You see them everywhere: big floral prints, backless shoes, rock chic metallics, low-cut pants and high-cropped skirts.

But do you head out for work every day in peasant blouses, mules, silver belts and thigh-high girly-girl dresses? Unless you work for MTV, an art gallery or a hip creative department for an advertising agency, don’t even think about it.

Even in the era of business casual and dress-down Fridays, serious times call for keeping the focus on a professional image perhaps more than ever before.

The question becomes this: How do you look modern, up-to-date, youthful and professional all at once?

Appropriateness and moderation are keys.

“I cannot believe how short the skirts are on the New York streets,” says an indignant Susan Bixler, an Atlanta-based image consultant. Bixler is author of “Five Steps to Professional Presence: How to Project Confidence, Competence and Credibility at Work.”

The working woman, she says, has to “sit back and decide what she wants to be.” If she uses words such as “credible,” “appropriate” and “professional,” she goes one route. If it is “sexy, fun and outrageous,” she takes another.

“When we buy into diminishing our credibility, we’re part of the problem and not the solution,” Bixler says.

Certainly the workplace has changed in the last two years. Jobs are lost. People are trying to appear focused. They want to keep their jobs. And businesses have begun reversing the dress code away from business casual and back to more traditional corporate attire. Even on dress-down days, images are shifting away from khakis and loafers to a polished facade.

“We’re talking about dressing for survival in a big world,” says Kim Johnson Gross, co-author of the Chic Simple series’ how-to book “Dress Smart: Wardrobes That Win in the New Workplace.”

“Fashion is really inappropriate when you are in the corporate culture,” Gross says.

Gross and partner Jeff Stone have developed a series of books, starting in the mid-1990s, on the concept of classics that have a long shelf life. They are not so conservative that they ignore such trend-driven items as leather garments (mixed with other high-quality fabrics) and denim skirts (add a tailored fabric jacket) for dress-down moments.

But as for basics, the suit is still the core of the professional wardrobe, Gross says. It should be fitted well and fashioned from good fabric.

Meanwhile, the colored jacket over a monochromatic base can present a polished image.

A key to being professionally stylish is to take fashionable items in small doses and modify, modify, modify.

Take flowers, for example. Bixler says small-scale patterns in small portions may be acceptable. In general, florals tend to be overwhelming, but if you want florals, go with a blouse under a jacket.

Leah Feldon is a consultant and author of “Does This Make Me Look Thin?” which was recently reissued in paperback. She says “fashion is freedom” and women should adapt. “Flowers are not appropriate for conventional offices. But if you work with first-graders, they are fine.”

But Gross says flower prints are almost never suitable.

As for shoes, the closed toe still gets the vote for the office. Slingbacks are a way to take a small step to open shoe trends. If you wear sandals, you have to be sure your pedicure is impeccable, Bixler says. And because sandals do not look seamless with hosiery, you have to go with bare legs, a look that is still questionable in many offices.

Jewelry is one way to look updated. Gross suggests a trendy piece. Instead of wearing your grandmother’s cameo, make it a dainty pendant with a stone in the center or a looped rope. A floral patterned scarf at the neck shows you know what’s going on.

But people want to set themselves apart in a quiet way. They can tweak the outfit in subtle ways not always visible even to co-workers.

If you’re in a professional setting in which you can be playful, a jeweled wooden box or a painted leather tote can be left under your desk in meetings.

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