Fashion in the professional workplace has changed since Nancy McNelis began working as a CPA in the ’80s. Today she can wear as much color as she likes in her dual role as associate vice president for external relations and executive MBA director at Queens University. Raised in Columbus, Ohio, McNelis is a diehard Buckeye fan. She was transferred to Charlotte in 1997 when she worked for TransAmerica. She lives in Charlotte with her husband, Mike.
Q. What’s your earliest fashion memory?
A. My mother loved to sew and made her own clothes, and my dad was a pathologist at Ohio State. Every year they went to a few events. One outfit I remember was a big floppy hat, white gloves and a blue dress that was pinched at the waist. It was the years of Jackie Kennedy. They called her Skinny Winnie, and clothes always looked good on her.
Q. What does style mean to you?
A. You feel good in what you have on, and it’s different in some way from what other people are wearing.
Q. What would surprise people about your style choices?
A. That I’m conservative, but with a colorful, unique twist to it. I don’t wear anything racy, but I like colors. I really enjoy mixing and matching. I like putting the whole outfit together. I’m not an artistic person by nature, but my clothing is the one place I am creative.
Q. Where do you shop?
A. I’ll shop anywhere, from boutiques to department stores. But I like to shop out of town. My family is in Akron, and there are quite a few unique boutiques. Clothes fit me pretty well, so it’s easy for me to find things I like.
Q. What is difficult for you to find?
A. Sometimes pants that are long enough, and I have size 11 feet, and that is very difficult. I get shoes online at Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom Rack. I like wearing heels. It makes the outfit look better. But as I get older I am trying to wear flatter shoes more often. Arche makes my favorite shoes.
Q. Who do you like to take with you shopping?
A. My mother and my sister. They give me honest opinions, and we have the same kind of style. My husband has a very good eye for fashion. I get a lot of St. John from my husband for my anniversary, and birthdays.
Q. What’s a fashion mistake many make?
A. Trying to wear an outfit that doesn’t fit the person or the personality. Trying to conform to the norms, rather than being true to themselves.
Q. How does your sense of style help you do your job?
A. Because I’m in external relations, if you have something unique, people will remember meeting you.
Q. How has your professional attire evolved over the past 20 years?
A. Starting out in public accounting, we wore blue suits with white hose and a little clip tie. We were trying to look like men, and you couldn’t wear pants. My fashion trajectory really changed when I left public accounting. I lived in Brussels and I enjoyed the fashion in Europe.
Q. What should a woman never wear?
A. Clothing that is too tight.
Q. You work with college students. Do you notice any particular trends?
A. Everyone is much more casual. It’s all just leggings with sloppy shirts. To me that’s a disappointment. When I was younger I would get dressed up to fly somewhere, and my mom would say, “You need to be more dressed up. You’re traveling!”
Q. What’s your shopping style?
A. I shop when I have a reason to shop, but then I’ll go crazy. Last year I was president of Leadership Charlotte and on some boards, so I had a lot of events to attend. So I’ll go shopping and buy a mass quantity. I have two modes: out of town shopping with friends or family; or in town (when) I’ll hop all over.
Q. Describe your look in three words.
A. Classical, colorful, distinctive.
Q. Do you have a favorite coat?
A. Yes, a St. John. Once I was engaged, I bought it to wear to engagement parties and business events. I still love it. It’s long, cream colored, with pink and orange accents and a colorful interior motif. The buttons are ornate with a creamy pink center.
Q. What scent do you wear?
A. My favorite scent just got discontinued. Cool Water by Davidoff. I’m trying to find a replacement.
Q. What’s the last thing you bought?
A. For part of my MBA role we take our kids on international trips each summer. This summer we went to Peru and Chile. I bought a very Peruvian-looking sweater dress that looks better on than it does on the hanger.
Q. If I gave you a black pencil skirt, tell me the look you’d go for.
A. My Stuart Weitzman black suede boots, a simple cream blouse and a bigger piece of jewelry to complete the look. And then some kind of a wrap because I am always cold.
Q. How do you choose a purse?
A. I match a purse to an outfit. I have a Kate Spade, a Dolce & Gabbana. They can be small or big; it’s more about how the purse ties in with the outfit. I have an orange Coach purse that I’ve turned into a briefcase.
Q. What are three out-of-the-ordinary things in it?
A. A unique little Kate Spade business card holder, I love my Louis Vuitton wallet (I’ve had it forever) and I’m a big gum fan.
Q. Tell me about your accessories.
A. I do a lot of scarves. I’m either wearing them as an outfit or wearing them as a wrap. I wear them around my shoulders or wrap them around my neck. I buy them wherever I see one I like.
Q. What’s your best bargain?
A. About seven years ago, a lot of boutiques had a sale of their leftovers at Phillips Place. They had a lot that fit me, and I got $9,000 of clothing for $1,000.
Q. What advice do you have for women?
A. Take care of yourself.