How to Blend Conservative Style with Business Casual

how to blend conservative style with business casual

2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on how to blend conservative style with business casual, but you may want to check out The Ultimate Guide to Business Casual for Women.

How 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 about how to blend conservative style with business casual…

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.)

[Read more…]

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

[Read more…]

Summer Associate Style: What to Wear For Your Internship

Summer Associate Series: What to Wear For Your Internship | CorporetteWhat should you wear for your internship or summer associateship?  Welcome to the first installment of our Summer Associate Series! Name aside, we hope this series will be helpful to ANY intern, whether you’re a law student or another woman interning in a conservative office for the summer. First up in our series: WHAT TO WEAR? How can you build your wardrobe without going bust?  What’s the best way to look professional on a budget?

Finally, you may want to check out some of our guides, which are updated regularly (unlike posts) —

Finally, that’s a lot to unpack, but you don’t have to worry about EVERYTHING: there is such a thing as overthinking what’s professional, like the person who wondered whether a water bottle could be unprofessional. Oh yes, and you may want to check out our guide to how to have a great first day on the job.

Readers, what advice would you give summer associates and other interns on what to wear, what not to wear? Readers who ARE interns or summer associates, what are the biggest areas of confusion for you? (Any posts from above that we should revisit more in depth, or give a more current take on?)
[Read more…]

What to Wear When You’re Out of Town & Working Late

What to Wear When You're Working Late | Corporette2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on what to wear when you need professional clothes for working late, but you may also want to check out this recent threadjack from readers on what to wear to be super comfortable at work.

What should you wear when you’re planning to work late — and you’re traveling?  Reader H is gearing up for trial and wonders what to wear in the war room after hours:

I am going to be attending a two week out of town trial with two partners at my firm. During the day we will all be in suits, but in the evenings we will likely be working late. I will want to be in comfortable clothes, which for me would constitute yoga pants, but do not think that would be appropriate with my boss. Any suggestions?

Interesting question! We’ve talked about what to wear on the weekends, what to wear for a month in court, and traveling for work, but not this question.  I was in exactly this situation a few years ago — and I’m not sure I made the right decisions.   [Read more…]

work fashion blog press mentions