Some Thoughts on Frump

professional frump2017 Update: We still stand by this advice below, bu you can also check out our more recent discussion on how to avoid professional frump.

We got this reader mail a little while ago, and it seems appropriate in light of the response to this morning’s cardi set (wow, you guys did NOT like that).

Here’s my question: What makes a work outfit frumpy or dowdy? Here’s why: I’m a 41-year old attorney with a private firm. My work wardrobe has evolved from that of a newbie lawyer wearing a skirt suit and hose every day to that of a more seasoned professional in an increasingly casual workplace. My clothing spend has gone more toward the casual/funky/weekend and less toward classic suiting. I’ve recently moved to a larger law firm, and have taken a cold hard look at my professional wardrobe. With the help of a digital camera, I’ve come to realize that some of my old standards now seem downright frumpy. Those pieces will not be going back into my closet. The irony is that I’m earning more income than ever, but am having a difficult time finding professional pieces that I love. It’s like I’m having trouble figuring out how to dress my middle-aged professional self. So I ask: What mistakes do professional women commonly make that might be upping our frump factor?

A few of the answers I know: Failing to tailor clothes to fit our bodies, wearing our skirts too long and our pants too short, choosing “tan” hosiery. I also might need to break my addiction to shopping at discount places like Marshalls or TJ Maxx. At this point in my career, it’s probably time to be prepared to shell out the bucks for higher-end pieces.

Like we said:  totally appropriate for today’s discussion.  Some thoughts, off the cuff:

Wearing clothes that don’t fit — too tight?  too loose?  not well proportioned for your body? — all of these are problematic.

Wearing the wrong accessories. We get it if you don’t like 3-inch heeled stilettos.  However, it’s incredibly difficult to look good in a pencil skirt without wearing these kinds of shoes.  Which means you have two options:  don’t wear pencil skirts, or wear them with stilettos.  Similarly, a lot of women have a “set” jewelry wardrobe — they always wear the same necklace with the same earrings with the same watch with the same ring.  That might be fine for the earrings and the watch, but that one necklace will not always be appropriate with every top.  A simple pendant necklace might look great against the bare skin of a v-neck, a set of pearls might look great against a boatneck — and so forth.  Be careful to reassess every outfit.

Not knowing your body type. For example, the cardi this morning — which has a boxy fit and a shortish waist– might look great on a petite woman who doesn’t have much of a waist, whether because she’s heavyset or because she has a boyish figure.  (That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.)   On a tall woman, it would look horrible; almost juvenile.  It would also look horrible on someone with curves.  Another example:  There are many (maaaany) skirt suits that hit at the knee or just below and have a slight ruffle or kick-pleats at the back of the skirt.  If you happen to have wide calves and/or wear low-heeled (or chunky) shoes, odds are that the ruffle/kick-pleat is making you look frumpy.  (And is it just us, or is it difficult to find a skirt suit in which one’s butt looks good?  We know, not the object of a suit, but still.)

Wearing clothes and accessories that fit you in outdated ways — the single most classic example we can think of here are pants that fit you that are hemmed too short, or worn with heels that are too high for the pants.

Sticking with trends of yesteryear. We just recently realized that a pointy-toed pair of expensive boots that we had bought a few years ago were, well, just too 2003.  They have since gone into the closet, under the theory that we will take them out again when the trend returns, but in reality will completely forget about until we move.  If there is a defining look to a season — a color, a certain puff to the sleeve and/or shoulder pads — be sure to recognize when the season is done, and retire the piece of clothing appropriately.

Frizzy hair. Look, we hate high maintenance beauty things, and we’re certainly not suggesting you dye your hair — but the sad fact (which we’ve been acquainted with since we were 26 (damned bar exam)) is that gray hairs stick up and refuse to lay down.  In fact, we’re not even sure that dying your hair would fix this problem.  Take care to reassess your beauty regime and make sure that your hair is being conditioned properly and that, if necessary, you’ve added hair spray/other hair product to your regime.

Hair that hasn’t been rethought in several years. You see this a lot with anchors on local tv — it’s as if they found one look that worked for them sometime in mid-95, and haven’t updated it in too long.  Find a stylist you can trust who updates your hair accordingly.  It might also help to find a celebrity doppelganger.  (This was, as some of you may have noticed, all the rage on Facebook a week or so ago.)  As that person updates their hairstyle through the years, assess whether that look will work for you.

Bad underwear. If you haven’t bought a new bra in several years… look into it, as those things stretch out over time.  Get thee to a place where they do fittings, and get an appropriately-fitting bra.

All right, readers, do chime in — what are your thoughts on what makes something frumpy? How do you avoid the frump?


  1. Clunky or chunky stick out like a sore thumb. I understand that higher heels are more difficult as one ages; short pointy heels can be comfortable if they are high quality.

