Professional Frump: What To Avoid

How to Avoid Professional Frump | CorporetteHere’s a fun topic that we haven’t discussed in years — what makes something frumpy? How can professional women avoid frump?

I agree with a lot of what I said four years ago — primarily:

  • wearing clothes that don’t fit — this is a big one! A lot of women end up in too tight/too short pants, dresses, and skirts because they’ve gained a few pounds and refuse to recognize it. Meanwhile, a lot of women start out in pants, dresses, and skirts that are too big — baggy, not tailored — because they think that’s “professional.” We’ve talked about how blazers should fit, how suits should fit, how pants should fit, where your pants hems should be, and which common tailoring alterations you should consider — we’ve also talked about when to give in and buy a bigger size.
  • not knowing your body. Certain cuts and fabrics are going to look amazing on tall, skinny women — wide, flowy trousers, for example.  Others will look amazing on short, curvy women — for some reason I think of ankle pants and fitted cardigans in the mix here.  And some things are going to look horrrrrible on both of those women.  I do believe that if you really love a trend that is not immediately flattering, that you can hunt and hunt for the perfect ____ or find a way to style it that looks great on you — but it takes work.  The easiest way to get dressed and be stylish every morning (and avoid frump) is to really know your body and what works on it — kind of like having a uniform, sadly! — and only deviate for special, must-have trends.
  • wearing the wrong shoes with the wrong pants (or the wrong hem length).  Shorter pants lengths are more popular than they were back in 2010, when we wrote the original post, but I still say that if you have a pair of flowy or bootcut trousers that you can wear with flats, they’re going to look dumb with heels.
  • bad underwear — I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I think a new bra or two every six months is a worthy splurge.  You should also assess other undergarments for smells, (visible) stains (e.g., on a camisole or full slip), frayed edges, and more.
  • frumpy makeoverlooking unkempt in general — I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this during some of my random “let’s eliminate shampoo” experiments with my curly hair.  Dirty hair, frizzy hair, crazy gray hairs sticking up everywhere — this all sort of helps with a general perception of “she’s frumpy.”  I’m not saying you have to have a smooth blowout every day, but I do think that finding a NEAT hairstyle for you — even if it’s a low ponytail with a bit of hairspray to smooth the flyaways — is important, particularly if you’re in a transition period.  (If you’re going through a lot of changes with your hair — such as after having a baby or during other big hormonal changes — the “wispies” may be a particular problem, and a bit of hairspray will go a long way towards making you look put together. I’m never quite sure if the wispies are broken hair or new hair growth, but you know what I mean: they’re not quite bangs, they’re not necessarily gray, but whatever they are, they’re not willing to lay flat.)  Lipstick on collars, collars that are half-sticking out and half-sticking in, skirts that are sticking to pantyhose… all of this contributes.  (Just think of the teacher in Clueless!)

Last time we discussed this, a lot of readers had very specific “FRUMP ALERT” type of things — chunky heels, cropped pants, and more — I’m curious to hear what people think gets an automatic frump flag in 2014.  Ladies, over to you — which looks are hopelessly frumpy? Which looks should you avoid if you don’t want to look frumpy?

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Comments

  1. Anne Shirley :

    I tend to think “frump” when it’s apparent you haven’t updated your hair or wardrobe since the early 90s. Some pieces will go the distance for sure, but not your entire wardrobe wholesale.

    • Anonalicious :

      I agree. I don’t think everyone has to be wearing the absolute latest trends (and let’s be honest some trends are not always work appropriate), but if you buy some new pieces yearly you’ll look more current.

    • Penelope K :

      Agree–regular, good haircuts go a long way to looking stylish and avoiding frumpiness. At least at my age–can’t throw it up in a messy bun anymore. I quit coloring my hair several years ago and firmly believe that if you’re gonna go gray, you gotta keep it styled. I get plenty of compliments on my gray hair, so I’m taking that to mean my theory is true.

  2. From personal observation, button-down shirts that don’t fit perfectly have a high degree of frump. Particularly gapping across the buttons, too tight in the arms, wrong sleeve length, too short in the torso so they untuck constantly, etc. There is just too much that can go wrong on most women for them to be worth the risk. YM (and body type) MV, so go for it if you can rock them.

    • I agree about button-front shirts, especially those made of cotton and traditional tailoring – they never look right on me. And I’ve not worn one since 2004. I do wear silk button front shirts but they are unlike those worn by men.

      • I have noticed this as well. Right out of law school, I splurged and bought several Brooks Brother’s button front tailored shirts. Even with further tailoring, they have never looked “right” on me…I feel frumpy almost instantly.

        However, I have slowly replaced them with silk button fronts and the difference is remarkable. A silk shirt that fits on the arms/shoulders but drapes well through the torso is ideal. More power to those who can wear a cotton button down, I have just learned that it is not a good look for me.

    • They work for me because I’m super-small on top, but if I tucked them in, I’d look frumpy. But in some workplaces, untucked=sloppy.

    • Agreeed — it took me a while to find my “brand” and size but now I only buy shirts from there (for the record, I’m a petite medium at Banana Republic). I still always have to wear a spanx cami underneath to ensure no gaping.

    • Yes. I have broad shoulders so button downs always restrict my arm movement. I have so many stretchy/other blouses that are great alternatives. Not to mention the gapping at my chest. Just seems like buying a bigger size and constant tailoring isnt practical for something that doesnt even look amazing on me.

    • I can’t do cotton button-downs. My upper arms are slightly big for my size and there’s nothing I feel frumpier in than a button-down that doesn’t fit. I could get away with untucked where I work, but I’ve been sticking to silk.

    • MissDisplaced :

      100% agreement about the classic button down shirt. They just never look “right” on me either and become frump in about 10 minutes. I don’t know how women manage to look sharp and pulled together in them. And if I try tucking them in I look about 20 pounds heavier!

  3. I think there are 2 categories of frumpiness:

    1) not knowing or caring what’s in fashion – many people in this group are not held up professionally by their frumpiness. They don’t care and everyone knows they don’t care. Many high achievers fall into this category (I’m not implying either correlation or causation).

    2) wearing things that don’t fit or aren’t flattering, as Kat points out. The problem is that people in this group already think they know their body type and how clothing should fit – but they happen to be wrong.

  4. I think this post more describes looking “unkempt” not necessarily frumpy. Sometimes plus size or tall size clothing can be pretty boring, basic and yes even frumpy. I feel frumpy when I’m wearing pants that are too big on me. Usually something I only realize after going to work in them and they stretch out or I’ve lost weight.

    Finally, I’m frustrated because lately it doesn’t matter what I even wear to work because I end up putting my North Face fleece on over it because I’m always so damn cold. Wearing a really warm sweater isn’t really an option because all of those are very thick and not great for spring/summer. Layering isn’t so much an option either because there’s only so many layering combinations that work for me and I still might not be warm enough. Sigh.

    • Anne Shirley :

      Well, throwing a fleece on it is def going to look frumpy! Warm pashmina, cardigan, blouse, camisole not an option? Or even one of those blazers made out of heavy fleece that Gap is selling now would look more professional.

      • Instead of the northface, why not invest in a nice wool peacoat. And for warmer months like now, a trench with a removable lining (like this one: http://www.londonfog.com/womens-fall-collection/london-fog-olivia-double-breasted-trench-coat-with-removable-liner.asp). Much less frumpy and a lot more work appropriate.

        I only wear the northface with jeans when running errands on the weekends…

        • ..but then I’m supposed to sit in the office in my peacoat? I’m at client locations that teeter between business casual and casual.

          • You sit in your office in a Northface? That’s really the case for a pashmina then…and maybe a space heater. I’d definitely think its frumpy to wear a northface in an office, even a casual one.

          • I can’t carry a space heater around the country/greater Chicago area. My actual outfit is always cute/in style. I look great today.

      • I’m at a different client site every week and it’s difficult to carry several things from home to client. I don’t have a desk that I can just leave stuff at. I’m looking into pashmina scarves/blankets. I’m always wearing a blouse and cardigan so I’ve already exhausted options there. Blazers are never warm enough for me. I’ve looked into silk long underwear but then that sounds difficult in the event that I do get warm.

        • Maybe it would be worth it to invest in a nice cashmere cardigan. Expensive, but warm.

          • Muriel Heslop :

            I was going to suggest a cashmere cardi as well. And maybe a warm undergarment?

          • Or silk base layers. Very thin, you can wear one under a blouse or button-down. Agree with cashmere sweaters, pricey but they last forever.

        • 1. Get a giant pashmina–one made out of actual wool or a wool blend. Let it live in your purse.

          2. Look into warmer cardigans. Again, made out of actual wool. I had a couple of heavy-weight cardis that rotated through my former, frigid office, that I would throw over whatever I was wearing that day when I had to sit at my desk for extended periods of time. I liked slightly oversized, quasi-wrap ones. Throw it over your arm when transferring client sites.

          Throwing out some options below. I don’t automatically hate North Face, but when I worked someplace where I was wearing a blouse and a cardigan every day…North Face would not have been the style I was trying to project.

        • Silk underlayer, wool or wool/cashmere blend lightweight sweater. Socks instead of bare feet in shoes. Scarves.

          You may want to look into thyroid testing if you are really cold all the time.

          • Agreed. I’m looking into silk long underwear and more flat booties that I can wear with dress pants because this is a difficult footwear issue in the summer. I’m awaiting thyroid results currently. I feel like I’m an extreme case. Me and another girl in our practice are notorious for being cold.

        • I got a 100% wool wrap from AT years ago that sounds like what you need. I’d look into a high quality wool or cashmere wrap.

        • I have a beautiful cashmere shawl in red from Brooks Brothers that my hubby gave me years ago. I think it’s actually called a “rhuna” or something similar on their site. I wear it over blazers, sweaters, blouses and it’s super warm, yet lightweight. It was expensive but I’ve had it 10 years and it looks like new. I highly recommend it!

          • I agree. I have one too, but mine is black. I got it last year on clearance and it’s awesome. I practically won’t get on a plane without it.

        • Meg Murry :

          I hate to let my father know he’s right, but I’m always amazed at how much warmer I am when I wear a tucked in camisole (or undershirt, in dad speak). It traps my heat against my body, and unless I’m working somewhere that is having an HVAC malfunction, I’m usually not too hot or cold.

        • You should try the silk long underwear. I live in Maine now (and grew up in Chicago). I am always cold, even sometimes with the long underwear. So I don’t think you’d have to worry about getting too hot and having to remove them. Except in the summer. Air conditioning is the worst. I interned in the Loop one summer and I was freezing in the office and I baked while going out to get lunch with my friends.

    • High quality wool wrap. You only need one and can bring it on the airplane when you travel.

      ADEA layering tops are amazing too. They have a mock turtleneck you can wear under a blazer for warmth. If that and a wool wrap do not keep you warm, then you may have another issue going on. My mom has really poor circulation and is underweight and is always freezing, for example.

      • FormerPhotog :

        Uniqlo makes HeatTech underlayers. I can’t speak for them, but the Airism base layers are AMAZING. I was cool, comfy, and not stinky during this recent heatwave, so I can only imaging the warm ones working even better.

        • +1

          I was going to recommend this. I wear a long-sleeve heattech shirt under my sweaters if I don’t want to wear a super thick coat over my outfit. What’s nice is it keeps me warm in the office, when it looks awkward to wear my coat. Definitely recommend these!

    • Shopaholic :

      Sorry but I think fleece is definitely frumpy, especially at the office! Agree with the cashmere comments – buy a nice cashmere wrap and a cashmere cardigan and you will be just as warm and will look much better.

    • Silk scarves. I did a month of grand jury duty in a very cold room. A silk scarf around my neck made a huge difference, yet was easily folded and stashed in my purse for taking a walk on a balmy day outside. And they don’t look as out of place in the summer as wool or cashmere.

      SmartWool Secret Sleuth socks + wool insoles (SuperFeet makes them, plus a European brand that I can never remember) make flats and loafers significantly warmer.

      I am a fan of silk tanks, too, but totally understand not wanting to become a sweaty puddle when you commute.

      It won’t work for meetings, but a heating pad on your desk chair can work wonders. More portable than a space heater, and quiet.

      In addition to having your thyroid checked, make sure you are staying hydrated. I get chilled a lot faster when I am not sufficiently hydrated.

      • I agree about the scraf idea. If my neck is warm, I’m generally warm. Same thing with my feet–which is why I RARELY go barefoot. I almost always have at least footie socks on with my flats or some type of hose/sock.

    • Could you get a company branded fleece? I’ve finally managed to get hold of one from my company and so even if its not the ‘smartest’ thing in my wardrobe, I’m at least flying the company colours.

  5. I agree with the ill-fitting button ups. Also button fabrics like a poplin tend to wrinkle really easily. I also think cardigans or sweaters that are starting to stretch and pill–no matter how comfortable–add to the “frump” factor.

  6. militarygf :

    Speaking of frump and ill-fitting clothes, the most embarassing thing happened today at work.

    It’s warm at last, so I’m wearing a dress sans tights. I’ve lost a bit of weight, and apparently my underwear are now too big. I was walking down the hall when they suddenly slipped off and down to my knees. I’m pretty sure several people noticed as I awkwardly tugged them up and ran to the bathroom. Aaahh!

    At least there was a midday shopping excuse to buy some pretty new pairs.

    Sigh. Happy Monday.

    • Oh, man, I snorted my coffee! So sorry about your underwear (and yes, I’m snickering again!) but congratulations on losing enough weight to make it happen! That is seriously impressive and deserves a really lovely pair of skivvies.

      • I’ve had tights give up the ghost in the middle of the grocery store. I waddled home like a penguin with my tights between my knees, and then ran into my manager who wanted to have a chat (I had a live-in post in a student building). Mortifying!

        • Blonde Lawyer :

          I had thigh highs do that walking w/ my boss from a law firm to city hall for a meeting. I was pinching them through my skirt trying to hold them up. I snagged some elastics from a clerk and made a make shift garter belt w/ them.

        • Diana Barry :

          Ha! This happened to me with tights too, but fortunately it was at the end of the day!

    • Baconpancakes :

      Hahaha this is hilarious, if thoroughly embarrassing to happen to you. The elastic in a pair of tights apparently dissolved in the washing machine, and when I walked home from work (took the bus in the morning), they slowly slipped down. I tried to grasp them through my skirt and pull them up inconspicuously as possible, but by the time I got home, the crotch was at my knees. So awkward!

    • Anonymous :

      That happened to me last summer walking from work to the train. There is absolutely no way to stop this and fix it discreetly. It turns out that the elastic gave up the ghost. So, I spent some money and bought a couple pairs of really nice underwear that I wear only with dresses.

