Professionalism in a Laid Back Office

Office footwear, originally uploaded to Flickr by emmavn.Reader M wonders about professionalism in a laid back office:

I was wondering if you could do a piece regarding how to stay professionally dressed in an office that is very laid-back. I just graduated from college and have found my dream job doing public relations and social media for a small but fast growing company. The owner/president wears PFG shirts and shorts to work everyday. The sales and customer service girls I work with wear Lilly shorts or jeans with cute tops and sandals or sometimes wedges. My previous internships were much more corporate so I have a collection of black dress pants, button down tops and blazers. I’m not sure how to transition to a less corporate environment without falling into a jeans and t-shirt habit! Help?!

I think it’s important to note that professionalism is not just about how you look, but how you act. I’ve known some incredibly professionally-dressed people who were complete disasters to work with, and I’ve known some non-professionally dressed people who were first-rate at what they did. That said, it’s an interesting question, and I’m curious to hear what the readers say.  (Pictured above: Office footwear, originally uploaded to Flickr by emmavn.) [Read more…]

Modernizing Your Work Wardrobe

How do you modernize your work wardrobe?  Today’s guest poster, Becki Singer of Shopping’s My Cardio, ponders the question.  I’m thrilled to have Becki guest posting on Corporette — I’ve been reading her blog since way back when (before I even started Corporette).  Fun factoid: she used to be a lawyer also and has recently made a switch to focus on writing and fashion. Welcome to Corporette, Becki! – Kat

Technicolor tweed jacketGreetings, Corporette ladies! I’m so thrilled Kat has asked me to stop by and share a few of my favorite tips and tricks for showing off a bit more style at work. It’s a tricky business, to be sure. I spent years dressing for a law firm before I left for the wonderful world of blogging, so I know the world of grey suits all too well. But the one thing I realized as I spent more time on fashion and less time on law was that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. True, if you’re in the courtroom or the boardroom, conservative rules. But these days, clients and customers expect to see a bit of fashion-forward style from their professionals. After all, a great wardrobe is one of the great things that separates us from the boys. And so, I thought I’d rummage through my style advice, and pass along a few of my favorite tips for keeping your work wardrobe on-trend, without fully crossing into fashionista territory.

Technicolor tweed jacketFirst, celebrate your suits! Just about every piece of style advice I see for professionals starts by telling you to ditch the standard suit, and mix up the pieces to create new looks. For a variety of reasons, I’m not wild about that look. Generally, it’s pretty obvious you’ve mixed and matched, and the results are never as seamless as you’d hoped. Different fabrics, different tones, different finish details…a suit is a suit for a reason. Unless you’re mixing a dark blazer with a highly patterned trouser, I say stick with the original. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to play. Instead of your usual staples, try picking up a suit in a head-turning plaid or tweed. Keep the color palette neutral to ensure versatility, but in this case, the bolder the suit, the bolder the statement. And while I don’t advocate mixing suit pieces, a patterned suit does play remarkably well with others. Try ditching the blazer for a classic in leather, and adding a simple silk shell to instantly add some style currency. (Pictured: Technicolor tweed jacketicon, available at J.Crew for $595.)

Give leather a try. Classiques Entier® 'Lamb Moss' Leather JacketYou’d be amazed at how easily it translates to even the most conservative workplace. Especially this fall, you’ll see leather skirts and blazers everywhere – don’t be afraid to get in on the trend. True, the leather pant is best left to your weekend barhopping, but pair that plaid blazer with a suede skirt, and you’ll have a seriously professional look that’s infinitely more stylish. Or give the black blazer for your favorite power suit the day off, and sub a fitted leather blazer in a ladylike shape. The trick to making leather work-appropriate is to keep the silhouette and color demure – nothing too bulky or shiny. Look for matte leathers, leather trim, or even suede, in soft silhouettes that you’d expect to see in gabardine. I love a knee-length, A-line suede skirt for work – add a patterned silk blouse or crewneck cashmere sweater, a mid-length gold chain and your favorite neutral pump, and you’re set. (Pictured: Classiques Entier® ‘Lamb Moss’ Leather Jacketicon, available at Nordstrom for $398.)

