The Hunt: The Perfect Camisole

2016 Update: Check out our latest discussion on the best camisoles for workwear!

Sure, 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.

For today’s Hunt, I thought I’d search for the perfect camisole.  In my mind, here is what is a perfect camisole: It’s machine washable (and, usually, can be tumbled dry).  It doesn’t roll up around your sides.  For the office, in my mind the best camisole does not look like lingerie — the less lace and mesh, the better.  It’s a solid color.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I hate the nude camisole for most office looks.  And, I think, the best camisole serves the purpose that you want it to serve — for my busty self that usually means raising the neckline of blouses, sweaters, and dresses.  I’ve also used camisoles over the years as a way to put a layer between myself and the sweater so I didn’t have to launder it so often — so high armholes can be helpful.  My perfect camisole doesn’t have a “shelf bra” attached to it. — and for me, it is almost never a shaping camisole.  (I’ve bought a number of brands through the years and have always been disappointed; I’d much rather wear a high-waisted shaper (like this or this) or even a bodysuit if I want to smooth out my midsection/back area.)  And, of course, the perfect camisole is inexpensive — this is one of the few times where I would rather have 5-10 inexpensive camisoles to throw away at the first sign of wear, rather than to “invest” in a single, expensive piece.  Readers, what do you look for in the perfect camisole?  Which brands have you bought in the past; which have you bought recently? [Read more…]

Sheer Blouses: Some Don’ts Should Stay Don’ts

xojaneA reader alerted me today to a post on XO Jane about a fashion editor wearing a sheer top to work, entitled “DO THIS DON’T: WEAR A SHEER SHIRT TO WORK.” Uh, no.

Now, as this editor admits, she’s never worked outside the fashion and beauty world, so maybe our resumes just aren’t lining up — but even for a creative field, this is the kind of look that would just make me think “Wow, that poor girl must not realize her top is totally see-through.  Maybe I should tell her?”  In fact, I disagree with almost every single line in her column.  So I thought I’d give my take on dressing in semi- or totally-sheer looks for the office, compared against her tale…

1.  “Yesterday I knew I wouldn’t have the chance to stop home after work before going out that night, so I wore this completely see-through, sparkly Isabel Marant top with a tuxedo jacket.”  Dear readers, there are these amazing things called “handbags” — sometimes called “purses,” “totes,” “briefcases,” or even just “bags” — into which you can put all sorts of things, including changes of clothes.  Now, with all due respect to this editor, perhaps she had a big work function that night that required her to wear an edgy, sheer top.  But for more conservative fields like law and others, the message you broadcast when you wear eveningwear to work is that your evening is more important than your day — not a good message to send.

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The Bare-Armed Elephant in the Room

Geren Ford phantom striped silk fishtail hem camisole

2015 Update: We still stand by this advice on having bare arms at work, but you may also want to check out our latest discussion on the sleeveless professional look

Can you have bare arms at work? Are shells and tanks acceptable to wear under jackets? As everyone’s layering for fall, this seems appropriate to discuss now, and Reader K brings up this age-old question…

I graduated law school in May, and am currently a federal law clerk. My mother, who is an attorney, my sister, a law student, and I have been debating whether sleeveless tops are appropriate work attire for attorneys. I have an ivory silk blouse/shell/tank that I love, but my mother feels is only appropriate if I never take off my suit jacket.

I wore it to chambers with a black skirt suit last week. Normally I wear my suit jacket throughout the day, but that day it was over 80 degrees in chambers…so naturally, I shed the jacket while working. The judge came to give me something while I had the jacket off and while I would have liked to have the jacket on when interacting with him, I shrugged it off considering his office was uncomfortably warm as well. What do you think of the top? Is it appropriate for work? With or without a jacket or sweater over it?

For the record, I prefer wearing sleeved shirts under jackets — in addition to sidestepping the “bare arms” conundrum, it also makes laundering easier by protecting the underarms of your jackets or sweaters.. But I’m really curious to hear what the readers say, so I thought we’d do some more polls to try to close in on what it might be that has historically made sleeveless tops so offensive. Is it strappiness/amount of bra showing? Is it a “this is underwear” vibe to simple camisoles? (Not on the poll:  lacy camisoles and skin-colored camisoles, both of which I’m against for anything but underwear (as in, kept underneath).  Whether worn by themselves or just as a layer to raise the neckline, they look too much like underwear for the office.)  There are other dimensions here also — looseness?  fabric?  What factors are you considering when you say something is or isn’t acceptable, other than a gut feeling (and the all-important caveat, know your own office!) [Read more…]

Coffee Break – Cami Bra

Reader C wrote in to recommend this item, which seems like it fills a definite niche:

This cami bra is my new best friend. I have it in white and in black. It is perfect under wrap dresses and the like for work. Some people might prefer the “cami” to come up a little higher, but if I need to be that conservative I’m probably wearing a suit anyway. I had been looking for a product like this for years but the ones at Neiman’s were too lacy and crazy expensive. This one is perfect. No more cutting off perfectly good camis so they bottom line won’t show through. Packing for a trip just got easier too. (How many times have I packed the blouse or dress but forgotten the cami?) Incidentally, at least on me, a 34-D, the support and shaping of the bra is very good and the comfort is fine, though I probably could have done with a DD, which is not available.

Wow! The bra apparently features an underwire, so this is a full-on bra (and not, say, a “dickey” like I remember wearing as a teenager — Amazon has a few lace dickies for sale; they may also be called “modesty panels”) I do like this more modern cami bra, though, and can see how it would be welcomed by a lot of women in the summertime. This one is $32 at Target, and is available in white and black. Assets® by Sara Blakely ® Foundations Cami Bra

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Lace Skirts and the Office

Can You Wear Lace to the Office? | CorporetteReader J has a question about lace skirts:

Can you give some advice as to how to wear lace skirts? I bought a black lace skirt, which has a tan lining, a couple of years ago, and have never been able to find anything to pair it with. It hits just below the knee, and is pencil cut. Black blazers don’t look right, and black tops seem to make it all too dark, but the tan lining really makes it impossible to wear another color. I know that the colors lend themselves more to fall or winter, but I could use advice either way. I am guessing that others might have similar problems…

Maybe I’m misunderstanding Reader J’s question, but I think she isn’t asking an important question: are lace skirts appropriate for the office? (In fact, is *any* lace appropriate for the office?)

Let me start by saying that I have owned several lace pieces that I wore to death. I had a great black Ann Taylor lace top a few years ago that was one of my favorite going-out tops with jeans, and a black and white dress with a lace overlay on the bust that I fondly remember wearing to my friend S’s wedding. My wedding dress was chantilly lace.  (Pictured: Josie Natori Dragon Lace Pencil Skirt, available at Saks Fifth Avenue for $295.)

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Coffee Break: Cuddl Duds Climatesmart Temperature-Sensitive Long John Pants

Cuddl Dud long johnsLet this post serve as a general PSA: As spring approaches, winter things should be heading into sale territory (and there are still some crazy sales to be found on last year’s summer things, as well). In general, I’m a big fan of silk long johns — they block the wind like nobody’s business, and help extend your wardrobe into the depths of winter. Bare Necessities has a nice 25% off sale going on Cuddl Duds, made from a moisture-wicking microfiber. They were $28, now $20.99 at Bare Necessities (both white and black still available). Cuddl Duds Climatesmart Temperature-Sensitive Long John Pants Loungewear

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