How to Wear a Vest at the Office

suiting-vests-for-womenIf you’re thinking of adding women’s vests to your workwear wardrobe, what’s the best way to wear them at the office? And where can you buy vests for women in the first place? Reader K wonders…

I work at a relatively conservative-dressing law firm, and I’ve seen a few women, at my institution and elsewhere, wearing suiting vests — as in, the middle part of a man’s 3 piece suit — usually over a white button up. I think they look great. What do you think of suiting vests? Do you know where can I find them?

Interesting question — we have occasionally featured suits with matching vests in our Suit of the Week feature, but not often — I’ll admit it’s a hard look to pull off. Personally, I prefer the most classic vested look — a close-fitting, almost shrunken look. In product catalogs a vest is often featured as a shell, with nothing beneath, but I wouldn’t advise that for the office. Instead, layer it on top of a button-front blouse or even a simple t-shirt (I’d suggest going for a scoopneck, jewelneck, or U-neck, not a crew or V) for a sophisticated, almost monochromatic look. Wear the blazer + vest combo with jeans for a dressed-up but casual look, or go for a vest-like look with a suit by layering a sweater the same color as your suit (either a shell, a proper sweater vest, or a regular, sleeved sweater) on top of a blouse.

These things are practically impossible to find right now in stores, but here are a few versions, at top and below: Smythe / Limited / Bop Basics / Rag & Bone

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What to Wear Underneath Unlined Pants

unlined-pantsWhat do you wear under pants and suits that are unlined? Are you for or against the current trend of unlined clothing? Reader K wonders:

I have a question I was hoping you could address. As a slim, athletic woman I love Theory suits because they fit me like a glove. However, I’m peeved that the skirts and pants are unlined — which has already been noted on your site. I’ve found a number of slips that I can wear under the skirts, but I’m having trouble finding something to wear under the pants. All I’ve found is super-tight shapewear that feels uncomfortably tight at the waist, especially when sitting. Do you have any suggestions?

Great question, and I’m curious to hear what readers say. (We’ve already talked about how to reduce static cling in general.) For my $.02, I’m actually in favor of the move toward unlined pants, for a bunch of reasons. First, I often would find that the lining of my suiting clothes would be the first part to break down, sometimes even shredding — it really decreased that confident feeling of “I look put together today.” (Maybe I’m alone here, but if my underpinnings are in poor shape, no matter what else I’m wearing, everything else feels raggedy too!) Plus, the lining was often a cheap polyester — so while the pants or dress were washable, the lining wasn’t. (OR, the lining would need to be laundered way before the rest of the pants needed a wash.) Also, as someone who often needs to get pants hemmed (yay for being between regular and petite sizes), the lining in pants was just another layer to hem.

A few options for you to wear underneath unlined pants:

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The Best Workwear Brands for Hips (Or Other Body Shapes)

brands-for-hipsWhich are the best workwear brands for you if you’ve got hips — and you’re tall?  Which brands are best if you’re curvy and short? Which brands should the apple check out first? How about suiting brands?  Ladies, I got a question from a friend that I am Very Embarrassed to say that I can’t answer:  she’s looking for an interview suit and wanted suggestions for a brand that is “forgiving in the hips and good for tall people.”

Hmmn…  I mean, we’ve talked about which stores do bespoke dresses, shirts and blazers . . . we’ve talked about how work pants should fit — and a LONG time ago we had a conversation about which stores and brands are best for different body types — but it’s been far too long.  (We’ve also done guides to the best brands in general for petite workwear, plus-sized workwear, and tall workwear.) So let’s discuss.  In the comments today, please tell us:

  • Your body type or body issues (if any): e.g., for me I’d say I need something that accommodates a big bust for sure, and where the cut is ok for a short curvy girl. (I’m 5’4.”)
  • Recent brands OF SUITS you’ve tried, and what issues (if any) you noticed:
  • Which brands you think of as YOUR brands in general (for anything other than suits):
  • Which STYLES within brands you like:  If there are repeated styles within the brands (e.g., Theory usually offers the Max pant as well as the Emery pant in suiting fabrics, while Loft has the Julie & Marissa cuts), which specific styles work best for you.

Here’s an easy paragraph to cut and paste to kick off the discussion:

  • My body type or body issues (if any):
  • Recent brands OF SUITS I’ve tried, and notes on fit:
  • Which brands I think of as MY brands in general (for anything other than suits):
  • Which STYLES within brands I like:

Our last real discussion was in 2011 — I found these more recent articles on the web, but I still think the community here will be our own best source. I’ll sort through the answers and try to do a nice roundup (hmmn, maybe a graphic) or something.

