Wearing a Dress and Blazer — Instead of a Suit

Dresses and blazersIs an outfit composed of a blazer and a dress an acceptable substitute for a suit? Reader B wonders how to mix dresses with blazers for a fairly conservative space (the DA’s office):

I start work at a DA’s Office next month, and I’m trying to round out my work wardrobe. My difficulty is this: I despise pant and skirt suits. (Yes, I recognize they’re a necessary evil and yes, I own several.) I vastly prefer to wear work-appropriate dresses (always with sleeves) with blazers that I can throw on when I need to go to court.

How do I go about matching blazers with dresses? Must they come as a set? Be the same fabric? What about colors and necklines? Basically, I have a closet full of gorgeous work dresses, but I need more blazers if I want them to work at the new job.

Hmmmn. Reader B, you’re definitely going to have to learn the ropes at your office before you buy any more dresses, because in some very conservative offices — with some judges — a dress with a blazer on top is likely not going to cut it in terms of formality. Hopefully this won’t be the case where you are, but I really caution you to play it conservatively for the first month or so and wear the separate pant and skirt suits you own, and the few matching sets (dress + blazer) that you own.

As for how to mix a dress and blazer otherwise for work:

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Online Shopping: Who? Where? Why?

Online shoppingI do a lot of online shopping. Like, a lot. It probably isn’t healthy that my first instinct is to buy something online rather than try to schedule a trip to a store. I got in the habit when I was working such long hours at the law firm that — aside from local lunch-hour trips — it was just easier to buy everything online since I wasn’t available when most stores were open. I’ve kept the habit now that I have small kids, particularly for baby items — we once ran around to six different baby stores looking for a nursing thing we needed when Jack was first born, and later found it was available on Amazon (with the one-day shipping option, too). SO: I shop a lot, online. But it’s interesting to me that almost all of my shopping is done from only a few retailers:

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What to Wear for Informal and Informational Interviews

informational interviews

2017 Update: We still stand by our advice on what to wear for informal and informational interviews, but you may also want to check out The Ultimate Guide to Business Casual for Women.

What’s the best way to dress for informational/informal interviews that may or may not lead to “real” job interviews? Should you play it safe and wear a suit, or is it appropriate to dress a bit on the casual side? Reader L wonders…

I was invited to have “a conversation” with a very powerful woman at a foundation where I would love to work. For the initial conversation, I was advised to wear business casual. I felt my choices were right on — sleek understated black pants, closed-toed shoes with some skin showing, a high-end plum jacket in wool crepe, and some very interesting but not flashy jewelry. My conversational partner wore exactly the same components, but my choices were a couple steps dressier than hers.

The conversation went well, and we will continue our discussions. My question is what to wear to the next meeting. I have a summer suit I would be inclined to wear; even though it’s casual (navy/white linen tweed pants with a matching open jacket), it is more serious than anything I’ve observed at the foundation. But, I’m not sure if this meeting is the time to wear it. What if this meeting is then followed by a formal interview? I will already have worn my best choice for an interview suit.

Congratulations on starting the conversation, Reader L! These casual interviews are always nerve-wracking, whether they’re informational interviews, internal interviews, or even everyone’s favorite, the “not-an-interview interview over coffee.” Previously, we’ve talked about how to dress for a kind of “pre-interview” that might lead to a real one, what to wear for an “informal” interview, and what to wear for a networking lunch, and I think your outfit instincts sound spot on thus far. A few notes though:

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Negotiating a Salary (and Other Benefits)

negotiating salaryLadies, have you ever negotiated your salary or other benefits? Share your tales from the negotiating table with us — we want to hear your wins! This probably won’t be terribly relevant for all of the summer associates out there about to accept job offers, as those are usually lockstep/nonnegotiable offers — but perhaps one of you has a story about someone who actually did negotiate that offer.

Some thoughts out of the gate:

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Great Articles for Working Women

great articles for working womenWhat are your favorite articles for working women? What has stayed with you, or shaped the way you think about your career? I always wish that I read more books, but if we’re being honest it’s mostly articles that stay with me. We round up some relevant ones every week and have had a big discussion here or there, but I don’t think we’ve ever rounded up a good list of some great articles that all working women should read. (We did have a very similar discussion over at CorporetteMoms last week about great articles for working mothers — there is some overlap but not a ton.)

These are the ones that I think about regularly from the past — what has stayed with you guys?

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How to Handle Necessary Personal Calls at Work

How to Deal with Necessary Phone Calls at Work | CorporetteSometimes you simply have to make personal calls at the office — perhaps to ask your doctor a question, call a plumber about a broken hot water heater, or something else along those lines. While you’re at work, how should you deal with personal telephone calls, especially when you’re playing phone tag? Reader J wonders…

Five years ago, you answered a question about personal calls in the office for wedding planning and other activities that could optionally be handled outside of regular work hours. What about calls that just can’t be handled before or after work or on the weekends?

I find it extremely frustrating and somewhat embarrassing to have to manage calls with my doctor’s offices and my bank during business hours, but these are the only times that the businesses in question are open and will take calls. The doctor’s office is a particular frustration. When you call in, the receptionist takes a message for the doctor or nurse, who then calls you back when convenient for them. With no scheduled time to expect the call, it inevitably interrupts work or is missed, leading to phone tag. If I can pick the call up, I cannot always get to a private place, making the call highly uncomfortable and sometimes ineffective. I imagine people have that problem with lawyers too. How to cope?

Interesting question, Reader J, and I’m curious if people think this has changed through the years. In 2010, I remember disagreeing with the letter-writer’s habit of taking long personal calls at the office with her mother for wedding planning (as well as talking to wedding vendors). In years since, we’ve talked about “homing from work” as well as how to handle frequent doctors’ appointments, so I’m curious what readers will say.

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