  7. Accessories matter.

    I’ve been making more of an effort to make sure outfits are fully pulled together lately — like today, I’m wearing a light blue oxford shirt with a navy pencil skirt and realized I should add a belt before I left this morning. I think accessories really make or break an outfit and make someone stylish. Everyone has a black sheath dress for instance and if you just wear that and black heels, pretty boring — add a necklace, belt and colored heels and you look more put together and like you’ve tried a bit more.

    • I admire people who can accessorize, because I’m not good at it. I’m particularly bad with belts and scarves. I do think good shoes (or at least shoes that look good) make a difference.

      • I’ve been following Extra Petite and Cap Hill Style for a while now and they have really good tips. I especially love this post from Extra Petite about many ways to wear a sheath dress. The first photo she shows is just it plain and she looks okay, but kind of forgettable. The rest are styled and make a true statement: http://www.extrapetite.com/2014/03/wardrobe-staples-series-styling-sheath.html

        • Baconpancakes :

          Cap Hill Style has a great series called “Outfits vs. Clothes” that really helps me put together accessories, and led me to realize I needed more varied jewelry. There’s also a formula she gave that helps me give my outfits oomph: basic neutral base piece + interest piece (color/pattern/shine/texture) + completer piece (blazer/cardigan/belt) + accessories.

          http://www.caphillstyle.com/capitol/2014/04/02/work-wednesdays-decoding-the-mystery.html#comments

          • OttLobbyist :

            On “completer pieces”, the cardigan doesn’t always do it for me, I find. I have tried belting, and buying more structured cardigans, but it never feels as done as a blazer. Anyone have suggestions on other completer pieces, or how to “bring up” a cardigan? I can’t wear wool, so that is a bit limiting.

          • Baconpancakes :

            I try to keep cardigans with outfits that are otherwise sleek. So sheath dress – yes. Pants and top – no. But in general, you’re right, cardigans just aren’t as structured as blazers. Otherwise, wearing a cardigan like it’s a top, not a blazer, helps.

      • Follow style blogs. You will absorb their style. I didn’t know how to accessorize for years but after perusing enough blogs for long enough (and magazines) you just sort of absorb what you like/dont like/what works

        • I’m past the point of needing to accessorize – I have learned to choose outfits that don’t need belts; I wear colors and necklines that are flattering. I have embraced my inability to accessorize.

          Seriously – on me, belts and scarves slip out of place, and jewelry is uncomfortable. I’ll wear a simple necklace if an outfit absolutely needs it, but mostly, I’m good to go. Plus, I save money and time.

          • I hear you. I only like belts and scarves for their functionality not decoration. I love jewelry but I often end up taking my bracelets off when I get to work and so many necklaces are too heavy or my hair gets caught in them. You seem to have it down.. beyond that, I suggest wearing interesting patterns and textures. I don’t think my leopard print cardigan needed any help from jewelry today. Same with a polka dot sweater.

    • Senior Associate :

      I think boring and frumpy are different. Frumpy, to me, means Not Updated. Frumpy is not okay. But boring is always okay.

      • I like this distinction. You could definitely call my work wardrobe boring, and you’d be right, and I wouldn’t be insulted. “Frumpy,” I’d take issue with and would hope you were wrong.

      • I had a coworker whose style was boring and frumpy. She always wore tan and gray suits with muted solid shells and chunky square-toed heels. The items all looked like quality items but none of them fit her. Even her haircut and hair color were boring and frumpy. She was the sweetest person but I really wanted to take her to a tailor stat.

    • Orangerie :

      Accessories can matter, sometimes. I think if you’re wearing well-tailored pieces though, they stand on their own with minimal jewelry and accessories.

  8. I don’t have pierced ears. Do naked ears make people look frumpy? Am I going to have to do it before I enter the workplace? Ack. I’m slowly getting into wearing necklaces and bracelets though.

    • I wouldn’t say naked ears are frumpy at all… so wouldn’t worry too much about that one.

    • Not wearing earrings is fine. I find I’m overwhelmed by to much jewelry, and will wear a necklace or earrings, but never both at the same time.

    • Senior Attorney :

      I’d say “absolutely not.” I love my pierced ears and would as soon show up at work naked as earrings-less, but I can’t imagine thinkign naked ears on anybody else was frumpy.

      • Baconpancakes :

        My mother often said “A lady would rather leave the house naked than without earrings!” I’ve internalized this, but agree it’s completely unnecessary to have pierced ears for professionalism.

    • No permanent body modifications are required to look professional.

      My mother refused to let me get my ears pierced as a kid on the grounds that I would catch them on things and rip my lobes off. And when I turned 18 and could do it myself, I found that the brainwashing had worked and I no longer wanted them pierced. So far I have managed to remain gainfully employed.

      • Similar story here – I think I might have asked once when I was about 7 and my mum said ‘when you’re older’… and now, I don’t feel the need to have my ears pierced.

        Thanks everyone, you’ve put my mind at rest.

      • Diana Barry :

        +1, none of the women in my family have ears pierced and we are all gainfully employed. :)

    • I have my ears pierced and can’t tell you the last time I wore earrings. They just bother my ears, so I don’t wear them. I’m also gainfully employed.

    • I agree with all of the other p’oster’s. You do NOT have to have peirced earing’s to be fashionabel, tho I had mine done when I was a littel GIRL, so no issue’s here. Nowaday’s so many peeople have multipel peirceing that they look like they are from another PLANET, if NOT another contenent. FOOEY! I do NOT want to look like some kind of voodoo doll with earing’s in my NOSE and belly button! DOUBEL FOOEY ON THAT!

      Dont even get me started on this b/c the next thing KAT will ask about is tatoo’s! I do NOT want anyone puting any tatoo’s on ME! Rosa was about to get one when she was in college but I had a fit and told her that she would look TAWDREY if she had one, even a socalled ‘tastful” one — like a heart or something on her ankel, but I still said NO WAY HOZE when she asked my opinion. I know she is glad she never had one b/c Ed told her that he had onley 3 or 4 NO-NO’s: Those were 1) smokeing, 2) drinkeing to excess 3) noze peirceing and 4) any tatoo’s.

      Rosa never smoked even once, and she hardley even drink’s a martini, she only has her ear’s peirced (once in each ear) and she did NOT do tatoo’s. Ed said that these 3 thing’s were thing’s he would NOT tolearate in a spouse, so Rosa would NEVER be even married to Ed if she got a tatoo. FOOEY on anyone who doe’s these thing’s b/c they can NOT get a guy like ED to marry them. I conclude if you want a decent guy to marry, do NOT do any of these thing’s and undo whatever you can if you want a guy like Ed. YAY!!!!!!!

    • Maybe I am the odd one out, but I cringe if I ever forget to put in a pair of pearls, I think I look schleppy and plain.

  9. S in Chicago :

    Top frump factors to me:

    Along with wearing pants that are too short, I would add wearing pants with an unflattering rise for your body type (either ultra low or ultra high)

    Glasses that look too round and big– 80s ish and not in a deliberate way

    Mid-calf hem length broomstick style skirts or maxi skirts–great for weekends, but look totally off in the workplace

  10. I’ve always thought of frumpy as function being the only consideration. My SIL buys only Lands End clothes in washable fabrics – mostly cotton or cotton-poly blends – and while they “fit” her, they don’t flatter her figure one bit. All of her clothes are eminently practical, though. And she wears them until they are stained and threadbare. She trunps frump.

    • Stacy London on What Not to Wear calls those the ‘I give up’ dresses. They’re a dress, so you’re technically ‘dressed up’ but its basically a big piece of cloth sacking. Horrible.

  11. Oh gosh, the ladies at church with the hose and opened toe shoes or sandals! I’m finally on board that you can wear tights with peeptoe booties, but it’s not a look I would rock. We even have ladies who wear black hose with white shoes. And they say I’m boring because they think I don’t wear color!

    I think, in general, clothes or hairstyles that look really dated or ill-fitting.

    • Thank you! I have a friend from college who always wears nude hose with sandals to weddings, and it ages her terribly. (It’s not like it’s cold out — I think no one told her she doesn’t have to do this.) It looks like she’s stolen fashion ideas from my grandmother because she used to do the same thing. No toes showing + seams of stockings.

  12. I think these two posts are really helpful re: frump

    The first from Putting Me Together shows how small details really make a difference between frumpy and not: http://www.puttingmetogether.com/2013/07/shabby-to-chic-buying-right-pieces.html?utm_source=feedburner

    This one from Extra Petite is all about how proportions of clothing (specifically skirt length) makes all the difference re: frump: http://www.extrapetite.com/2010/05/finding-your-ideal-skirt-length.html

    Really, frump is about looking like you don’t really care about what you’re wearing…

  13. 1. Pants that are too short.
    2. Polo shirts with logos, even if it is a customer / vendor.
    3. Wrinkled linen pants.
    4. Turtlenecks and v-neck sweater vests
    5. Cropped pants
    6. Knee high stockings

    • Question about # 6: how do you know when someone’s wearing knee-highs, and what makes them frumpy? I assume you mean with pants… with a skirt “frumpy” would not be the first thing going wrong! Is it because that the bare leg / bare foot thing is
      “in”?

      • I assumed they meant with skirts (how would you know with pants?).

        Personally, I think “panty-hose” and other stockings really are frumpy. Yes, some offices require it, but for those that don’t ugh no. And agree with PP about them with open toe shoes. Just no.

        I’ll also add this:
        Tights after it starts getting warmer. Sorry, if its 70 degrees out I think you look weird wearing tights.

        • This might be generational but I am chuckling at putting “panty hose” in scare quotes! I’m not always on Team Hose, but I definitely consider them a legit option.

          • Anonylicious :

            I don’t know about it being generational. I’m 29, which I think means I’m technically a millenial or whatever, and if I’m wearing a skirt to work, I am wearing pantyhose. I personally can’t even contemplate going bare-legged in any situation that wasn’t entirely casual.

            Maybe it’s just because my mom always wears hose when she’s dressed up (and she’s generally the least appearance-focused person I know. In fact, the fact that my mother wears pantyhose isn’t an argument against their frumpiness, now that I think about it.) Or maybe it’s a Southern thing.