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Expanding a Suiting Collection

How to Expand a Suiting Collection | CorporetteHow to Expand a Suiting Collection | CorporetteHow can you expand a suit collection beyond the most basic colors? What is the best non-basic suiting color? Reader J wonders:

For my new job, I need to wear a suit every day, so I’m ready to expand my very basic (black, navy, grey) collection. I am thinking about a camel or khaki color, but I’m not sure if that is too summery/appropriate for fall. Would brown be a better choice to fit more seasons?

Great question, J! I went back through a bunch of Suit of the Week picks and have a few thoughts:

  • Buy suiting separates.  First, if you haven’t already been buying suiting separates, please do start doing so.  You’re going to have SO many more outfits to put together for a suit if you have the pants, the blazer (or two), a sheath dress, and a skirt.  On the more affordable end look to places like Talbots, J.Crew, Boden, and even some Macy’s EDV lines (such as AK Anne Klein, Calvin Klein, etc) for these kinds of suiting separates.
  • Go for a more traditional non-traditional color such as light beige or light gray.  Most people would not consider a camel/khaki or even a light gray suit to be an interview suit, but these are all traditional colors for suits.  I’d also consider a light reddish brown suit (clay? putty? darker than a khaki, lighter than a coffee?) or a light blue suit (also this or this) to be in the range of “normal” suit colors, and I think you’ll find that they’re surprisingly versatile.  I’d also put white suits in this category. Personally I never wore my dark brown suits much, but my “base” for almost everything is black leather (versus brown leather), and I’m a silver instead of a gold — if either of those were different then I might have gotten more wear out of them.
  • Have fun with texture.  Seasonless wool suits are great for versatility, and they’re the classic suit fabric for a conservative office… but you can have a lot of fun with textured suiting too.  Tweed suits (also here), twill suits, crepe suits, ponte knit suits, cotton pique suits (also here), linen suits, and more, all bring in different textures, even if they’re in conservative colors.  Look for conservative suits that have details such as leather suit details, ruffled suit details (also here), or even animal print accents… none of these things are typical on interview suits, but they’re a great way to broaden your wardrobe while staying in conservative colors.
  • Printed suiting separates can also add a lot of versatility but still read as conservative.  Consider a pinstriped suit (also here), a polka-dotted suit (also here), a checked suit, a plaid suit, houndstooth suits, or even a suit with stripes (also here). I’d also put colorblocked suits (also here) in this category.
  • Go for a colorful suit.  Colors are in right now, so if you’re looking for a trendy piece, consider a suit with a fun color.  Purple suits may be a good place to start if you’re comfortable in navy, but dark green suits or dark red suits are also more popular than they have been in previous years. (Cobalt blue suits were everywhere not too long ago, as well!)  You could always go for a fuchsia suit, of course, and really make a statement.  Colorful suits can sometimes age you, so I’d look for inspiration from high-end lines (Hugo Boss, Theory) or, honestly, more youthful stores like Limited, Dorothy Perkins, Boden, and H&M.

Readers, which were the first suits you bought beyond black, navy, and grey basics?  What colors (or patterns) have been the most versatile, and been worth the purchase price? 

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N.B. PLEASE KEEP YOUR COMMENTS ON TOPIC; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course I highly value all comments by my readers, I’m going ask you to please respect some boundaries on substantive posts like this one. Thank you for your understanding!

Busty Blazers

Which are the best blazers if you’re small and busty?  busty blazersReader K wonders:

One of my biggest obstacles when it comes to finding business appropriate clothes are my breasts. I feel like it’s impossible to find a jacket or blouse that won’t either pull or else drown me. Either my jacket is so big that I can’t find my arms (and definitely not my waist) or I can’t close it over the girls. I’m a 32G (by nature, not by choice) and a size two everywhere except my chest. I would like to look both professional and not like a child wearing her mom’s jacket. I work in banking, so jackets are a must. (And yet, I’m young enough that I don’t have the kind of funds to have tailor made clothes.) Am I all alone in the world? Is there anyone out there who makes professional clothes for small women with large breasts?

Interesting.  We’ve talked about whether jackets must button to “fit”, how to dress professionally with curves, where to get blouses for the busty, and even how to find such clothes on a budget — but not how to find blazers that fit an hourglass frame. In our last thread on the best suits for small women, Theory seemed to be the winner, which you may want to try — but I’ve never found the brand to be particularly curve-friendly. (If you’re petite as well as small-statured, here was our more recent thread on the best workwear for petites.) I’m curious to hear what the readers say, but here are some thoughts:

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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: