Dressing Professionally But Comfortably: What to Wear for a Long Flight

Vince Camuto Ponte Knit Ankle PantsWhat should you wear on a long flight with colleagues if you want to be comfortable but still look professional? Reader N wonders…

Could you do a post on comfortable, but professional attire for international or long flights? I have an upcoming business trip where my boss and two colleagues will be on a long flight with me. I want to look presentable but still be comfortable for the long flight. Thanks!

I’m curious to hear what people say here; this reminds me a bit about our discussion about what to wear when you’re out of town and working late all the time. (Here’s a fun question, readers — do the answers change if you’re sitting with your boss/colleagues on the long flight? Every time I’ve traveled with colleagues we were sitting apart, and I was so thankful to freely relax/sleep/read brain candy on the flight.) Some thoughts, in no particular order:

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Clothes for the Curvy Professional

Workwear Brands for the Curvy Professional | CorporetteAre there any workwear brands that cater to the professional curvy woman? Reader V wonders…

I’m not plus size – but I am curvy. As in, I hate most clothing stores as I actually can’t fit one size across my boobs but look matronly the next size up. I live in the UK and have recently discovered Pepperberry as a revelation (extra size options for boobs!), but the stuff does veer on the casual side (and the fabrics aren’t always the best). Any other brands catering for the professional curvy girl or is it just getting tailoring?

Interesting question, V! As someone who’s always been large of chest, we’ve talked a lot about workwear for the curvy woman — from curve-friendly blazers to bespoke dresses to blouses for the busty.  We haven’t done a roundup recently, though, so let’s take a look.  (And Reader V, consider yourself lucky to be in the UK — I’ve always found there to be a ton of great options there!) Pictured: an eShakti dress with tons of customizable options; it starts at $69.95. 

Some great brands and online shops to note:

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A Feminine Approach to Business Casual

Dressing Femininely at Work | CorporetteBusiness casual can be tricky — particularly when you’re transitioning from a conservative office.  But what if the culture at your company isn’t just business casual, but ultra-feminine business casual — and you’re still most comfortable in a gray suit?  When you’re in a new job and feeling pressure to dress a certain way to fit in — even getting critical comments from coworkers — what should you do? Reader E wonders…

I recently relocated and am in the middle of a career change, and I’m really stumped about how to dress for work. I work in a business casual environment in a small, Southern city. Women tend to dress hyper femininely here: today my boss is wearing a pink ruffled tunic over flowy trousers with embellished flats. The job is entry level, but it’s an important step career-wise. I’m all for dressing to fit with office culture. But, really, yikes.

Right now my pencil skirts, sheath dresses, flats, and cardigans are getting a lot of “why are you so dressed up?” and (from the office mean girl) “do you always wear such depressing colors?” I guess these are my questions: how far do I really need to go to fit in with office wardrobe culture? and how can I femme-up my wardrobe without looking like 5’10” wedding cake?

Hmmn.  Well.  It seems like a few things are going on here, some of which we’ve talked about before, such as transitioning a corporate wardrobe to a casual office, looking stylish and professional in a business casual office, as well as surrendering a bit to office culture (but as the song goes, don’t give yourself away). I may also detect a smidgen of . . .  judgment? superiority? in your email, which we’ve also talked about before when you take a job that’s beneath you.  I know all about finding your groove with one set of work clothes, having a rough time transitioning to a new office with a very different culture, and then feeling a bit like you’ve lost yourself in the process.  So I definitely have some thoughts, but I can’t wait to hear what the readers say.

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How to Wear Flats in the Winter

How to Wear Flats in Winter | CorporetteIn cold weather, what are the best ways to wear flats to work? With socks? Tights? Reader E wonders…

Could you recommend some ways to style flats for the winter? In years past I have worn skirts and opaque tights with pumps or booties in cold weather (I don’t live in a particularly cold climate), but earlier this year I decided to give up on heels altogether because of some foot problems I’ve been having. I’m happy with my flats for summer looks, but ballet flats just look so odd with tights to me. I’m hoping for some better style ideas! What flat shoes work best for winter looks? Thanks!

Great question, Reader E — and even though it still feels kind of warm outside, the cold will be upon us in no time. (Winter is coming!) We’ve talked about wearing flats all the time, as well as interviewing in flats, but not in a while. Obviously you can just wear flats where you would have worn pumps, but if you can’t walk in flats with tights (I can’t!), or if you feel like something is off with the silhouette, then we need to dive a bit deeper.  I’m curious to hear what readers think, but here are some of my thoughts:

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Shopping Category Killers

shopping-category-killersHave you ever bought an item so perfect that you just don’t need to shop for anything similar any more?  As in, the whole shopping category is just no longer one of your concerns? Did you KNOW it would be a shopping category killer when you bought it (i.e., the clouds parted, trumpets rang out, etc.) — or was it just something you fell in love with more and more as you had it?

