Fashion: Role models who mean business: The rules are unspoken

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Indy Lifestyle Online
PRUE LEITH is a restaurateur, writer and food industry tycoon. After 10 years on the nominees' list, in 1990 she was voted Business Woman of the Year. She is 52.

I wish we could dress like men at work. It would be so much easier. They don't have to think, except maybe about what tie to wear.

Office temperatures are entirely geared to what men are wearing. I am perpetually freezing at meetings because the men are in thick wool trousers and the air-conditioning is on full blast. I, on the other hand, am in high heels and sheer tights. And the tables always snag them. I'm afraid my solution is to slip on a pair of my son's rugby socks once I'm sitting down. Nobody notices, though once I forgot I had them on and blithely walked out still wearing them.

In the evenings in the restaurant I can obviously wear what I like, though I always try to look elegant. When I'm at business meetings, however, I always dress conventionally - it's expected of you. I want to be listened to rather than looked at: that means classic suits in fine wools. I'd never wear a linen suit because I don't have a personal dresser to follow me around with an iron. On the other hand, I'm not so practical I'd wear Crimplene. Fabrics matter. I love Jil Sander's suits, which I get from Wardrobe in Grosvenor Street. They cost a fortune (from pounds 850) but they do give me confidence.

In most places there are no written rules about women not wearing trousers, but it's still not altogether accepted. But I

have double standards here because I don't want my head waitresses wearing them. The customers from the City would be most put out.

The more successful you become, the more the rules are unspoken. It took me a long time to get the hang of it. I'd rush out and buy lots of cheap things from C & A and look absolutely awful, so now I just pay up.

Jackets and skirts in fairly neutral colours are my uniform. Then I buy lots of brilliantly coloured silk shirts and T-shirts to go under them. When I like something, I buy it by the dozen - Lycra tights from Boots, knickers from M & S. It's not very imaginative but it makes everything relatively easy.

When I go away on a business trip I take one dark suit and three of my shirts and that's me sorted - and it all fits into a briefcase.

PRUE LEITH: Wool suit, by Trixi Schober, approx pounds 695; shoes by Robert Clergerie, from pounds 129, both from Wardrobe, 3 Grosvenor Street, London W1; T-shirt from Tie Rack, pounds 15.99; chunky antique necklace, from Morocco; belt from John Lewis

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