How to Look Stylish and Professional at a Business Casual Office

business casualWhen you’re used to dressing conservatively for work and your new office is much less formal, how do you put outfits together to look casual but still professional and stylish? Some women would react to a dress-code switch like this with a “Score! Jeans and comfy shoes EVERY day,” but others are bigger fans of dressing conservatively in a casual office, like Reader J, who wonders…

I just started a job as an in-house attorney at a tech company. Before this, I worked at a big law firm with a conservative dress code. Now I’m in the dilemma of having a closet full of clothes that are too dressy for my job. I enjoy dressing up, but I don’t want to look too stuffy in this new environment. My boss wears hoodies everyday, and I was told that I’d be teased if I dress up too much. Any suggestions for where to shop for casual outfits that are still cute and classy?

In the past we’ve talked about wearing jeans to work and what to wear for a big meeting at a casual office, as well as the stories linked above.  Now let’s revisit some of that advice and take a look at several examples:

(Pictured: Nordstrom’s very popular open front cardigan by MOD.lusive by Bobeau, $25-$42 in lots of colors and regular and petite sizes.)

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What to Wear to a Big Meeting at a Casual Office

big-meeting-attire-casual-officeWhen you work at a company with a casual dress code, how should you step it up for a board meeting — or for other important meetings — when you want to look professional but don’t know what others will be wearing? Reader A wonders…

I have a fashion question: How does one dress for the board meeting of a “casual dress” company? We are a start-up — this is our first board meeting — so I really don’t have a precedent to call on. During a normal work day, my boss (the CEO, age 45+) and I typically wear jeans and a sweater or T-shirt, as we only have phone/email contact with clients. However, it seems like the board meeting calls for a more professional look. I asked my boss about it, he said “What you’re wearing is fine.” (Faded jeans, a long-sleeved Tshirt and a scarf.) He is not the type of guy I would normally take fashion advice from, and I’m not sure he fully understands the nuance of female dress! Most of the other officers and board members are lawyers, lobbyists, or CPAs. I don’t want to show up in jeans, but I don’t want to be the only one in a suit either. Is there something inbetween? Dress slacks and a cardi? I am age 35+, and a size 14 (XL), so I don’t want anything too clingy or “young”. Suggestions?

We’ve talked about how to do business casual without looking overdressed, a casual-but-professional uniform for womenwhat to wear to a casual office on your first day, shoes to wear with jeans at work, and more — but not this.

Interesting question, A, and I’m curious to hear what readers say. For my $.02, I would avoid the “dress slacks and a cardi” look when everyone else is in jeans because you inevitably end up looking like the mom of the group. So I’m going to offer you two suggestions and suggest you go with the one that feels right — but again, I’m curious to hear what the readers say.

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The Hunt: Washable Pants

machine-washable-pants-for-work-2Sure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

We haven’t talked about washable pants in far too long, so I thought I’d do a round-up today. (If having machine-washable garments is important to you, check out our Washable Wednesday feature over on CorporetteMoms.) As we’ve discussed before, these are my best tips for how to wash your washable pants:

  • Look for stretch if you’re shopping online. If you want to narrow your search to pants that are machine washable, look for ones with stretch in them — they almost always are washable. (But most online descriptions will tell you what the recommended care is.)
  • Get them tailored only after you’ve washed them first. After the first wash there may be a little bit of shrinkage — wait to get them hemmed until then. (But, note that there are a ton of brands that offer shorter inseams for “regular” pants, so you may not need them hemmed.)
  • Wash them in cold water at home — and don’t put them in the dryer. At least, not for very long. I usually like to put my pants in the dryer for about 15 minutes — it gets the wrinkles out, and just a bit of time with the dryer sheet makes them softer. I always wash my pants on cold, and I usually do use Woolite and the delicate cycle for my pants.
  • Hang them upside down to dry. The weight of the waistband will pull the pants taut, effectively smoothing them out. (I almost never iron ‘em!) When you put them on the hanger, do your best to keep the crease the pants came with — if there was no crease, just put the inseams together neatly.
  • “Dry clean” on the label usually means you can wash them (but proceed at your own risk).  The big thing to know here is that “dry clean only” means, well, DRY CLEAN ONLY. If it just says “dry clean,” though, you usually can either dry clean them or wash them. Your mileage may vary here, but: unless I really loved the pair of pants, I would give “dry clean” pants a whirl in the washer, as well — particularly if the pants are made up entirely of natural fibers (one of the benefits to unlined pants).  You may want to do a spot test first.