In my own wardrobe, for example, I’ve seen it happen mainly with accessories:

  •  My dangly diamond earrings and right-hand diamond ring:  every time I see something similar I think, nah, if I’m looking for something sparkly and fun, why would I wear anything but my dangly diamond earrings and right-hand diamond ring? (I discussed both in my post on the best splurges I’ve made on products.)
  • A heavy black wool wrap from Henri Bendel:  this one I didn’t even like that much when I bought it, because super lightweight pashminas were very in at the time.  I needed it for something specific, though, and it was on sale for around $150, so I bought it.  I’ve proceeded to bring it to pretty much every wedding, every fall/spring evening out, and on every vacation I’ve taken since. I’ve bought other scarves and wraps in other colors, but my Bendel’s one has stood the test of time.
  • My Cartier watch — I’ll admit, I have bought other watches since the Cartier, but they never get worn.

I suppose there are other items here also where I’ve been so happy with the purchase that, when the item inevitably wears out, I just buy a new version instead of researching the area again.  Spanx Higher Power tights… Fantasie bras (4510 for the win!), Weitzman Poco heels…

Readers, what purchases have been YOUR category killers?  Do you have any regrets on the initial purchase?  Were you surprised it became a category killer for you, or did you buy it hoping it would be the last X you’d ever buy?  (For example — I love my dangly diamond earrings and right-hand diamond ring, but they were both a whim purchase, spurred in part by a sale — if memory serves the earrings were around $1000.  I’ve worn them so much and will continue to do so that I kind of wish I’d splurged a bit more! But the need for “more” isn’t so great that I need to buy new earrings (if that makes sense). On the flip side — were you disappointed in any purchase that you had hoped would be a category killer? 

Psst: in the past we’ve talked about shopping habits like spreadsheets and “crop rotations,” as well as the best places to shop online.

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Are Skirts and Dresses Unprofessional?

Are Skirts and Dresses Unprofessional? | CorporetteAre skirts and dresses unprofessional? What if you have a boss who has a firm opinion, one way or the other? What if you have a boss who forbids YOU from wearing dresses and skirts, when other women in the office can and do? Reader A wonders…

I recently started a new job in a creative industry, and our offices are officially business casual but usually just regular casual. My boss hates that I wear dresses and skirts. She told me that looking feminine in the workplace is bad for careers and she only wants me to wear jeans or khakis if she’s in the office and I can only wear skirts when she travels. I’ve abided by it for a couple months since she was really persistent about it, even though other women in the office wear skirts. I’m confident that my skirts are not inappropriate length wise, they’re standard work skirts from Macy’s and Lane Bryant. Nothing ruffly or lacy either.

Anyway, my manager is leaving the company, but now I feel insecure about my clothing. Is it a bad move to wear skirts and dresses several times per week?

Wow. Honestly, your former manager sounds super annoying — particularly given that other women in the office wear skirts! I can only assume it’s a personal problem with you (something about your style irks her) or she is being sizeist, whether consciously or unconsciously. (The other possibility I thought of after Googling Reader A’s email address: The manager felt threatened professionally by Reader A, who already has an established, successful career — and wanted Reader A to look less managerial.)

Whatever the issue: I’m sorry you had to deal with it, and I’m glad the manager is on her way out. We’ve talked before about when feminine clothes are unprofessional, as well as how to look professional in a business casual environment where the guys are in jeans and hoodies, but not all at once. So let’s discuss.

  • Know your office. You say other women in the office wear skirts — how are yours different, if at all? Are you wearing them with much higher heels that you wear with pants? Are the women who wear them in different roles than you are (for example, much more senior or much more junior/administrative)? Reading office culture — and fitting in — is an important part of your job. You don’t have to give up your entire personal style, but you do have to learn when to play it safe — years ago we had a successful goth lawyer guest post on this very topic; we also recently discussed how clothes are only “empowering” if they actually help you get power. Without seeing your office it’s hard for me to make suggestions, but when I hear “creative business casual” I think of a shirtdress with flat boots, for example, or a sheath dress with a jean jacket and a scarf instead of a cardigan. We’ve talked about how to transition a conservative wardrobe to a casual office before.
  • A feminine style is one thing; being in costume is another. This doesn’t sound like it’s an issue with Reader A, but I’ll mention it briefly. If you tend toward a more girly style — A-line skirts, high heels, full makeup — you may be crossing the line from “dressed up” to “in costume.”  Particularly be wary of more vintage styles for the office.
  • Start slowly. Since you’ve been abiding by your manager’s weird “rules,” the office may perceive this as a style change — so start slowly. Wear one dress a week, not all dresses. See how people react, what comments you get. On the days that you aren’t wearing skirts or dresses, dress up your pants outfits as well — wear a blazer with jeans, or a feminine cardigan with khakis. (Some of our advice on dressing for a promotion may help bridge the gap between your jeans wardrobe and your dress/skirt wardrobe.) If you have a favorite pair of shoes you wear with your skirts or dresses, wear them with your pants and see how it goes.
  • Get an honest second opinion. If after a few times of wearing a dress you still feel uncomfortable, talk to your HR department or a more senior colleague you trust to give you an honest opinion. They know your former manager, your office, and you, so they may be able to give you better insight here.

What are your thoughts, readers? How would you handle this (now, as well as with that manager) if you were in Reader A’s shoes? Do you think dresses and skirts can be unprofessional?  

(Pictured: Hollywood 819, originally uploaded to Flickr by Jessica Hartman Jaeger.)


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