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Nancy Novogrod on how appearances play into success

Travel + Leisure 2013 World's Best AwardsTravel + Leisure 2013 World's Best Awards
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 18: Travel + Leisure Editor-in-Chief Nancy Novogrod attends Travel + Leisure 2013 World's Best Awards at Center 548 on July 18, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Travel + Leisure)Bryan Bedder—Getty Images

Every Friday, The Broadsheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the most powerful women in business, features an exclusive interview. Today, Caroline Fairchild speaks with Travel + Leisure editor-in-chief Nancy Novogrod who is about to retire after 21 years. The decision marks a new chapter for Novogrod, who plans on writing a book about how fashion and style play into success for women in business. She has a unique perspective — she’s the daughter of an extraordinary woman who, if Fortune had published a Most Powerful Women list in 1970, would have likely made the cut. You can sign up for The Broadsheet here.

Edited excerpts:

CF: Why did you decide to leave Travel + Leisure?

NN: I’ve been thinking about retiring for a little while. I wanted to leave early enough to have another career or another moment. I probably don’t want a career, but I do want to do something else, and I also do want to do a book. The story I want to tell is about my mother and is career-oriented. It’s a story about what enables some women to succeed and maintain their position through the years.

CF: What type of impact did your mother have on you?

NN: My mother was working for almost all her life. She was born in Europe and came over to the U.S. when she was four. She graduated from high school at 16 and she had a scholarship to college, but it was during the Depression, so she wound up never going to college. Her mother was convinced that she was going to be a failure. She stayed with the same company [retailer Petrie Stores], with just one little gap, for more than 70 years. I learned a lot from her growing up. A lot of it I dismissed for years because we were so different. She was kind of a challenge to have as a mother, but I realized she had a profound effect on me. I am trying to write about her and me and the element of style in women who work and how that plays a role. She was very stylish and she raised me to be a certain way.

CF: What do you remember about your mom’s style?

NN: She came of age in a very different era and in a very different way when there were very few women who worked and certainly not women who worked on her level. She ended up becoming the president of a NYSE company which was very unusual in the early 1970s. I remember her suits and her handbags, and they were always real outfits. Today the look is much more casual.

CF: Why do you think our culture can be so obsessed with image?

NN: There are lots of studies about the success of people who look good. What is particularly interesting about women is that people who came of age when I came of age in the 1960s and 1970s were told not to care about appearances. You needed to get by on your own intelligence and competence, but in fact how you present yourself does matter and can be a tool for your success.The element of appearance can be crucial in enabling and prolonging your success in a career.

CF: Can that focus on appearance be perceived as controversial?

NN: People get very angry. Some people can say it is a very anti-feminist message, but I think it’s a feminist message because we are talking about using a tool that you can use smartly. There are lots of realities. I’ve been reading The Broadsheet, and it is a hard world out there. Honing your skills is key, but part of that is presentation.

CF: Who are some powerful women whom you think hone their style successfully?

NN: Michelle [Obama] is so interesting with style. She is really the first to dress like the rest of the people who are style-conscious. She has a casual look. I personally love her style. She is not stiff, and it is not self-conscious. So many women look like they are wearing armor rather than clothing that moves with them and has an appropriate and comfortable look. I’m surprised by some women I see, even political people, with how out of sight they sometimes seem with style.

CF: What style advice do you have for women working at the top of their organizations?

NN: If your possibilities for consuming are way beyond the possibilities of others that you don’t make it too obvious.You need to be careful because there is a turnoff factor. You need to have a style that is not intimidating or off-putting, both your fashion style and your personal style. Allowing yourself to be casual sometimes and not too done, and to look like your natural and normal self is important.

CF: What about women who are rising in the ranks who may want to dress for the job they want as opposed to the job they have?

NN: You don’t want to overdress or outshine others. When you are at the top, you set the mood, you set the pace and the style. But when you are on the upward trajectory, you need to be mindful of the style that exists in that environment.

CF: What’s your take on the whole “having it all” debate?

NN: Whoever said you get to a job at the top without a lot of pain and suffering along the way is really, really lying. The truth is, [work-life balance] is like anything in life. You learn as you go. No one becomes a full-fledged executive without years of training. You grow into a job. You get this amazing on-the-job training, and years later you can look back and say, “Why did I do that? But I don’t have any regrets at all.” Everyone has insecurities, but you have to able to quiet them.

CF: Is it difficult to leave a job that you love?

NN: That is a hard thing. I am trying not to think about that part because there is an emotional element to it, but I did make a decision out of strength. It’s nice to leave them wanting more. That is really nice.