The Hunt: Layered-Look Sweaters

Club MOnaco Mackenzie SweaterSure, 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.

I usually like to use The Hunt for a basic, timeless piece that everyone needs — cashmere sweaters, strappy pumps, etc — but when I got a request from a reader looking for layered sweaters, I thought, ooh, that would make a fun Hunt — they have been EVERYWHERE recently, and the sweater-and-collar look can be tricky to get on your own.  Some people have DIY solutions for the bulkiness that ensues, while for others static cling  is more of an issue — even rolling the sleeves can take some skill.  Still, I think it’s a classic look that range from “very preppy” to “casual” (such as the option from Loft, below) to some of the newer looks that are almost cropped sweaters with tunic blouses (such as here or here).  Ladies, what are your tricks for getting the layered look — short of buying a 2-in-1 sweater or wearing a collared dickey?  What rules do you think apply to the office? 

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How to Wear Jeans to Work

jeans-shoes-business-casualHow can you wear jeans to work — and particularly, what shoes should you wear? Which business casual outfits look the most professional? Reader B wonders…

I work in public accounting and we have “Jean Fridays,” but HR says no sneakers, tennis shoes, etc., so I can’t wear my suede Pumas or Onitsuka Tigers with my jeans. Please suggest alternate shoes a girl can wear with jeans to the office. I am a size 8 1/2 and feel like distressed oxfords or driving shoes give me clown feet. And black booties are not the look I’m going for (too motorcycle or bar night or something…). Thanks for any advice if you decide to pick this one up!

Great question, Reader B! We’ve talked about business casual for women, as well as how to wear jeans to work (but back in 2009!).  A lot of this depends on how your jeans are hemmed, but here are a few pointers:

  • A more traditional, structured shoe like a pointed toe pump will almost always elevate a denim look.
  • The wider your pants’ ankles are (bootcut, baby bootcut, etc) the more pointed your shoe needs to be — but shoes with rounder toes can even look better with skinny jeans and the like.
  • You don’t need heels — if you’re more of a flats person, look for either a teeny tiny kitten heel (found with shoes like the Stuart Weitzman Poco) or a pointed-toe flat, like the trendy Nicholas Kirkwood loafers.
  • When in doubt, go for a dark rinse denim with little to no distressing — rips are not appropriate for most offices.

I’ve rounded up a few images from Pinterest to aid you visually, below, and maybe even give you a few business casual outfit ideas…

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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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Over-the-Knee Boots at the Office?

otk boots for workWhile doing our round-up of knee-high boots, I was struck by how things have changed in such a short time — when I first started this blog, knee-high boots were still pretty scandalous, and over-the-knee boots (or OTK boots) were completely, totally risqué.  Cut to today, and they’re EVERYWHERE — flat versions, high-heeled versions, on most best seller lists, with rave reviews from everyone from 20-somethings to 60-somethings.  I know Jean at ExtraPetite has talked about wearing her 5050s for the commute, but I thought it might be interesting to have a poll: are over the knee boots so omnipresent that you can wear them to work? (Pictured: Screenshot of the Stuart Weitzman 5050 from Zappos, where they’re $635; they’re also at Nordstrom for the same. Here are a few under-$200 alternatives.)

As always, you have to know the specifics of YOUR office.  But because a poll can be fun, I thought we’d have this in two flavors: one poll for folks working in conservative offices, and one folks for the women in business casual offices.  Just for ease of discussion, let’s define a “conservative office” as one where, on any given day, 30% or more of your coworkers are in suits.

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Fun But Professional Patterns and Colors

Fun but Professional Patterns and Colors | CorporetteCan fun colors and patterns ever be professional? Reader S wonders:

The only black piece of clothing I have is one blazer and I don’t have a single white thing. You could find me in a floral skirts with striped tops, long bright dresses, and when I occasionally wear jeans, I always pair them with shirts and blazers. My favorite patterns are stripes and florals, favorite colors are purple, red, orange. Can this ever be professional? I feel very uncomfortable in black and would hate to give up my favorite pieces. The field where I hope to find a job is business causal.

Great question, S! We’ve talked about how to start wearing prints, as well as how to mix prints — but not in a long while (other than this brief mention in our post on how to shop your closet and Play Clothes). So let’s talk about it. First: I don’t think there is anything inherently unprofessional about prints, colors, and patterns — indeed, some of the most adventurous dressers, who mixed prints and patterns in the boldest ways, are some of the male partners I knew at my old law firm.  The easy advice here is that it’s very, very easy to throw on a solid cardigan or blazer that picks up one of the colors in your print, throw it on with a neutral trouser or skirt, and go to work.  But let’s have a bit more fun with it…

Fun but Professional Patterns and Colors | Corporette

Layer multiple patterns and anchor them with a solid piece, either in a neutral (black or white) or a color from one of the prints. (Check out our new Professional Prints board on Pinterest to see the pictures bigger, and click through for the sources.)

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What to Wear to the Company Retreat

What to Wear to the Off-Site Company Retreat | CorporetteWhat do you wear to an off-site company retreat at a center with both a conference center and hiking trails — and a dress code of “casual”? Poor Reader M is stuck with this problem on her first day of work, adding yet another layer of complexity…

I’m starting a new lawyer job next month that I’m very excited about. I would normally wear a suit to my first day of work, but my department has scheduled a retreat for the same day I start work. I have been asked to attend the retreat, but I have no clue what to wear. The retreat will be at a facility that has both a conference center and hiking trails. The email said “casual.” What on earth does that mean!?!? Are we talking work casual, like a respectable dress with flats? Weekend casual, like nice jeans with a blouse? A sundress? How do I make the right first impression without being overdressed?

Wow.  To Reader M, my apologies — this situation stinks!  I don’t think there’s any way you’re going to get out of this without just picking up the phone and talking to someone in HR.  My $.02: pick out what you think you should wear and run it by the person during your brief phone call.  In general I think you want to look friendly, detail-oriented, and responsible, so if this were me I’d probably go with washable trousers, a “nice” t-shirt, flats or comfortable heels (maybe a wedge in case you have to walk on grass), and an accessory that looks good both with a non-suiting blazer (to be kept in your car? folded on the back of your chair?).  A good question to ask during your conversation: whether there are any pictures of last year’s event in the company newsletter or whatnot.  Another option here: call the manager of the facility and ask what he or she sees most often.  You never know — she may be able to give you extra insight into the day’s plans (such as, well, you wouldn’t want to wear X because it might get dirty during the fire walking portion of the day!).

In general, though, readers, let’s discuss — have you been to any off-site company retreats that have both a conference center and hiking trails — and if so what did you wear?  Would you dress differently if your FIRST DAY were the day of the company retreat (such a new-kid-new-school vibe, right?!)? What does a “casual” dress code say to you anyway?

What to Wear to the Off-Site Company Retreat | Corporette

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