And, just for kicks, I thought I’d round up some special sizes, as well as a few of the brands and styles that have been around forever — readers, which are your favorites for washable pants?  What are your best tips for caring for them? 

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Sponsored: Gorgeous, Affordable, Quality Shoes from M.Gemi

mgemiThis post is sponsored by M.Gemi, but is written by your local friendly blogger, Kat Griffin.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was super excited for the new luxury shoe brand, M.Gemi — not only do I have a friend on the inside, but their launch last week went swimmingly, with some styles already selling out.  The basic premise: they sought out the most respected, family-owned specialty shoe factories all over Italy.  There, they conceive, design, source, pattern, last, stitch, and finish all of their limited edition shoes.  Then, they sell them directly to you.  Because they cut out the middleman, they can price their shoes much less than other luxury brands, even though they’re using the same quality leathers and materials.  As an added bit of fun, they’ve pledged to come out with new styles each week.  (You can read more about their process in their FAQs.)

Shipping and returns are free, but they do ask that you return shoes within 14 days of receiving them.

(Pictured at top, clockwise: Farfalla pump, Riveli pump, Fiero pump, Felize loafer.) 

Just launched today: the Reggia pump, in glorious blue. I love the slightly squared toe line, the light padding on the insole, and the soft suede.  It’s available in blueberry and raspberry pink for $248.

Reggia styled1

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The Next Step: Jewelry

Jewelry for Work | CorporetteIn our ongoing discussion on The Next Step — i.e., how to upgrade various areas of your life — a reader suggested we discuss how to upgrade your jewelry collection, and how to buy jewelry for work in general. Excellent idea, and I’m curious to hear what people say. (I swear, I intended this to primarily be an open thread — but it turns out I have a lot of favorite designers I just HAD to look up and link to.) Note that I’ve talked about my own jewelry for work, and we’ve had excellent guest posts on how to buy jewelry for other women, as well as a 411 on different jewelry terminology (different metals, pearls). In other posts in this series we’ve talked about upgrading your bag collection, upgrading your shoe collection, how to upgrade your work wardrobe, better personal services for busy women, and how to buy grown up furniture.

For my own $.02, here is how my own jewelry buying has looked through the years:

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Trends and the Conservative Office

trends-for-conservative-officesWhat trends can a younger woman safely wear to work?  You don’t want to dress too “old” — but you also doesn’t want to appear too trendy and/or in styles that are inappropriate for workwear. How do you find a balance so that you look professional without feeling like you’re wearing someone else’s clothes? Reader K wonders…

Would you be interested in doing a feature directed at the youngest of your audience? 23-26yo females? This would be regarding the interface between young/trendy and office appropriate. While a lot of the items TPS features are great-looking, I can also see a way in which it might be premature for a younger demographic to be shopping in those styles. I would like to look dignified, for example, but not necessarily older than I am.

This is a great question. The conservative office is all about the classic, chic look — you will always be well served to have a crisp white blouse, a simple sheath dress, a pair of great pumps, and a well-tailored blazer and matching skirt and pants. That said, there do exist trends within those relatively narrow boundaries, and THOSE are the trends that I think you can experiment with, without too much fear that they make you look inappropriate. So let’s dig in.

First, let’s define the kind of trend we’re NOT talking about for a conservative office:

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