford three or four for the whole year, I would want to know if everyone was going to think that "mustard" meant "unprofessional". (An interesting sidelight on this is the seventies-era (and really racist in places, trigger warning x10) must more fashion-conscious Cheap Chic - there's quite a lot in there both about the mid-seventies recession AND about how people just Did Not Have A Lot Of Clothes - the "capsule wardrobe" article makes contemporary capsule wardrobes look vast.)

    On the one hand, yes, it's good that we've moved past the point where women need to obsessively avoid mustard-colored suits and sweaters at the office, and we've gotten past a point where it seems incredibly new and shocking that a woman! might be a lawyer! or a senior accountant!

    On the other, sometimes this type of article frustrates me, because it relies on saying "ha ha look at those stupid boring people in the past with their stupid boring rules, who does that" instead of saying "hey, why did this make sense at the time? what purpose did it serve? why did reasonable people - who were just as intelligent as our brilliant modern selves - think this was a good idea?"