How to Blend Conservative Style with Business Casual

business-casualHow should you follow a business casual dress code (and avoid looking overdressed) when your personal style tends toward classic, understated, and conservative — without buying an entirely new wardrobe? Oh, and also: you’re in a technical field, you’re the youngest employee in your office, and the only woman there besides the secretary. Reader K wonders:

I have recently started at my dream job which is a technical one and I work with men only (besides the receptionist). I am on a very tight budget but have invested in basic pieces such as good quality black suits, classic dresses, blouses, black pencil skirt. The dress code is business casual. Yet the other day I wore a classic grey dress, black blazer, heels, and pearls and the CEO made a comment before a meeting insinuating I was overdressed. He wears cords and a polo everyday. What can I wear to work? I prefer to wear more conservative clothes and feel more professional in blacks, and greys and dark color palettes with a small pop of color (like a maroon or emerald blouse). I am in my early 20s and look especially young and am the youngest in my office and prefer the clean cut conservative professional look so am at a loss of what to wear. Any help would be much appreciated.

We’ve talked about how best to dress in business casual in a male-dominated, technical workplace as a younger woman, dealing with other women’s backhanded compliments about dressing well, and being told by a male boss that you dress too well and need to dress “frumpier,” but not exactly this.  Personal style is often important, but sometimes showing that you can “read” company culture requires dressing in a different way than you might otherwise.  Furthermore, when you look young, it can come off even worse — like you’re playing dress up.  So here are a few ideas…

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The Best Shoes to Wear with Tights

best shoes wear with tightsAre tights appropriate to wear to the office? What sort of shoes or boots look best paired with thicker tights?

Reader M wonders:

With winter coming on, I would love to see a post about what sort of footwear is appropriate to wear with tights in a conservative office. My current work shoe wardrobe consists entirely of your run-of-the-mill low-heel no-frill pumps. These work fine with hose, of course, and seem mostly OK with thinner tights (particularly if they are the same color) but they don’t look quite right with thicker tights, like sweater tights or fleece-lined tights. I think I might need a bootie, or maybe an oxford pump, but I’m unclear on the professional/conservative boundaries of these trendier styles. Or maybe the answer is that thicker tights are just generally inappropriate for the conservative office altogether?

Interesting question. I know fleece tights were hugely popular among the commenters last year, and I’ve always been a fan of sweater tights and the like. But: are they professional? And what shoes look best with them?

(Pictured: Nordstrom ‘Love’ Sweater Tights, available at Nordstrom for $28.)

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Can You Wear a Sheath Dress and Jacket to an Interview?

Theory 'Betty 2' Stretch Sheath Dress | CorporetteAre you required to wear a skirt suit for an interview, or are sheath dresses acceptable? We’ve talked about interview attire (including what to wear beneath a suit jacket) before, but let’s discuss again. Here’s Reader L’s question:

I have an upcoming call back interview at a big law firm. I am a 2nd year associate. Can I wear a Theory sheath dress and jacket or do i have to wear a skirt suit? I only ask because the Theory sheath dress is wonderful, comfortable, and super professional. The internet basically says absolutely not … but this is a West Coast based firm. Any thoughts are much appreciated!

For my $.02, I think that while a skirt suit is the default conservative option, pants suits are becoming more and more acceptable — and a sheath dress with a matching blazer isn’t that far behind. A few notes on this, though:

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When to Tuck

when to tuck blousesWe haven’t talked about whether a professional must tuck her shirt in YEARS, and not one but two readers wonder… so let’s discuss. First, reader A wonders about tucking:

I recently read a fashion post suggesting that a woman in a professional environment should never wear her shirt untucked. I am fairly short (5’3″) and busty, and the tucked-in look usually isn’t very flattering on me. Though I can sometimes pull it off with a blazer on top, tucking my shirts tends to make my torso look very short and my bust look huge. Is it really necessary to wear only tucked shirts in a professional setting? I’ve always thought reasonably tailored, hip-length shirts were fine untucked, even in a conservative environment. What do you think?

Meanwhile, reader S wonders:

I was wondering if you could weigh in on a debate I’m having with a couple friends — we’ve been discussing whether it is more professional to wear a button-down shirt tucked or untucked with dress slacks/trousers. One person says untucked and tucked are equally professional, one person says tucked in is ok only if the trousers are worn with a belt, and one person says tucked in is always more professional! Thoughts? (And thanks!)

I’m curious to hear what the readers say here. We’ve talked about how to keep your shirts tucked, rounded up blouses especially for busty women, as well as done Hunts for crisp button-front blouses and silk blouses… but I’m not sure we’ve ever talked about whether you MUST tuck your shirt in for big events like interviews or presentations.  For my $.02, as someone who (like reader A) is short and busty, the tucked-in look is rarely a good one on me, and I would consider an untucked, fitted blouse — worn with trousers or a pencil skirt — to be a classic workwear outfit.  I would make a few caveats, though, for when you can wear a blouse untucked: [Read more…]

The Hunt: Flared Skirts

Flared Skirts: The Corporette Round-UpSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

The pencil skirt is always considered “the classic” workwear piece — but flared skirts (whether they be A-lines, flounces, trumpets, or circle skirts) are a classic — and they’re everywhere right now (much like fit-and-flare dresses). We haven’t rounded up flared skirts in about a year, so I thought I’d round up a few — interestingly, the “flirty” skirt from last year’s roundup is still available at White House | Black Market Readers, have you bought any flared or A-line skirts lately? Any classic pieces that you bought a few years ago but still wear (and, even better, still see it for sale)?

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The Hunt: Interview Totes

stylish interview totes 175Sure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

A stylish interview tote is something that every woman needs — yet it can often be a hassle to find the perfect thing (at a price you like).  For my money, a good interview tote:

  • is black (and can be worn with any color, including navy)
  • has structure to it and will stand up by itself if you set it down
  • is big enough to hold at least a folder with your resume, as well as a small bag of makeup and a bottle of water
  • has interior organization (pockets and the like) so you can find what you need, quickly and easily, without digging

In an ideal world, a good interview top would also zipper on top (so it’s secure and won’t accidentally spill out), and would be able to be carried by a shoulder strap so your hands can be free.  We’ve gone on the hunt for these before (see our 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010 roundups here); also, guest poster Jean from Extra Petite recently shared her favorite tote bags with us.  Some of the classics that we’ve included in previous roundups (and are still available) are Rebecca Minkoff MAB totes, the Kate Spade Maryanne line, most MZ Wallace bags, nylon Tory Burch totes, and Lo & Sons totesReaders, what qualities do you look for in an interview tote bag?  Are there any classics that we’re forgetting?  Have you made any recent purchases of a great tote bag?

 

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