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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What to Do When Your Office Temperature is Never Right

Office temperature controlIs there a single solution to making an office’s temperature more comfortable if big windows make it too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer? Reader A wonders…

I just started as an associate attorney and it’s my first time with my very own office! It’s so great to have my own four walls. My issue is that one of those walls is actually windows leading to outside, which is great except it makes temperature control a nightmare. Right now, it lets in tons of sun, which makes my office far too hot. I’ve been told by the person who previously occupied my office that in the winter, she froze because of the massive windows. I’m considering looking into an air conditioner for now, but when winter hits, I’ll need a heater. Any idea of a combo unit that I can just switch over when the weather changes? I’d really like to just have one unit, preferably not one that’s massive or noisy.

First, congrats on your own office, Reader A! I’m curious to hear what the readers say. We’ve talked about cold offices and hot offices and how to dress professionally in hot weather and cold weather, but not for dealing with wide temperature discrepancies within a private office like this. Here are my thoughts:

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Petite Office Ergonomics (and: How Does Your Office Handle Ergonomics?)

ergonomics - employer's responsibilityIf you’re petite and your office desk is too tall for you — enough that it’s causing you pain while you work — how much is your employer required to do to make your desk/chair setup more ergonomic? What if you work at a nonprofit? Reader A asks…

I wonder if you could address what my work place is required to do regarding ergonomics? About a year ago I started a new position where I sit at a desk all day. (For the last 5 years I worked remotely meeting clients 90% of the time.) Since then I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting weird pains in my back, wrists, hips, and neck. I’m just about 5’2″ so my desk is too tall for me, my typing and monitor alignment are all wrong. If I raise the chair to the right height, my feet dangle, and resting them on the chair base caused weird hip pain (and a footrest just wasn’t convenient.) I work for a nonprofit, so buying new office supplies isn’t really at the top of our priority list, but can I request one for health purposes? If not, do you have another suggestion? (I live in Ohio if that matters.) Thanks for the help!

Interesting question, Reader A. We haven’t talked about ergonomics in a little while, and I’m curious to hear what readers think about this, both petite and otherwise. What ergonomic hacks have you used for your office? What help have you gotten from your employer in the matter, whether officially (ergonomics consultant, ergonomics budget) or after the fact (e.g., being able to get a $36 footrest reimbursed)?  

First, though, we asked an expert for his take on Reader A’s situation. Paul Krewson, OTR/L, CEAS III — an occupational therapist, ergonomist, and president of Peak Ergonomics — suggested the following:

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The Best Towels

best towelsWhich are the best towels? What factors should matter? Last month we talked about the best sheets for the home — and today we’re looking at the best towels. Reader K wonders…

Hi Kat, again, love your blog. I am curious as to whether you and the readers have found THE BEST towels. I am ready to do this purchase right and want to know if anyone has scoured/tested the best products so that I am not reinventing the wheel. Soft and luxurious while getting the job done. Thanks!

Great question, K — I’m curious to hear what everyone else has found. I just splurged and bought some Missoni towels from Horchow through one of their midday ClickTock sales, and I’m always on the hunt for vibrant towels with saturated colors, which I’ll admit has been my main determinant for which towels I’ve bought. (For some reason white towels have always seemed terribly impractical to me, unless they’re designed for bleach.) I haven’t had the best luck in general with towels — I splurged on some towels (even got ’em personalized) at a fancier department store a few years ago and was bummed to find that, while they were fluffy, they weren’t terribly absorbent. So let’s research this together (alas, the Missoni towels don’t make anyone’s list!)… [Read more…]

Clothes to Wear to Work After Abdominal Surgery

maternity clothes for courtReader L is having abdominal surgery and is at a loss for how to dress for court with a sensitive middle… as I see it this issue could be relevant to other readers with sensitive midsections due to surgical procedures, early pregnancy, C-section scars, etc. What are the best conservative clothes that are loose in the middle for situations like court? She writes:

I’m a prosecutor (ie suits or suit like separates daily) and I’m having abdominal surgery this fall. The doctor says 4-6 weeks recovery but that’s just time off work. That’s not to be able to wear things with actual buttons and set waistbands! Any suggestions on how to create a small but doable court appropriate wardrobe for the recovery after I’m back at work?

Maybe I’m oversimplifying things (and assuming regular shift and empire dresses are out for some reason), but I think I have just the answer for you, Reader L: maternity clothes. For those who don’t know: There are two main kinds of maternity bottoms. The first is the “underbelly” waistband — a soft, stretchy, approximately 3-inch waistband designed to go UNDER the belly. It’s mostly intended for use in early pregnancy when there is no real bump, but your middle may be sensitive. The second is the over-the-belly waistband, which I always preferred just for modesty’s sake. It’s a soft, stretchy waistband that is much taller (maybe 12″?) that’s designed to go all the way from just below the bump to the top of your bra in general, completely covering the belly.

Many women wear these pants for several months after the baby’s born, particularly women who’ve had C-sections and might have a sensitive middle, while many women (particularly those who’ve already had one kiddo) may also wear these pants very early in their pregnancies because their middles are sensitive — i.e., before there’s any real baby bump.

In other words: both kinds of pants can be worn even if you don’t have a bump. Depending on your scarring, stitches, bandages, etc., you may find the over-the-bump pants too itchy or fussy, so you may want to focus on the under-the-bump kind of pants.

We’ve rounded up some maternity workwear basics over at CorporetteMoms, but I’ll also note that you can often get great deals on maternity stuff at eBay. You may also want to ask a mom friend to share an “in search of” post on the local moms’ listserv for you. Most maternity skirts are very stretchy — i.e., comfy but not that appropriate for court — but you can find the odd “suiting” material pencil skirt (like this one, on sale at Isabella Oliver; this one from Japanese Weekend isn’t in a suiting material but is a reader favorite at CorporetteMoms). I’d probably want to be in pants and flats if I were recovering from surgery (no fussing with pantyhose, for one), so I’ve mostly rounded up pants for you: [Read more…]

City Guides for Business Travel: Weather, Makeup, and More

city guides for business tripsWhen you’re preparing for work travel to a different part of the country, how do you decide just what to pack? Reader B has a question about business trips:

I find myself traveling to various cities for work and when I get there finding that I’ve not packed well for the weather or not brought the right makeup and/or hair products for the weather and/or water. Are you aware of any website or blog that discusses practical issues relating to getting ready for work in different cities? I have found articles about what products are popular in various parts of the country to be helpful but would like something more. Thanks.

Wow, what a great question, and I’m curious to see what readers say. Some thoughts:

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