            Someone should do a sociological study on pantyhose wearers vs. non-wearers. I would totally read that report.

      • People wear them with skirts! It looks terrible. I think it’s because if your skirt is just past your knee and you stand still, you could think it’s not visible that you’re wearing knee highs. A woman I worked with did this all summer. It looked terrible and oddly perverse. This is why it’s always important to move around in front of the mirror!

      • People do wear them with long skirts! Also, knee highs tend to be low quality hose, there is a certain graininess and color that is always a give away.

        I agree that wearing hose can be fine, you need to have the exact right color and texture for your skin and your outfit, which is more difficult than it sounds. I wear neutral hose rarely, only if the outfit and hose can pull it off, but I do wear black or navy hose when sometimes tights don’t seem quite right.

    • Two thoughts:
      #3 is an inevitability unless you starch them until they stand up….so is there a happy medium?
      #5 – I assume you mean pedal pushers and not the adorable ankle pants that are everywhere this season.

  14. Avoid Lands End people!!

    • I have to agree – I wore a lot of Lands” End when I was a SAHM and constantly postpartum or early pregnancy, etc. I don’t own a single thing Lands’ End now, but that may be a function of their overly generous sizing. I buy Lands’ End for my boys all the time :)

    • Just wear clothes that fit :

      Just wear LE things that fit and flatter the body you have (also the rule for ~LE things).

      I used to think I was a LE medium because small was for teeny people and large was for large people; hello, I’m an XS in their sweaters (and if they sold cashmere in juniors sizes, I’d be all over that). And I will never, ever give up my LE rashguards in the summer. So, it’s like using metrics — the same digits may not work everywhere, size-wise.

      But that’s what works for me. I wish Theory would make things for someone with lumps and a butt. Another key thing (esp. with LE though, since they can clothe you for a lifetime): dress for the age and stage you are; dressing +/- 20 years from your actual age (or +/- 1 from your life stage) looks awful.

      • I am a normal size 4 on top (6 on the bottom) and their XS tops, even petite, are huge on me. I see they have a few 0 and 00 woven tops, so who knows, a small person might be able to wear those. Their girls’ tops are all too boxy.

      • Miss Behaved :

        I agree. Land’s End isn’t the problem, per se. The sleeveless ponte dress with the pockets is very flattering. And their swimwear is great, but some of their clothes are boxy and shapeless. Find the items that fit and pay attention to the reviews

        • Meg Murry :

          Yes, and the reviews give an age range. If you are 30 years old and all of the 4 star reviews are from the 60+ set – that LE item probably isn’t for you.

    • Strongly disagree. As a plus sized woman, often their stuff is the only place I can find something that isn’t polyester and showing too much cleavage.

      If you’re wearing camp/outdoor inspired gear to work, that’s inappropriate not frumpy.

      • Me too. With the caveat that like ANY store, not everything in said store is made for you. My mom and I both wear stuff from LE, but some of the things that look great on her age me terribly and some of my things make my mom look like she’s trying to dress younger than she is because of the cut/print.

      • Anne Shirley :

        And I really don’t care if people are too small for Lands End! Cry me a river. Like clothing from any other store, if it fits and flatters you, it probably not going to look frumpy.

    • Gasp! LE carries some of my favorite basics. I could never give up their sheath dresses, cardigans and rash guards! (I know we are not talking about swimwear here – but for pale people like me, this is the only way I can enjoy the sun.) It is all in the styling and fit – if you compare their size chart with other brands, LE is usually one to two sizes off.

      • I can’t size down two sizes when I’m starting with their smallest size (usually a 4). And I’m a normal-size person, not a waif.

        • They are expanding their size range – they now carry 00 and 0 in their more popular items.

        • Just wear clothes that fit :

          I hear you! At least we can shop most anywhere else. I hate it that some stores, where I’m a 10 for my generous hips, only run up to a 14. They are missing a good chunk of the people who could buy their things!

          I will confess to occasionally trying to shrink some of my older LE cashmere (but darn it, the quality is so good that I haven’t been successful).

    • I purchase Land’s End in size small, and then dry them on high the first few times I wash them. This seems to work! Land’s End has some cotton cardigans that I like, they are a bit boxy, but are better than other options. The ones from Eddie Bauer look good in the morning, but they stretch during the day, which is just odd.

  15. I feel frumpy if I don’t wear anything structured. I have a Banana Republic wrap dress that I don’t think looks right without a blazer. I’m not sure why I think that – maybe not enough straight lines to make me look “sharp”?

    • I know what you mean – I tend to not feel dressed ‘properly’ if I haven’t got any structure to my outfit – even on a casual outfit for university. Hence skinny jeans rather than my ‘boyfit’ ones (which are oh so comfortable) and my trench coat rather than the waxed cotton things which are everywhere.