Banish the black. Now that I have you thoroughly out of your comfort zone, my next piece of advice might not be quite as painful. Brace yourselves, because I want you to banish the black (and the navy and the grey)! Now, not forever – a black suit is a classic for a reason. But, just for the sake of sartorial experimentation, try pushing whatever dark, neutral hue you gravitate to every morning to the back of your closet for a week. Getting dressed in the morning without that staple in arm’s reach will do wonders for your closet creativity – trust me on this. At the end of this week-long experiment, you’ll be amazed by how willing you are to pair navy with emerald green, or cobalt with chocolate.

Joie 'Mirabella' Silk BlousePlay with pattern and color — another great way to up the ante on your office style. Colorblocking is huge this season – so reach for those bold color combos without fear. For fall, you’ll see two different variations on color trends, and they couldn’t be more different. First, pattern-mixing is still huge. It’s a trickier trend to try at work, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Just be sure colors are in the same family, and keep the silhouettes simple – let the patterns be the star. Too scared to try? How about a black-and-white tweed jacket over a patterned silk blouse? It’s a virtually foolproof starter for pattern-mixing. Spend 20 minutes playing around in your closet some evening, and try pairing that jacket with absolutely every patterned piece you own (dresses included!), and see what sings to you. (Pictured: Joie ‘Mirabella’ Silk Blouseicon, available at Nordstrom for $218.)

Try dressing monochromatically. On the opposite end of the spectrum is monochrome dressing, a great way to get more mileage out of those suits and up your style quotient at the same time. Add a black button-down, black pumps and a patent black belt to your favorite black suit, and watch it jump from reliable to cutting-edge. But don’t stop at black. Any color can go monochrome – in fact, the colors don’t even have to match perfectly, as long as they’re in the same family. When in doubt, hold them up together and take a hard look– your eye will tell you if it’s a fit. I’ve even resorted to taking a camera phone picture if I’m really unsure. Have a pair of red trousers? A red cashmere sweater? Add your favorite red ballet flats and go for it! If you must, tack on a camel blazer for safety’s sake, but I have a hunch you’ll be relegating that blazer to the back of your office door in no time.

Smythe Double Knit VestAnd last, but certainly not least, I can’t leave without giving you my favorite office dressing tip of all: layers. Layers, my friends, will save you from a lifetime of wardrobe boredom. Make your weekend shirt dress or sleeveless silk tunic do double-duty by having your drycleaner press it, and wearing it belted over a pencil skirt. Sick of that boring cashmere shell? Try it over a crisp button-down shirt, and under a trouser suit (leave the shirt untucked, please). Or better yet, try the same trick with that patterned silk blouse we talked about earlier. And, pardon the rhyme, but invest in a vest. Find a modern style, and try pairing it with absolutely everything you own until you find a look you love. (Pictured: Smythe Double Knit Vesticon, available at Nordstrom for $450.)

If nothing else, I hope I’ve inspired you to go spend some quality time in your closet. Lock the kids and the spouse out of your room, and spend an hour just playing. You’ll be amazed at the combinations you come up with. Particularly when it comes to professional wardrobes, I find there’s rarely a wrong answer when combining pieces – they’re all built to be friends. So, branch out, be bold, and have fun!

Readers, what tips and tricks have you learned as you got more comfortable dressing professionally?


Interested in writing something similar for Corporette? Check out our guest posting guidelines.

“Comfortable Casual” for a Heat Wave

C&C California Bemberg-Sunburst Tie Dye Maxi Tank DressiconHow do you dress professionally for a heat wave? I got an emergency email from a reader, who noted that given the heat wave here in NYC her BigLaw firm has told her she’s free to dress “comfortable casual” (but not in denim) for the duration of the week. Given that the firm is already “business casual,” she’s a bit perplexed.  (Pictured:  Cute, but probably not what the firm had in mind, despite the number of maxi dresses that Bloomingdale’s has on sale right now.  This one was $138, now marked to $82. C&C California Bemberg-Sunburst Tie Dye Maxi Tank Dress)

This is a new phrase to me, but here’s my advice to any woman told that this week: I would stay the course and wear your usual “business casual” to work until you see your female superiors dressing differently. My guess is that this email is intended for the men, who may now be able to include polo shirts, short-sleeved shirts, and khaki pants in the mix. (To any male summer associates who are reading this blog: I’d be shocked — shocked! — if this email was the firm’s way of encouraging you to wear shorts to work during the week.)

