The Next Step: Shoes

How to Upgrade Your Shoe Collection | CorporetteWe’ve talked about upgrading your work clothes, buying better bags and grown-up furniture — but we haven’t yet talked about different tiers for shoes.  (Of course, we’ve talked in the past about comfortable heels, classic flats, which brands of shoes we love, which brands just don’t work for us, and even about how to find shoes for fussy feet.) I’m mostly grouping these by price, and only including brands that either I or the readers have noted as comfortable shoes — there are obviously a ton of brands that look pretty.  As with the other posts in this Next Step series, this is more of a continuum than a definitive ranking — do you agree with the shoe continuum? Are we missing any major brands?  Without further ado…

Bucket 1: Budget Shoes

(generally under $75, either with their MSRP or a frequently-on-sale price)

Bucket 2: Midlevel Shoes (Trendy)

(mostly known for style, but also reportedly comfortable) [Read more…]

The Next Step: Bags

How to Upgrade Your Handbag Collection | CorporetteHow to Upgrade Your Handbag Collection | CorporetteWhat are the different “levels” for handbags — and how do you upgrade your handbag collection?  I’m curious to hear what readers say.  We’ve already talked about how to upgrade your professional wardrobe, as well as where to buy grown-up furniture… up next in our Next Step series: handbags. I’m pretty solidly in Bucket 3 at the moment.  I had a lot of fun wearing purses a few years ago, striving to wear a new one from my collection every week — but now I tend to reach for the same one whenever I head out, so I can see the sense in having a Bucket 5 bag if that’s the only one you wear. (Here’s what I usually carry in my bag.)  To me, the must-have details in any bag are a good leather or durable canvas (unless it’s a really fun color that I’ve never owned before — and a good sale), interior pockets, feet, a zipper on top — and I always appreciate an attached key fob and fun lining.  Ladies, what are your must-haves?  Which buckets of bags do you currently own — and have you been upgrading them as you move up the career ladder? Which brands am I forgetting in the different buckets? 

Bucket 1: Budget Bags

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The Next Step: Professional Clothes

workwear next stepHow to Upgrade Your Work Wardrobe | CorporetteA lot of people know where to go for inexpensive professional clothes — and then they know the brands that celebrities wear.  But the middle ground can get confusing for people — particularly, how to step up your game when it comes to fashionable workwear.  We talked a few weeks about what the next step is for furniture (based on a commenting thread a while back), and this week I thought we’d talk about the spectrum for professional clothes. (Obviously, some of these brands could fit in multiple buckets — any big disagreements, though?)  Readers, where did you shop when you started your careers — or when you need budget pieces?  What was your next step, and the step after that, and the step after that? When did you notice a big change in quality?  Am I forgetting any brands?  What are your top 3 in each bucket? 

Bucket 1: Budget Fashion

  • Dorothy Perkins
  • Express
  • H&M
  • Loft
  • Modcloth
  • New York & Co.
  • Old Navy
  • Target
  • Zara

Bucket 2: Midlevel Fashion

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Tales from the Wallet: What’s Worth the Splurge (And What Isn’t)

When to Splurge, When to Save | CorporetteSomething that I’ve wanted to do for a while is talk about what’s worth the “splurge” (on a big or small level) versus what’s NOT worth the splurge. For example: I always joke that life is too short for cheap liquor and cheap toilet paper. On the flip side, I rarely notice the difference with a “fine” wine (ahem), and “good” coffee is wasted on me also — Folgers is just fine for my one cup a day. At the grocery store, I often buy store brands (or whatever’s cheapest).

On a day to day level, my cleaning lady (who now comes once a fortnight) is non-negotiable and an absolute essential (we love you Olga!), and I will give up other splurges (such as frequent dinners out) to keep room for her in the budget. (Pictured:  Fossil ‘Key-Per’ Wristlet, was $40, now $29.98.)

On a grander level, I think education is worth the splurge if other factors align; in other words, the more expensive program may be worth it if it offers enhanced networking capabilities / alumni base / career services / etc. In terms of housing, I’ve always prioritized living space over location or amenities (e.g., I’ve never lived in a glitzy apartment building in a super chic area but rather the largest apartment I could get in the safest area near where I wanted to live).

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Offensive Clients: How to Deal

Offensive Clients:  How to Deal When Your Client Suggests Your Bag Is Too Expensive | CorporetteHow do you deal with men at work making derisive comments about the expense of your bags, shoes, and clothes?  I’ve been thinking about this one ever since she sent it in. Reader O wonders…

After a recent exchange, I’ve been thinking about my preferred strategy for handling inappropriate/sexist comments from male colleagues/clients: making a joke that disarms the offender while sending a message about boundaries and respect. What are your thoughts on this strategy? Here’s my recent example:
Greeting the team pre-meeting, client looks at my shoulder and says “remind me when we’re done – I have a great Louis Vuitton story for you!! Don’t let me forget!!” Post-meeting (where per the usual I am the only woman in the room), client remembers & proceeds to tell this great “story” to me. And the team. “I’d never been in the store before and went to find a purse for my wife. I’m looking at this bag and can’t find the price anywhere, I finally find it – $2500! For a purse! I guess we know where those legal fees are going.” Another male team member seems particularly amused.
Me, looking at their wrists: “So, I see that you’re both wearing Rolexes. This is my Rolex.”

Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this since Reader O sent it in, and I can’t quite pin down my thoughts.  We’ve talked about sexist clients and sexist coworkers, but I’m not sure the advice there totally applies here.  Here’s what I know: I’m pissed on Reader O’s behalf.  But I’m also not sure she handled it well, considering this was a client.  More specifically:

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How to Wear Heels (If You’re Used to Flats)

How to Start Wearing Heels | CorporetteHow can you wear heels, if you’re used to flats? Which are the best first heels to buy? How do you make the transition smoothly and effectively? Reader J wonders:

I have always been a flat, practical shoe kind of person with some style. For example, Merrill boots in the winter. But, I am really trying to increase my presence in the world and have read that shoes with more lift indicate more power, money, etc. How do I find higher shoes that won’t kill my feet after all these years of being practical? Advice appreciated!

I’m curious to hear what readers say here. We’ve talked about the best brands for comfortable heels, specific ways to make heels more comfy, and how to look professional in flats (even how to wear flats to court), but I have a few more thoughts on this:

a) Obviously, you don’t have to wear heels to be professional. Personally I think heels look better with most work-appropriate clothes (full-length trousers, pencil skirts, sheath dresses, etc), and I find them more comfortable, on average, than a lot of work-appropriate flats, but you don’t need them to be “professional.”

b) Ask yourself WHY you want to start wearing heels. For Reader J, she’s trying to “increase her presence” — I’m not sure heels are the best way to do that. Heels can make you taller, and I’ve always thought they made my legs look thinner, but I think it would be a long road (because I’m going to suggest you take it slow if you do start wearing heels) before you’d get to the kind of heels that are outfit-defining, personality, statement pieces. For example — Erin Callan was known for her 4″ Louboutins and similar heels — but I’m not sure a 1.5″ heel is really going to “say” that much more than a flat would. It’ll make you taller… it might make your legs look better than flats… but it isn’t going to increase your presence (unless you’re clomping down the hallway in them, in which case I’m not sure that’s a good thing).  Like I mention above, I think heels will enable you to wear more outfits that will in general look sleeker, and those will increase your presence — but I think more credit is going to the sleek wardrobe than the mere fact that you’re wearing heels.

c) If you decide to start wearing heels, start s-l-o-w-l-y.  Don’t try to go from wearing, say, flat boots (where obviously your foot and vamp are fully encased) to 4″ pumps — it isn’t going to end well.  Look for low heelsunder 2 inches! — at first, to get your feet used to some height.  (Both of the Hunt roundups linked have a lot of suggestions for specific low heels that are pretty much perennial styles, like the Stuart Weitzman Poco, also pictured at the top of this post (and on sale — was $298 now $158, available in sizes 4-12). After you master that heel height, consider going higher (I’d stay under 3.5″ for the next round, perhaps aided with platforms (no bigger than 1″; bonus if they’re hidden).  Personally I don’t think anyone needs to go higher than that unless you’re taking pictures or shooting film (I’ve found out the hard way that 3″ heels look fairly frumpy on film!) — for actual life, I think the 4″+ heels are for the true heel lovers out there.

A few other tips:

  • For my $.02, check out the comfortable mall stores first — places like Aerosoles, Easy Spirit, and Macy’s comfort boutique — and avoid other mall shoe stores that specialize in trends/affordability first (sometimes sacrificing comfort and quality).
  • Scratch your soles — if the soles aren’t rubber, make sure you wear them outside enough to get them scratched.  It’ll give you more traction.
  • Look for strappy pumps if you have trouble walking in traditional pumps.
  • Look for chunkier heels (possibly even wedge heels) — the skinnier the heel the harder it is to balance.
  • Go bare.  If you’re still in the breaking-in stage, consider wearing them sockless (no trouser socks, no pantyhose) — for some reason that always helps me.  (Of course, know your office — bare legs are not appropriate everywhere, particularly with skirts.)
  • Know your inserts.  Get to know the various inserts from Dr. Scholl’s and the like available to you.  For example, I have narrow heels so I always have to put in heel inserts.
  • commuting heels Find comfortable commuting shoes — possibly even commuting heels that are lower versions than your regular heels.  (I was obsessed with this picture in a recent Inc. magazine article on executive assistants — Barbara Corcoran switching into identical but lower heels after a talk show!) I always suggest a general six-block rule for heels:  Your heels should be comfortable enough to walk at least six blocks, but I’d be surprised if anyone (at least, anyone with their podiatrist’s blessing) is walking for miles in heels.

Readers, if you’ve worn flats for years and then transitioned to heels, how did you do it?  Readers who started wearing heels when you started your career, how did you start?  What are your best tips for wearing heels?  Readers who love flats, which are your favorite work-appropriate brands and styles — and what do you wear with them?