What You'll Learn From a Woman's Dress for Success Book from 1977


It’s probably good that I don’t work with 99 percent of the people about to read this post; the first thing you’d all say is, “Kate, you’ve never taken any of the advice in John T. Molloy’s The Woman’s Dress for Success Book in your life. What right to do have to judge him?” Well, I’m as qualified to judge Molloy as he is to comment about how he finds women in slacks “ultrasexy.”

According to the cover of the book, Molloy – who published what we’ll refer to as the WDSB in 1977 – had previously written the best-selling Dress for Success two years earlier for executive men. He updated his sequel in 1997, and an article from that year in the Baltimore Sun on it noted that his opinions about women’s wear didn’t evolve as much as you might think they would:

For some reason, he seems unwilling or unable to accept that a classic pantsuit, made from top-quality fabric in sober, businesslike colors, has become a staple in the wardrobes of successful women in a wide range of professions. Women value the polished look of a pantsuit, as well as the fact that they often are more modest and comfortable than many skirts and look better with low-heeled shoes.

In the forward to the WDSB, Molloy writes:

This is the most important book ever written about women’s clothes because it is based on scientific research, not on opinion.

He also makes a very clear disclaimer:


The original WDSB is full of helpful advice, many of which are accompanied with equally helpful diagrams, like what kind of hat you should wear:

Cloche? And old word.

And what kind of hair should go under that hat:

And the best way to wear a scarf:

Here is the only acceptable winter coat.

Despite this diagram for appropriate tennis wear, I still don’t know what an “action sleeve” is:

“Gold or silver pen.” I WISH:

Malloy has a lot of advice about dresses:

And he devotes a significant amount of space discussing blouses, also known as the fabric that covers your breasts:

“Chinese red”:

What Molloy doesn’t realize is that all umbrellas are bad umbrellas, though I would love to know how to get my hands on a raincoat WITH a fur collar:

The best parts of the book are when he suggests that women not try to be too masculine in their clothing choices in order to fit in:

Molloy doesn’t shy away from the serious stuff; here is a passage that he devotes exclusively to what black female lawyers should be wearing in the courtroom, depending on whether they are facing an “urban black ghetto jury”:

There’s nothing better than a man telling a woman how her undergarments will liberate her:

Other important lessons from the WDSB:

  • Attaché cases are “an indispensable item for the business-woman.”
  • “Boozers are losers.”
  • “Your ashtrays should be smaller than those in men’s offices….Any paintings should be sexless.”
  • “The sexiest color in lingerie, according to our tests, is red. The next sexiest is black, but only on white women. The sexiest on black women is red, and the second sexiest is pale pink.”
  • “The women who are producers of major television shows and editors or assistant editors at major publishing houses tend to earn less money and get fewer promotions than men in comparable positions. I suspect that sexism might be one reason. But another reason is totally the fault of the women themselves. Many of them dress for failure.
  • It’s hard for a black saleswoman to “offend” any one with their appearance? I don’t know.
  • It’s easy to dress to impress a doctor because “They never have the whole picture of what’s going on in a human body. So they’re used to fragmented information and they don’t expect a woman to have a sense of completeness or even congruity in her clothing.”
  • “Young dentists seem to be under the influence of novocaine. Almost nothing turned them on.”
  • Men’s clothes are better made than women’s clothes.
  • Anything other than skin-colored pantyhose is “unthinkable” in the workplace.
  • “no garment tests better than the sweater if it’s tight and made of luxuriant wool” for attracting a man. Anything else “spell[s] secretary.”

In conclusion, it deeply saddens me that there is very little chance that filling out this form and sending it in will get me my own personal dress for success guide. You can buy John T. Molloy’s The Woman’s Dress for Success Book on Amazon.

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