The Hunt: Work-Appropriate T-Shirts

best t-shirts for work 4.indexedSure, 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.

Ever since I found The Limited’s highly-rated t-shirt, I’ve been thinking about that perennial summer question: which are the best t-shirts for layering under suits and otherwise wearing to work? In my mind, the perfect work t-shirt:

  • is opaque
  • is thick enough to not see the outline of your bra
  • keeps its shape throughout the day (and after several washes)
  • retains color evenly after numerous washes
  • looks like a perfect basic — not too memorable or trendy

I’ve rounded up some of my favorites below — but readers, which are your favorites?  (Psssst: check out The Corporette Guide to the Best Tops Under Suits if you haven’t already!)

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What to Wear to a Company Picnic

What do you wear to attend a company picnic and watch a baseball game — particularly when this will be one of the first impressions you make? Reader E wonders…

I finally have a unique fashion dilemma that I need help on. After working as a government attorney for several years, I have landed a job at a biglaw firm starting in the fall. I have been invited this summer to the firm’s trip to watch a baseball game and the picnic beforehand. It’s a family event to which SO’s and children are invited, and it’s on a Friday right after work. My dilemma–what to wear?? This will be the first time I meet many of the attorneys and support staff, so of course I want to make a good impression. Are jeans appropriate? Khakis? Do I need to wear team colors/jersey? Ack! (Also, I wouldn’t mind any tips on socializing at this type of event–I’ve never been to one and my SO can’t attend, so I’m really nervous about showing up alone and meeting people for the first time!) Thanks for any advice you have on this!

Ugh. I know firms think these things are fun, but the sartorial conundrum never is. Honestly, I would suggest calling the Hiring Department and asking them what people have worn to the event in the past. (In general, ladies, this is ALWAYS the right answer — call the HR department.) If they give you a vague answer (“oh, you know, pants or a dress”), I would ask what the men wear — if they’re still in suits from a day at the office (perhaps sans tie, or with shirt sleeves rolled up), I’d go for something more formal, like a sheath dress.  If they’re in shorts, polos, and sneakers (or team jerseys), welcome to Situation Casual — and perhaps consider jeans. [Read more…]

Back-Handed Compliments at the Office

How do you deal with back-handed “compliments” in the office? Reader B wonders…

I am a 30 year old lawyer working in Washington, DC. My late 20’s/early 30’s professional female friends and I have experienced a strange and disconcerting dynamic amongst women in the workplace: getting negative comments from other women for being smartly/well- dressed. These outfits, I believe, would objectively be considered professional, age-appropriate, and well-fitting: tailored suits in feminine cuts, pencil skirts to the knee, or pumps with a modest heel. They would certainly be similar to those depicted on the Corporette website. The comments often take the form of backhanded compliments, such as, “That shirt makes you look soooooo thin.” They may also be cautionary, like “Wow, you had better be careful not to hurt yourself in those heels”. This feedback comes from women at a similar professional level and more senior employees. It most often comes from women whom are a generation older and seem to be, at times, more about our size and age than what we are wearing. It also seems to be more of an issue in government and non-profit environments, as we haven’t noticed it to be a problem in the private sector. How should we respond to this type of feedback? At what point should we give in to workplace pressure to dress in a more bland way versus continuing to wear clothing that makes us feel sophisticated and professional?

This issue comes up a lot, and as your friendly blogger I see both sides of it: the younger women wondering why these older women are giving them these back-handed compliments, and the older women asking me how in the world they tell someone they’re dressed wildly inappropriate for the office in a casual way. I’m curious to hear what readers think about this. [Read more…]

Looking Professional, In the Factory

Reader D has a unique question: what to wear in the field?  More specifically, to visit a factory (and ride in her client’s plane!)

I am going on a site visit to a factory near Seattle.  The visit includes riding in a small plane and then visiting a large factory so I will need to be casual, wear flat comfortable shoes, yet still look professional.  Any advice?  Although I am a senior associate I will be the sole representative for my client and want to make sure I come off as professional as possible.

Congratulations on the opportunity — it sounds fun (riding in a private plane is on my Bucket List) and like a good career opportunity. As far as fashion goes, I think my answer depends on one question: can you wear denim around your client? If so, I think a pair of dark (preferably black) jeggings skinny jeans, tucked into flat boots, topped with a button-front and blazer, and accessorized with your normal work jewelry, would probably be my best guess for an outfit. (Update:  There’s a lot of disagreement with me in the comments, which is fine, but just to be clear: when I say “jeggings” — I mean skinny  jeans that have a bit of extra Spandex in them to make them more comfortable, but are still primarily denim.  E.g., these, these, or these. Not these.)  Here’s my thinking:

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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?


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