Professional Frump: What To Avoid

How to Avoid Professional Frump | CorporetteHere’s a fun topic that we haven’t discussed in years — what makes something frumpy? How can professional women avoid frump?

I agree with a lot of what I said four years ago — primarily:

Summer Work Clothes: How to Look Professional When It’s Hot

Summer Work Clothes | CorporetteWhat should you wear — and not wear — to look professional (and stay cool) when it’s hot outside?  Which summer work clothes are the best?  We’ve recently gotten two reader questions on the issue.  First up, Reader M wonders:

Hi. I’m 30 years old. I am a rock and roller. Meaning that I work in the music industry. In the past my job was to chaperone the concert site. I was very good at my job. Got a new job in Orlando, FL, that has me now working at a desk. I am now a supervisor. I came into this job in the fall so I had some leftover black wool slacks, nice dark wash denim, and black sweaters to get me through. It’s now almost spring (feels like summer) and I don’t know how to do professional for summer. I work in a business casual environment, which helps. I like to keep all of my color in accents like purses, shoes, scarves, etc. I wear monochromatic. It’s my signature and super versatile when starting a new wardrobe. Can you advise cuts, fabrics, etc. of office appropriate summer wear for a newly professional, young lady like myself that’s trying to beat the heat without looking like a concertgoer?

Reader T also wonders:

I am heading to D.C. from California this summer for a legal externship, and am in need of advice on the dress code in the legal world when it’s 95 degrees. I worked on the Hill for several years and (sadly) recall a lot of flip flops and sundresses during the hotter months. I imagine that this won’t be the case in a legal setting/government agency, but I would love some basic outfit formulas, fabric suggestions (is tweed taboo?), and other ideas for a 30 yr. old to look like a lawyer while fighting the humidity and sticking to a budget.

In terms of outfit formulations, my go-to looks are boring, but they’re classic for a reason: think sheath dresses plus a blazer (to be added once you’re inside), and nice, lightweight trousers (look for cotton or cotton blends) with a nice tee and a classic pair of pumps (and ideally a matching blazer). (Pictured: Cole Haan Air Carma Open Toe Pump, on sale at Zappos for $169.99 (was $275).) As we’ve noted before, natural fabrics like cotton, silk, and linen are going to breathe a lot more than non-natural fabrics, so do pay attention to that when buying new pieces.  (Also: pay attention to the laundry instructions. That $20 pair of pants starts to look less appealing — and less of a deal — when they start to smell to high heaven after two wears and the only way to launder them is to get them drycleaned.)

We’ve talked about how to stay cool during a heatwave, but here are a few fast tips for cooling down quickly (or to stay cool enough to avoid completely wrecking your clothes):

  • a simple fan, carried in your purse or bag — yes, you’re expending more energy as you fan yourself, but the bit of a breeze can be amazing if you’re stuck on a hot subway platform
  • an ice-cold can of soda, held against the inside of your wrist, the back of your neck, or even the back of your knees
  • convenient ice packs — there are even necklaces designed to be iced and worn!

Otherwise: We’ve talked about what not to wear as a summer associate, what not to wear to work in general, and how to stay cool during a heatwave — but not in many moons.  So let’s revisit!

An opening caveat: As we’ve noted in previous discussions, this is very much a “know your office” situation.  If you’re working at a NEW office, though, or are still learning your office, you should wait until you see someone significantly more senior than you break these rules before you consider it “office culture.”  (For example: if you’re a summer associate at a law firm and see a first-year associate wearing sandals, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ok for everyone to wear sandals.)  It’s a bit of a spectrum, but here’s my list: [Read more...]

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

What to Wear When You're Working Late | CorporetteWhat 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...]

