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.)

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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...]

The Best Tops for Under Suits

OK — I’ve got another “Corporette Shopping Guide” for everyone: the best tops for under suits. Which basic t-shirts are your favorites for under suits? How about button-front blouses? I’ve been working on this one forever and I don’t think I’ll ever feel like it’s totally ready, so I’m really looking forward to seeing reader responses.

As with our other shopping guides, please a) post any relevant comments on the page itself, and if you have any unrelated threadjacks, please post them here (on this post).

Resort Chic — for a Business Meeting in the Bahamas

what to wear to a business meeting in the BahamasReader L has a question about what to wear for a business meeting in the Bahamas…

Unlike many of your readers, I am not a lawyer but am an MBA grad working in Investor Relations. After a couple of years of trudging through the economy, the management team has decided to have our small strategic planning meeting in the Bahamas next month (yay!); however, I am at a loss when it comes to attire. The information provided says “resort chic”. I’m assuming that means clothing which does not consist of a printed hibiscus sprawling across ones chest. Can you give me some suggestions where I can go to find classy resort wear? Thanks a bunch. I’ll toast a fruity drink to you!

Well, I’ll do anything to have a fruity drink toasted to me. :) Honestly, though: why do companies keep doing these kinds of awkward retreats, without specific advice for women? The men who attend this meeting will show up in khaki pants and a button-front shirt and be A-OK; if they’re more formal some may have a linen blazer with them, whereas others may wear shorts with untucked button-front shirts (with the sleeves rolled up, of course). Either way you slice it, the margin of error will be fairly small for the men. Whereas for women — when one says “resort chic” my imagination runs from the casual hippie clothing like a maxi dress to the more high-fashion model look of someone 6′ tall wearing short-shorts, 4″ heels, and perhaps an expensive blouse, loaded up with jewelry and a sour expression. Or, of course, a great bikini… but none of those choices really seem ideal for your situation, because you don’t want to confuse vacation with a business meeting  (Pictured: Bahamas Gazebo, originally uploaded to Flickr by bryce_edwards.) [Read more...]

Dressing Professionally for Summer

white blazer for summerI was chatting with blogger RoadWarriorette the other day about dressing for summer — it can be a challenge when you’re trying to look professional! So I thought we should have an open thread with people’s best tips for dressing for summer. My personal tips:

- Layer, layer, layer. This helps with commutes in hot weather, and if you do it intelligently you can add and remove layers as needed throughout the day.  For example, I frequently will wear just a cotton t-shirt and my pants or a skirt to work, as well as sandals or flip flops.  Once at work, I’ll give myself time to “air out” if I need it, and then pop on my blazer and a good pair of pumps.  I keep a lot of blazers and pumps at the office so I don’t have to lug them around the city with me — for example, my current office has a basic black blazer, a white one, a beige one, a black/gray/silver leopard-print one and then about several pairs of pumps (basic black, really high black ones, purple pumps, brown pumps, a low pair of silverish/gray pumps, a nude-for-me pair of pumps, a red pair of really high heels) as well as a bunch of flats that I keep at the office (a black patent leather pair, a red patent leather pair, a brown lizard pair, a light pink pair, and a royal blue pair).  Similarly, a lightweight scarf (such as one made out of linen or silk) can be a great addition — it’ll provide warmth if you’re freezing, and not that much bulk if you need to take it off and tie it around your work bag.

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