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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Are Fitness Trackers and Smartwatches Office-Appropriate?

Are Fitness Trackers and Smart Watches Appropriate for the Office? | CorporetteAre Fitness Trackers and Smart Watches Appropriate for the Office? | CorporetteCan you wear Fitbits, Jawbone Up bands, and Nike Fuelbands to the office? Are there types of wearable tech that you shouldn’t wear to work? Reader C wonders:

I’ve been wondering lately about wearable gadgets and which ones are appropriate for the office, specifically in big law. I’ve recently fallen in love with my Nike Fuelband (in tangerine) for keeping track of my running or walking stats, but I don’t really wear it in the office for fear that it’s too sporty looking. Thoughts? Additionally my boyfriend (also a lawyer) has been considering the Samsung Smartwatch. Is there a category of wearable tech that is more work-appropriate?

Interesting question! I know many of the readers have talked about Fitbits, and we’ve mentioned some of the jewelry you can buy to “jazz up” your Fitbit. We’ve talked before about how watches are still a good thing to wear because they imply that you’re a responsible, time-sensitive person — I would even go so far as to say that a Fitbit is a good thing because it suggests you’re interested in health and, to a certain extent, data and analytics. (The WSJ even recently noted that CEOs were wearing them because it was part of their competitive nature.) So here’s my $.02:

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Where To Start When You Need Style Inspiration

Online Stylists and Inspiration | CorporetteWhere should you start when you need style inspiration? Are online stylists all out of your budget?  Reader M has a great question:

I am a 48 yr. young corporate professional / entrepreneur /contractor looking for professional, age appropriate looks. Can you suggest a website that can guide my “lack of style” sense to better purchases within a reasonable budget, too? I really need a stylist but the internet is my next best option. I tend to like www.marieforleo.com and www.giulianarancic.com clothing but I am a size 16 (working on this part) and 5′ 3′ (wish it could change :) … two big issues… and oh yea, no heels for me. Thanks in advance for any help you can offer. I would love to find the info I seek here.

Great question, M! We’ve talked about some of the best personal style blogs before, as well as personal shoppers, but we’ve never quite done a post on stylists, or where to start for style inspiration.  (M, you may also want to check out our post on how to look professional in flats when that’s all you wear.)  I’m curious to hear what readers say!  A few notes:

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Fun But Professional Patterns and Colors

Fun but Professional Patterns and Colors | CorporetteCan fun colors and patterns ever be professional? Reader S wonders:

The only black piece of clothing I have is one blazer and I don’t have a single white thing. You could find me in a floral skirts with striped tops, long bright dresses, and when I occasionally wear jeans, I always pair them with shirts and blazers. My favorite patterns are stripes and florals, favorite colors are purple, red, orange. Can this ever be professional? I feel very uncomfortable in black and would hate to give up my favorite pieces. The field where I hope to find a job is business causal.

Great question, S! We’ve talked about how to start wearing prints, as well as how to mix prints — but not in a long while (other than this brief mention in our post on how to shop your closet and Play Clothes). So let’s talk about it. First: I don’t think there is anything inherently unprofessional about prints, colors, and patterns — indeed, some of the most adventurous dressers, who mixed prints and patterns in the boldest ways, are some of the male partners I knew at my old law firm.  The easy advice here is that it’s very, very easy to throw on a solid cardigan or blazer that picks up one of the colors in your print, throw it on with a neutral trouser or skirt, and go to work.  But let’s have a bit more fun with it…

Fun but Professional Patterns and Colors | Corporette

Layer multiple patterns and anchor them with a solid piece, either in a neutral (black or white) or a color from one of the prints. (Check out our new Professional Prints board on Pinterest to see the pictures bigger, and click through for the sources.)

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Foot Tattoos and Interviews

How to Cover Your Tattoos for Interviews | CorporetteShould You Cover Your Tattoos for Interviews? | CorporetteShould you cover a tattoo for an interview?  What if it’s in a place that’s hard to cover — should you go the extra mile just for the interview?  Reader A wonders about her foot tattoo:

I am a 2L at a Midwestern law school and going through the interview process for next summer. I would like to build my professional wardrobe, but shoes always stump me. I have a tattoo across the top of my foot; a quote in black ink. I would like to cover it up for interviews and other conservative, professional events, but still look feminine, professional, and seasonal.

The compromise I have come up with is either wearing a pant suit with black leather booties or a skirt suit with black pantyhose and pumps. Either option is too hot for the summer and prevents me from wearing other colors.

Any advice for cute, professional shoes that would cover my ink and allow me to lighten up my wardrobe?

Great question, reader A!  I was just talking with a reporter about looking professional with tattoos, and I’m surprised we haven’t covered them since our interviewing with tattoo sleeves post a few years ago.  In general, I agree with my old advice, which is that you should a) avoid getting visible tattoos in the first place, and b) keep your tattoos covered for interviews, big/first meetings, court appearances, and more.

Here’s the thing, though: a foot tattoo is kind of hard to cover up easily.  Something to keep in mind when interviewing is that a very conservative job may require you to keep a tattoo covered almost all the time — so consider beginning as you mean to go on.  By this I mean: If you’re ok with taking the steps below on all but casual days (after you’ve gotten to know your office, of course), then great.  But if this all sounds like a lot of work and you plan to wear regular pumps or ballet flats 90% of the time, you may want to consider just leaving the tattoo exposed during part of the interview process (such as the second round of interviews), since this will weed out a lot of fit problems with your future office early on.

That said — here are some solutions for covering tattoos that may work for you if you want to wear the most conservative, safest outfit choice for an interview — a skirt suit, nude-for-you pantyhose, and comfortable pumps or flats:

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Gray Hair: An Open Thread

Gray Hair Care: An Open Thread | CorporetteWe’ve talked about gray hair before (as well as aging gracefully in general), but not in a long while, so I thought we’d revisit — ladies, do you dye your hair?  (One friend told me she went blonder to help hide the grays!)  Do you rock the gray — and if so, do you care for it with special products?  I’ve noticed Amazon has a ton of products to brighten gray hair and keep the yellow out, which I’ve been told is important.

For my $.02, I haven’t ever dyed my hair (not counting some experiments as a teenager with “wash out red dye” (it was a thing) and, briefly in college, experimenting with blue hair dye), but I’m starting to wonder whether I should!  I first started seeing gray hair at age 26 (thank you, bar exam!) and it’s definitely growing.  If I had darker hair I would LOVE to rock the salt and pepper look — one of my old editors had hair like that, and I always thought it was so chic and cool.  If I were to go all gray I would equally love to rock the silver hair look — one of the partners I used to work for had a super stylish silver bob.  (I even like the silver streak look, like Stacy London!) But now, where it’s brown hair mixed with about 1-2% gray hairs throughout… I’m less of a fan, and have been trying to make an effort to tweeze about 5 silver strands each night.  (Which apparently is the worst thing to do, whoops!) I suspect I’ll hold off dyeing it until the percentage of gray grows to 5-10%, but that’s me.

(And just in case this is in question: I don’t think there’s anything professional or unprofessional about gray hair — I think it’s totally a matter of personal choice.  In my situation I have noticed that my gray hair tends to be a different consistency than the rest of my hair, which sometimes requires extra attention to smoothing so I don’t get a frizzy, frazzled look — the halo of gray! — but maybe that’s me.)

So let’s hear it ladies — do you have gray hair(s)? How do you feel about them? How do you care (or cover) them? 

Further reading:

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