    • I agree about the structure thing. Also, I think that adding an extra piece really helps an outfit look pulled together (and isn’t frumpy just the opposite of pulled together?). A sweater or top with a skirt or pants is a fine outfit, but adding a blazer, cardigan, scarf, or other third piece (of clothing, or a prominent, part-of-the-outfit accessory) usually goes a long way to upping the pulled-togetherness. Maybe that’s why you feel like your dress needs the jacket.

    • In the early 200s (?2002), there was an exhibition in DC of the clothing of Jackie O. For each of many of her iconic outfits, there was an exhibit that showed the outfit, the accessories and some photos of her wearing it. The labels had lots of really interesting information in them, including descriptions of the internal structure of her clothing. If I recall correctly, there was a fairly lengthy description of the internal structure of the clothes she wore on the trip to India so that they would remain crisp in that heat. But there was also some discussion — new to me at the time — about how her clothes fit her better and she looked better in them than we all do now because they had infrastructure. I wonder whether women we see well dressed and well photographed on a regular basis (Duchess Catherine comes to mind) have the same thing going on.

      • I’m pretty sure they do. I’ve recently been rewatching the TV series Pan Am and I think all the actresses for that were wearing authentic scaffolding, and the clothes do look good.

      • Baconpancakes :

        Don’t have time to google until I get home from work today, but I’m fascinated by this. The internal structure of clothing? Are you talking about boning, or firmly structured undergarments? (Bras that stand up by themselves, girdles, etc.) I’m picturing a skyscraper-like scaffolding inside Jackie O’s clothing now.

  16. The big frump factor for me is when people are wearing those tops which are designed to have a seam under the bust, and it’s cutting right across their chest. It just looks awful.

  17. Diana Barry :

    My top frump-getters:

    - dated hair and/or makeup.
    - clothes that don’t fit. Kat is absolutely right on this one. I worked with a woman once who wore everything too small. Perhaps her clothes had fit her at one point, I don’t know – but all of the buttons strained, all of the creases smiled, and every garment just looked tortured. Too big can also look frumpy, but it is rarer to see that.
    - PRINTS that are not current. I am thinking of the floral print skirts I had in the 90s. Grunge has come back just a little, but not with the same prints – they are a little bit different now.

    • With ‘dated hair’ I’m reminded of a line from the Legally Blonde musical. Elle is talking about Warner’s new fiancée: ‘Both her hair and shoes are flat, and why is she so rude?’
      Sorry, brief musical interlude there – but I think if what’s around your face (so, hair) looks up to date and ‘fresh’ then that makes the rest of the outfit look a whole lot better.

    • Some prints can be so tacky! Large floral print button downs untucked over elastic waist polyester pants. To me this combo is both dated and frumpy. It is also sad, you can not care about fashion but still care about fit. I find some women buy bigger, looser pieces rather than better cut or tailored pieces. A friend told me years ago that as we age the trick is tailoring, and staying away from clingy knits. This post does combine dated with frumpy, imo. You can wear the latest clothes and still look frumpy of the clothes are not right for you. It would be helpful for tips on how to update a wardrobe for different age groups, as lifestyle changes call for different types of clothes.

  18. I do think frumpy is easiest to spot on the feet. Flat vs. heel isn’t the question, but more the style and structure of the shoe.
    One of frumpiest shoes I see is the flex-sole, round-toe leather flat (similar to the foldable kind). Not any black flat goes with, say, a skirt suit, and these are prime offenders in my office; they basically look like soft leather Isotoners. I think a professional shoe, even if it has a rubber sole, has to be be structured at the heel and toe and made from a fairly solid material.

    Which leads me to perhaps a broader theory that mismatching casual elements with dressy ones often looks frumpy. I often wear a tee under a suit, but I think it can’t be the same kind of tee I’d wear with shorts in the summer. I see that a lot. Or the cozy weekend sweater with tailored trousers; no good.

    • Related frumpy shoe – the rubber bottom, slightly wedge-soled, black shoe with a toe box as wide as the rest of the shoe, and sort of squared-off. I myself have a bit of a bunion going on, so I understand the need for wider toe boxes and am not saying only pointy shoes are non-frumpy, but I do think having the toe taper somewhat from the widest part of the shoe (around the metatarsals) looks much less frumpy.

      Also, I know opaque black tights are much beloved, but I think opaque tights with round-toed flats/low heels and skirts look rather frumpy. Especially when the tights are kind of baggy around the ankles.

      • And especially when the skirt is below the knee.

        • I guess I’m frumpy all winter long then :) I almost always wear flats at the office, aim for skirts to be at the knee or a little longer (the highest I’ll go is just above the knee) and wear black tights from November – April. I don’t let them get baggy at the ankle though! And I try to wear colourful flats or ones with some detail – not just the plain stretchy black ballet flats that just look like office slippers. Good reminder that I need to refresh my collection of flats, as my favourites are getting worn.

          (Totally not offended, don’t worry)

          • I also think a person’s height comes into play. I don’t wear really short skirts, but top of the knee compared to bottom of the knee is a world of difference on me.

          • I think with heels I would be better with skirts below the knee, and with flats it depends on the rest of the outfit.

      • I also avoid black skirt + opaque black tights with a light-colored top. That look is very unbalanced. I’d add a black or gray vest or cardigan if I really wanted to wear the black tights.

