How to Look Stylish and Professional at a Business Casual Office

business casualWhen you’re used to dressing conservatively for work and your new office is much less formal, how do you put outfits together to look casual but still professional and stylish? Some women would react to a dress-code switch like this with a “Score! Jeans and comfy shoes EVERY day,” but others are bigger fans of dressing conservatively in a casual office, like Reader J, who wonders…

I just started a job as an in-house attorney at a tech company. Before this, I worked at a big law firm with a conservative dress code. Now I’m in the dilemma of having a closet full of clothes that are too dressy for my job. I enjoy dressing up, but I don’t want to look too stuffy in this new environment. My boss wears hoodies everyday, and I was told that I’d be teased if I dress up too much. Any suggestions for where to shop for casual outfits that are still cute and classy?

In the past we’ve talked about wearing jeans to work and what to wear for a big meeting at a casual office, as well as the stories linked above.  Now let’s revisit some of that advice and take a look at several examples:

(Pictured: Nordstrom’s very popular open front cardigan by MOD.lusive by Bobeau, $25-$42 in lots of colors and regular and petite sizes.)

[Read more…]

What to Wear to a Big Meeting at a Casual Office

big-meeting-attire-casual-officeWhen you work at a company with a casual dress code, how should you step it up for a board meeting — or for other important meetings — when you want to look professional but don’t know what others will be wearing? Reader A wonders…

I have a fashion question: How does one dress for the board meeting of a “casual dress” company? We are a start-up — this is our first board meeting — so I really don’t have a precedent to call on. During a normal work day, my boss (the CEO, age 45+) and I typically wear jeans and a sweater or T-shirt, as we only have phone/email contact with clients. However, it seems like the board meeting calls for a more professional look. I asked my boss about it, he said “What you’re wearing is fine.” (Faded jeans, a long-sleeved Tshirt and a scarf.) He is not the type of guy I would normally take fashion advice from, and I’m not sure he fully understands the nuance of female dress! Most of the other officers and board members are lawyers, lobbyists, or CPAs. I don’t want to show up in jeans, but I don’t want to be the only one in a suit either. Is there something inbetween? Dress slacks and a cardi? I am age 35+, and a size 14 (XL), so I don’t want anything too clingy or “young”. Suggestions?

We’ve talked about how to do business casual without looking overdressed, a casual-but-professional uniform for womenwhat to wear to a casual office on your first day, shoes to wear with jeans at work, and more — but not this.

Interesting question, A, and I’m curious to hear what readers say. For my $.02, I would avoid the “dress slacks and a cardi” look when everyone else is in jeans because you inevitably end up looking like the mom of the group. So I’m going to offer you two suggestions and suggest you go with the one that feels right — but again, I’m curious to hear what the readers say.

[Read more…]

Trends and the Conservative Office

trends-for-conservative-officesWhat trends can a younger woman safely wear to work?  You don’t want to dress too “old” — but you also doesn’t want to appear too trendy and/or in styles that are inappropriate for workwear. How do you find a balance so that you look professional without feeling like you’re wearing someone else’s clothes? Reader K wonders…

Would you be interested in doing a feature directed at the youngest of your audience? 23-26yo females? This would be regarding the interface between young/trendy and office appropriate. While a lot of the items TPS features are great-looking, I can also see a way in which it might be premature for a younger demographic to be shopping in those styles. I would like to look dignified, for example, but not necessarily older than I am.

This is a great question. The conservative office is all about the classic, chic look — you will always be well served to have a crisp white blouse, a simple sheath dress, a pair of great pumps, and a well-tailored blazer and matching skirt and pants. That said, there do exist trends within those relatively narrow boundaries, and THOSE are the trends that I think you can experiment with, without too much fear that they make you look inappropriate. So let’s dig in.

First, let’s define the kind of trend we’re NOT talking about for a conservative office:

[Read more…]

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? 

[Read more…]

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…

[Read more…]

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…

[Read more…]