Davos, Advertising Week, SXSW, CES—if the industry is buzzing about it, Shelley Zalis is there. As CEO of The Female Quotient and creator of The Girls' Lounge, she has organically grown a movement in support of female leadership and greater gender equality in the workplace. Her lounges serve as a collaborative space for corporate women seeking to affect change and build more meaningful relationships.
Traveling about 70 percent of the workweek for meetings, events and conferences worldwide, Zalis has three words of wisdom related to travel: Never check luggage. “I only take a travel bag that can fit overhead,” she says.
The self-proclaimed “queen of packing,” Zalis can fill what she calls her “Mary Poppins bag” in 10 minutes flat. The science is simple: Shoes go at the bottom (in shoe bags), clothes folded rather than rolled, smaller underpinnings fill the gaps, and a plastic dry cleaning bag placed on top prevents items from wrinkles.
Naturally, stashing your entire style essence in carry-on also means having a well-defined look. Zalis calls hers “feminine but strong.” Lately, dresses are her go-to because of their simplicity. A creature of habit, Zalis says, “I know ‘Shelley’ dresses—basic and simple that I can mix and match, and color coordinate. I’m very consistent.” Her other formula includes black jeans (more professional-looking than blue) and a black top, dressed up with a chic blazer and statement accessories in the form of shoes (rock-studded) and handbags (in an array of colors). Color blocking in black, white and gray ensures that everything goes with everything.
“I don’t really pack colors because it’s hard to figure out what to do,” Zalis says of her strategy. However, there is the occasional opportunity for a bold punch. “One time at Cannes I wore a yellow fur vest with flowers lining the inside; people called me Big Bird. I am not afraid to be bold. The one dress that people say, who would wear that? I would, happily.”
Her expert approach to dressing did come with a little professional help—her sister, Rachel Zalis, is an on-air stylist. “She told me I was not dressing for my height, and if I was going to wear a blazer it should be a short one. I’m 5’3” so it really helps me with my proportions. I look better when I’m wearing fitted clothing.”
Though she notes, “In the corporate world, most of us don’t have cool stylists like in the entertainment world.” That’s exactly why The Girls’ Lounge offers advice in the form of a Confidence Closet with Rachel Zalis, styling attendees on how to best dress for confidence. “A lot of women are self conscious about presenting on stage, so I suggest adding a big colorful necklace to raise the eye up. We all help each other,” Zalis says. When it comes to her own choices, she thinks through how to dress for an appearance on stage (nixing any see-through white) or sitting on a tall chair for a panel discussion (for which a short dress would be a no-no).
As a champion of women in leadership, Zalis says, “For me, clothing is not about how I look on the outside, it’s about how I feel on the inside. People say dress for success; I say dress for confidence. I love being a woman and I bring that femininity forward. No apologies.”
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