        • I disagree with this one. When it comes to tights I go by CapHillStyle’s 2 out of 3 rule: either the tights match the skirt or the tights match the shoes. I wear black skirt with black tights all the time and as long as its accessorized right, it looks great.

        • I disagree with the black skirt/opaque black tights combo. I think this look can be very polished and on-trend.

        • I think this is a matter of proportion. If you are longer legged and short torso, then this will look very unbalanced. Also if you are top heavy, this will only make you look more so.

          If you are 50/50 or long torso short legs, this looks good t0 great.

      • Squared-off shoes in general look more frumpy than round or pointed, I think.

        • Diana Barry :

          I miss the 90s, when square and clunky shoes were Very In. Check out Ally McBeal!

          • To me they just feel like school shoes. For the five years of school uniform in high school I had the same boxy clump Clarks school shoes every time I needed new shoes. Urrrghhhh. (If you search ‘bootleg school shoes girls 2009′ you’ll see what I mean)

          • Rejoice, girl. They’re back. Donna Martin graduates!

          • I love those. I still have a pair of chunky Steve Maddens I wear on rainy days!

    • SFAttorney :

      Casual items with more dressy or formal ones is tricky. It used to look frumpy but is now a current trend. See You Look Fab blog for examples. But I think iti can be hard to do right. You can’t just mix any casual and dressy piece together.

  19. Sequins at the office look frumpy to me. A little too “cruise ship.”

  20. Meg Murry :

    I’ve been trying to put my finger on what makes something veer into frump category. My general problem is that cute generally = uncomfortable in my closet, while comfy = boring at best, and usually borderline frumpy. For instance, I see so many posts here about wearing a skirt with tights, shirt and cardigan here, but whenever I try that combo I look too “Amy Farrah Fowler” instead of “cute, stylish ‘e t t e”. I suspect the fact that I’ve never really figured out how to wear heels in the biggest part of this.

    • Senior Associate :

      For me, skirt + tights + flats are always kind of frumpy looking. I really have to wear heels to pull off that look. I also think that the length of the skirt is key here. With opaque black tights, I think you have to do a slightly shorter skirt; with bare legs, you can go with longer hemlines.

      For all the mystique about fashion, sometimes I’m convinced that it’s pretty much just a formula. Find the right length and cuts, put together a uniform, and never think of it again!

    • I wear flats with skirts and tights all the time. I find that having a pointed or almond toe on the flat reduces the blech factor. But then I’ve never really understood the Thou Shalt Not Wear Pencil Skirts With Flat Shoes directive.

      Also, I just Googled Amy Farrah Fowler (not really a TV person) and I think the issue with her clothes is 1) fit, 2) fit, 3) fit, 4) proportion, 5) odd color and print combinations, and 6) getting a grade of D- in accessories. The best heel in the world wouldn’t rescue those outfits. But a tailor and an editing eye could.

      • K, now I’m just going to go to town on this. Wasn’t joking about the slow day. Look at this image: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/236x/a7/01/51/a70151123482d33a690ffbf792d866fb.jpg

        As is, she looks frumpy. End of story. But let’s break it down, top to bottom.

        1. Her hair is way heavy and dragging the whole look down. Chop it to shoulder-length or pull it back in a pony/bun/twist. Instantly lightens up the look.
        2. Take off that inexplicable green crew-neck.
        3a-1. Keep the button-down. (This would be my preferred option.)
        3a-2. Replace the cardigan with something in a solid color that will play nicely with the button-down’s print, and add a bit of pop–maybe a red or a purple.
        3a-3. Add a brown belt, to tie in the shoes. No necklace. Maybe some flashier earrings.
        3b-1. Keep the cardigan.
        3b-2. Replace the button-down with a shell, or literally any other shirt in the entire world. I would go with a purple that coordinates with the stripes.
        3b-3. Add a statement necklace to give the neckline some interest. Keep the rest of the accessories understated.
        4. Keep the skirt.
        5. Keep the brown tights.
        6. Burn the clogs. Replace with a low brown wedge, without a rounded toe.

        Mostly the same clothes. Very different outfit.

        • Anonattorney :

          I agree the photo is frumpy, but disagree with why. To me, it’s mainly the proportion of the outfit and the colors. It’s also just way too casual. I’d change the color and material of the skirt, get rid of the button-down under the cardigan, or get rid of the cardigan, and wear a top that is much shorter. A skirt to the knees has to have a top that hits at the waist. Get rid of the shoes, but keep the tights.

          • Anonymous :

            I agree wih the length of her top. Skirts need shorter tops, pants need longer. Proportion is important when you don’t want to look frumpy IMO

        • In addition: update that poor woman’s eyewear!

      • Anonattorney :

        Also, not all skirts are created equal. The best pencil skirts never look frumpy to me. They need to be made of great material and need to hug your hips without being too tight (can’t cut in under the butt). If they are too big, they can look very frumpy. If they are too tight, they look inappropriate.

        When they fit correctly, you look feminine and powerful.

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