I’m curious to hear what the readers say about this, but my attitude is that if you’re dressing properly for summer (for “business casual”) that most women are already sitting pretty, whether it’s Hot or Very Very Hot. For example: [Read more…]

Transitioning from a Conservative Office to a More Casual One

New Office-2, originally uploaded to Flickr by akeg.Since she’s started at a more casual office, Reader L wonders how she should transition her wardrobe of blazers and pencil skirts to an office filled with jeans and sneakers.

I’m 24 and recently left a paralegal job at a small litigation firm for a research and editing job at a large publishing company. The new job is great and a much better fit for me but I’m still struggling with the transition to the more casual attire I’m seeing in my young, tech-centered office. I see jeans and gross sneakers every day of the week, which clashes with my wardrobe of pencil skirts and blazers. Even when I try to tone it down, the basics in my closet just aren’t in the same spectrum. I’ve tried to pay attention to what the seniormost woman in my office wears, but there are a LOT of pay grades between a manager and someone in my entry-level position.

I really want to stand out, make an impression and start advancing. At the same time, I don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard or oblivious to office culture. My question is: is it more important to dress in a way that feels professional and appropriate (and, to be selfish, much more comfortable for me) or to mimic the people around me? If it’s the latter, any tips on looking sharp and competent when dressed down?

Great, great question, because it can be really tricky to transition your wardrobe. Here are some of my tips, but readers, I hope you’ll weigh in!  (Pictured: New Office-2, originally uploaded to Flickr by akeg.)

[Read more…]

We Wear Shorts Suits?

short-suits-for-workShorts suits (or: a suit with shorts) — can they be worn in a professional way? I noticed that commenters were talking about this yesterday, and it also came up in the Facebook chat I did with Lucky, and then again on the Corporette Facebook page — so I thought we should talk about it more in the main body of the blog.

professional-short-suitsFor those of you who didn’t see, the Wall Street Journal ran an article on the shorts suit over the weekend, recommending them as “summer’s most versatile combo,” going “from office to party without a hitch.”  Um… okay.  So far most of the comments I’ve seen on the blog are dead set against this, and for my $.02 I would agree — if I were, say, Lindsay Lohan going to court, or perhaps some other young starlet going to a charity luncheon, then I would totally invest in short suits.  (Like, totally.)  But for the office?  Where I’m trying to convey respect, and avoid having people think “WTF was she thinking when she got dressed today?”?  Um, no.  Oh, and incidentally, the shorts suit is not new:  Julia Roberts’s character wore one in Pretty Woman.  See, so professional working girls do wear them. [Read more…]

The Tomboy in the Suit

how to avoid looking masculineReader A thinks her look is too “tomboy” for the office…

I am writing to you in hopes for some advice on how to change from a “tom boy look” to a mid-level executive in a financial institution.

I know that your blog is mostly geared toward New York lawyers, but while I am neither of those (Dallas, Tx – Financial Analyst), I am confident that you can help. A little bit of background…I grew up in a very small town climbing trees and playing with boys. In college, my dress attire was jeans and over-sized T-shirts. It wasn’t until my senior year that I started wearing T-shirts that fit.

Making the transition from college life to financial institution was a little easy back home, (South Texas/Rio Grande Valley), but now that I reside in Dallas, I feel that my current wardrobe isn’t cutting it. My current attire is grey slacks and a button down or simple one-tone blouse. While I mentioned my basic attire, please note that I own about 2 pairs of slacks/dress pants (black and grey) and 2 button downs (purple and maroon).

I have a pair of black shoes and I wear those with black dress socks.

I have never been a “girly-girl” (not that I am opposed to it), but I have always lacked the ability to match colors and styles without looking hideous.

This is a great question, A.  What you’re wearing doesn’t sound so bad to me (albeit a bit boring, but there’s nothing unprofessional about that), but the vibe I’m getting from your email is that you don’t feel elegant, feminine, or sophisticated.  I think it’s important to distinguish unprofessional attire from attire that isn’t elegant/feminine/sophisticated — there have been a lot of very, very successful women who wore nothing but boxy suits, had masculine haircuts, and wore clunky heels (or flats).  In fact, to a lot of older people (both men and women) that is the best way to convey that you’re serious about your job.  (I was just reading a comment on an older post about whether long hair is appropriate — the reader noted that when she ran for office, no one took her seriously until she cut her mid-back-length hair into a Hilary Clinton cut.)  (Pictured: Tomboy Shorts, originally uploaded to Flickr by FredoAlvarez.) [Read more…]