Your Personal Style: What Just Isn’t “You”?

Your personal style is made up of many preferences and habits — your work style vs. your off-the-clock style, how conservative or edgy your wardrobe is, the accessories you choose to complement your look, your opinions on what’s office-friendly and what isn’t, and the styles/colors/trends that you’ve decided you just don’t wear, ever.

Many moons ago, I had a purple t-shirt with a teensy flower stuck on it, right at the base of the jewel neck. I was in college — and wearing primarily black — and one of my new best friends (ah, freshman year) took one look at me in the shirt and said, “WHAT ARE YOU WEARING? YOU DON’T WEAR FLOWERS!” At the time, the comment really irked me — I hated that it was such a blanket statement, and I hated feeling pigeon-holed. Like I was giving up my right to wear flowers simply because I primarily wore something else all the time.

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Professional Image, Outfit “Compliments,” and Confidence at Any Size

Self-Confidence | CorporetteWhen you get an unexpected comment on an outfit, does it make you question bigger things, like your judgment? Do plus-sized women need to be particularly wary of such office outfit comments? We’ve talked about when you can tell interns their outfits are inappropriate, and how to react when your male boss tells you you “dress too well,” but we haven’t really talked about a casual comment from a friendly coworker. A big welcome back to today’s guest poster, my old friend Kathryn Rubino, who’s written previously about the perfect plus-sized blazer and DIY options for gaping blouses. – Kat. (And I’m sure she looked FABULOUS in the blouse she’s talking about.)

“What a great top — I mean, I could never wear it, but it looks great on you!”

I heard those words and my blood ran cold, and I stuck a smile on my face and mumbled my thanks. Was this a genuine compliment or was I the victim of workplace shade?  Disturbing though it may be, most professional women have dealt with this sort of thing (Kat has even written about the back-handed compliment phenomenon before). But it is such a ubiquitous problem that for my guest post I wanted to discuss that moment that has you questioning every fashion decision you’ve ever made.

First, a little background  this is a workplace where jeans are appropriate on more than just Fridays. The general guidance is that you shouldn’t look “sloppy” but there is quite a range that is considered perfectly acceptable office wear.

Second, I felt great in the outfit. You know how some looks just put a little bounce in your step? That was this outfit. Yes, the shirt was a bold pattern (shades of taupe mixed with a bright yellow and pink), but I had it paired with a dark rinse jean, a reliable black stretch blazer, and nude wedges. So there wasn’t a lot of the pattern showing, just enough to make me feel like spring had really sprung after this interminable winter.

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Are Messenger Bags Unprofessional?

messenger bags unprofessionalMessenger bags: unprofessional, or just fine for the office? Reader H wonders:

Hello! I love Corporette, and had a question about messenger bags. I read through some of the blog’s archives re: work bags, and found plenty of negative comments about carrying messenger bags to work. I always wore them in school, and recently impulse-bought a men’s messenger bag on sale (this one to be specific), because it was so gorgeous in the store. Going through the comments made me wonder — would this be appropriate to bring to the office and wear to a meeting? The leather is just such great quality, and I love the simple, understated lines. For the record, very, very new at NYC BigLaw, and I only wear these sorts of bags on one shoulder, not across the body.

Interesting question, Reader H! (Pictured: Bleecker Commuter in Leather, $598 at Coach.) We’ve talked about backpacks for commuting (including walking to work), women’s briefcases, and interview totes, and for Coffee Breaks I’ve often suggested briefcases primarily marketed to men, but I’ve never thought about the messenger bag question — so I’m curious to hear what the readers say.

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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?)
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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:

How to Play “Closet”

How to Shop Your ClosetHow do you “shop your closet”?  It’s frequent advice from stylists and fashion magazines — but what does it really mean?  I’ve noted before that one of my favorite weekend activities has always been to play “Closet,” meaning much the same.  (Pictured: my closet!) Reader R wonders…

I know you have covered wardrobe basics before, but I have a slightly different question in that vein. I am always intrigued when you mention having spent time in the weekends in the past trying different pieces together. I would like to do that, but feel hopeless in that regard–most of which is probably my own lack of fashion sense, but I also suspect that a lot of my wardrobe pieces don’t actually go together. Outside of having lots of boring black pants and white shirts, how would you suggest building a wardrobe that is both interesting and has lots of different combinations? Are there certain fabrics or colors that are more mix-and-matchable across seasons? Or should one stick to say, subdued blazers and pants but interesting tops? Or is it just a matter of having fun and bold accessories? Thank you!

Playing Closet is, without a doubt, one of my favorite games. It’s a perfect activity for this time of year, when you’re bored of everything in your winter closet but not yet ready to shiver in your spring clothes yet (but, perhaps, are still gearing up for doing a seasonal closet shift). Just a warning: you make quite a mess. Clear a few hours here so you can start AND finish the game by putting stuff away. [Read more...]