I Can’t Wear a Suit — But Want to Show Authority

I Can't Wear a Suit But Want to Show Authority -- How? | CorporetteWhat do you wear when you want to show authority without wearing a suit?  We’ve talked about what to wear when a suit doesn’t feel right, but Reader R is looking for authoritative clothes that aren’t intimidating and travel well…

I recently started a new job as in-house counsel. As part of my responsibilities, I will be traveling internationally to conduct audits and give training sessions. The job is great, but I’m not sure what to wear! My de facto would be to wear a suit, but my boss suggested that I should avoid wearing suits, since the appearance of a “suit” tends to make people nervous. Some relevant factors: (1) I’m often the only woman in the room; and (2) I’m also often the youngest person in the room.

Basically, I need pieces that say, “Position of authority, but non-scary” and travel well. Help!

Congrats on the new job, R!  One of my older friends was a lawyer for a TV network in the 80s, and I remember her telling me that she would leave her suit jacket in her office when she had to go talk to the comedy writers or producers — it was less intimidating, less “this is coming from The Man.” So you’re not alone in wanting to thinking about what your clothes say to people.  For my $.02: Put some thought into exactly what response you want from people.  For example: Do you want them to respect that your word is the final word, and they should do what you tell them? (Play up the authority.)  Do you want them to come to you with problems that might not be communicated to the home office otherwise?  (Play up the approachability, but keep some authority.) Do you seek to really understand their problems and make friends in the office? (Turn the authority way down.)  (As for the “looking younger” part of your question, you may want to look at our older post on the difference between acting young and looking young at the office.)

For my $.02, I would go with what you feel most comfortable in, and modify that (taking into account, obviously, the office culture for where you’re going). If you’re comfortable in: [Read more...]

The Rules about Dresses for a “Business Casual” Interviewing Event

The Rules about Dresses for a "Business Casual" Interviewing Event || CorporetteWhat are the rules for dresses in a business casual environment — and how do those vary if you’re interviewing, networking, or just working? Reader H wonders what to wear to a dinner reception/interview situation that has a business casual dress code.

I have a dinner reception to attend the night before a second/final round interview at a consulting firm, at one of their Midwest firms. Other attendants at the dinner will be employees from the firm including staff to partners, and also other candidates. The stipulated dress code is business casual. I have read your other posts on business lunches, and I understand you recommend trousers/pants. However, I almost always wear skirts or dresses. Could you give me some guidance in terms of what I can wear? Specifically, what kind of dresses or skirts would be appropriate? (e.g. sheath dress? pencil skirts?). Should I stick to solids, or are prints acceptable? What about colors? Should I keep it strictly neutral? As for tops, does it need to have collar? Are sleeves required? What about the sleeve length (is showing elbows ok?). Finally, should I wear a jacket, and if so, what type? Suit jacket? Slightly less formal? Is cardigan acceptable? Thanks for your help.

Wow — Reader H has a ton of questions here, so I’m going to bang out some answers, but (as always) I’m curious to hear what the readers say. A few things to note at the outset: obviously look at this dinner reception as an interview (or part of the interviewing process) since you’ll be evaluated in part based on the impression you make at this reception, and obviously the answer is going to differ a bit from region to region. That said, here are some quick and dirty answers from me… (Pictured: Theory – Betty Tailor Dress – was $295 now marked to $176.98 at Nordstrom (tons of sizes left in both indigo and charcoal).) [Read more...]

Beauty Wednesday: Nail Colors For Work

What Nail Colors are Appropriate At Your Office? | CorporetteWe haven’t had a poll on work appropriate nails since 2011 by my count, so here’s a fun question for today:  what nail colors do you consider appropriate (and inappropriate) for your conservative office?  For my $.02, flipping through Elle‘s recent slideshow on the top nail colors for Fall 2013, I see a lot of dark, muted colors that I probably would try in a conservative office — provided that a) the polish is in impeccable condition, and b) I didn’t have any big meetings that day.  That said, dark blues and grays are one thing — I can’t ever see some of the 3D nail art (pictured) or crazy patterns/colors being appropriate for a conservative office.  But I’m curious what you guys think — what colors (beyond pinks and beiges) are appropriate at YOUR office — and when?