Fifteen years ago, Carlota Zimmerman lived in baggy trousers and oversize men’s shirts — which she wore even to her TV news jobs in Washington, DC, and New York. But when she launched a new career as a life coach in 2008, she knew she had to get over her fear of dresses and heels.
“The breakthrough for me was when I got my first headshot,” says the 43-year-old Queens resident. “I went to this studio and they did all my makeup, and I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘Who is this professional-looking woman? This is the woman I’d like to be.’ ”
Now, Zimmerman — who had suffered from anorexia as a teen and young adult — loves to flaunt her figure, showing up to meetings at her Park Avenue office in curve-hugging sheaths, short skirts (“knee-length is the longest”) and stilettos.
“I was raised to feel how you dress affects how you behave,” says Zimmerman, who grew up in a strict household where exposed arms and legs were verboten. “But now I know that when I dress well and feel great I’m going to act like a boss. And since I’m the boss of my business, that’s only appropriate.”
Not so long ago, wearing something short, tight or revealing at the office could kill a woman’s career. Now, it’s a power move, an act of defiance that shows attitude. Take, for example, the trailer for E’s upcoming reality series “So Cosmo,” where staffers are seen putting together their sex-positive magazine while wearing cleavage-baring knit tops and abbreviated skirts.
Litigator Lauren Bisordi Lepore shares this attitude toward professional dressing. She found that swapping her drab corporate suits from the early 2000s for “tight, short-ish” frocks by designer Chiara Boni and kickass high-heeled Rag & Bone boots not only felt freeing, but also helped her performance.
“It definitely wasn’t an overnight thing, but at some point I realized that when I dress like a man, in boring outfits, I don’t have the same level of confidence as I do when I put the effort in and look good,” says the Westchester resident, who is in her late 30s. She adds that she’s been seeing more women, even in court, skip conservative ensembles for brightly colored dresses worn with blazers.
Since she launched her own Manhattan firm, Lepore & Associates, in 2013, she loves having the autonomy to make up her own dress code.
“As a business owner, it’s so cool to do what I want,” she says. “And that includes wearing a short, hot-pink dress for a meeting or wearing jeans on Fridays.”
There are, however, drawbacks to looking hot on the job.
“I do have male clients where I feel like saying, ‘My eyes are up here,’ ” says Zimmerman, who admits to showing a hint of cleavage every so often.
“And I’ve had guys tell me, ‘I find Latina women so fascinating’ — in a creepy way,” says Zimmerman, who is half Puerto Rican. “But I’m going to dress in a way that empowers me.”
Still, she does have boundaries. When giving a recent presentation, she ruled out a va-va-voom J.Crew frock that she felt was too low-cut. And she draped a blazer over a new skintight peach dress, in case it came across as too distracting.
“My clients who come here are looking to me to see whether they should wear that to work or to an interview,” she says. “I don’t want one of them going to an interview wearing leggings and high heels and saying, ‘My coach was wearing that,’ and they’ll say, ‘Who is your coach — a stripper?’ ”
Designer Nicole Miller has a simple maxim for women who aren’t sure where to draw the line between workwear and going-out-wear.
“You shouldn’t think of the office as a cocktail party,” she tells The Post. “If you are dressed for a party, you aren’t dressed appropriately for work.”
She suggests, for example, balancing a body-conscious silhouette with a covered-up neckline.
“A soft jacket is a great thing to wear if you have a sexy dress underneath, and jewelry can help cover up an exposed neckline,” she says. “Also, a nice thing to have is a cashmere wrap, which I keep on the back of my chair for when it gets too cold.”
Some industries are more lenient when it comes to dress codes than others, however. Sunny Cohen, a talent director who also acts, says she can get away with miniskirts that reach mid-thigh, fitted V-neck blouses and tight pants with peekaboo cutouts.
“I have nice, long legs and a nice chest,” says the 40-year-old, who adds that showing off her assets “makes me feel happy and confident in my own skin.”
And she loves the attention she gets.
“When people say I look amazing, it makes me put myself out there and do more,” says Cohen, who also runs the 2,000-member networking group NYC Awesome Women.
“I feel very confident, very sexy and very empowered. I feel like I can do it all.”