    • I couldn’t agree more; I hate clunky shoes/thick heels. And Mary Janes on grown women. And opaque tights in colors other than black unless you have a runway model body. And Dansko clogs. And Crocs. Skirts worn with flats. Eww. Collars ironed so that they splay outward ober jacket lapels.

      And my biggest pet peeve? Matching earring-necklace jewelry sets! So Walmart-looking. Actually anything that matches exactly like shoes/purse, or shoes the same color as a certain color in a multicolored piece . Tacky.

      • Wow, you have issues.

      • Wow, I know. That’s really strong. Go easy on the mere mortals who commit these fashion faux pas, please.

      • Some of us have to wear thick heels and Mary Janes. Doctor’s orders. Please try to remember that you don’t always know why other people make the choices they make.

      • wow, what’s wrong with Dansko clogs? I love, love, love them — and I don’t think I dress all that frumpy. Sometimes, I might be called frumpy, but that’s usually by my standards, and not by somebody else’s

      • Some of us must wear low-heeled shoes with a lot of support, and can’t even get out of a chair and stand up in high heels. Dansko clogs make you feel like you’re floating. Mary Janes help you keep your balance. Skirts with flats can be cool, but with a lot of thought.
        I do share your loathing of matching stuff, though. Hard looking hair is also dated.
        I’m a jewelry artist, with the motto: Anything goes, as long as it works. Fashion is the same, no matter what your age.

  2. Poor quality fabric and construction is the leading frump gremlin. That’s why you may have to up the price band of what you’re buying. The cloth from Italian mills, or Scottish, is often way better than the stuff the bargain outlets offer.

    • Anonymous :

      disagree. cheap doesn’t necessarily look frumpy, but (often) just looks cheap. which is just as bad.

      good quality and construction help, but an well-made suit from the 80-90s will still look outdated.

      • As I’m reading this, I’m thinking double-breasted + shoulder pads, in navy blue with white border on the lapels and cuffs. With big, circular, resin earrings.

      • Amen! There is somone in my office who wears a distinctive burberry suit – I’m sure it cost her a fortune, and it still looks to be in excellent shape, but the styling is SO early 90s that everyone cringes when they see it!

    • A lot of the clothes that TJ Maxx or Marshalls offer are the exact same that you’d find at Nordstrom or the like. Yes, there is also cheap stuff at TJ Maxx, but a discerning shopper can find great things there. If you go to places like Sak’s Off Fifth or Neiman Marcus Last Call, most of the clothing there is as high quality as you’d find in the original store and actually started out there.

      • Anonymous :

        FWIW, my “cheap just looks cheap” comment above wasn’t with respect to things that you end up buying at a low price, but to clothes that are manufactured to be cheap to begin with.

      • I think this is true rarely. I say rarely because I own a great, underline great, black, camel hair Calvin Klein private label coat in a classic cut that I bought at TJ Maxx several years ago. However, the reality is that the vast majority of the clothing that winds up at TJ Maxx and Marshalls is there either because it was not expensive to start with or because it was expensive, but it just didn’t fit the many, many women who tried it on at the first store that stocked it. Items with really great fit that are on trend or timeless sell quickly. Take a good hard look at what you are buying. The vast majority of it is at TJ’s, Marshall’s or an outlet for a reason. Not that you can’t get great deals (love that Calvin Klein coat) but they are there one trip in twenty, not one item in twenty. I still think it is fun to search for the treasure, but I coldly evaluate every piece that I try on and few make the cut.

        • I think the merchandise varies dramatically by store. I know when I’ve gone into TJ Maxx and Marshalls recently, I’ve seen many dresses for $50-70 there that are still full price at Nordstrom or Dillard’s. I really don’t care if something ends up at an outlet because it didn’t fit the many women who tried it on in the regular store. What matters is whether the dress fits me correctly.

          • Agree. The business model for Tj’s isn’t “leftovers” … it’s excess stock that the store didn’t need to begin with, so the same items may be selling at Nordstrom’s and TJ’s at the same time.

            TJ’s also has Runway locations here and there that have designer goods at marked down cost. I’ve found some amazing deals there. It’s hit or miss so I don’t have the time to build a wardrobe around it, but they’re good for the occasional under-the-blazer shell or a good pair of boots now and then.

  3. The reader is on the right track to reconsider where she is shopping – I too was stuck with “discount-store-itis” until I got myself set up with the Personal Shopping service at the best department store in town. I highly recommend these services – in a good, reputable store (i.e. Macy’s, Saks, Nordstrom’s, etc) these should be free to you – the personal shopper gets a commission on what you buy from him or her. Completely changed my outlook – the first thing she told me was I was wearing my clothes too big and got me into the correct size. It’s amazing the difference in how you look and feel when your clothes fit properly. She knows my wardrobe (because now, 5 years on, nearly every single thing in my closet I bought from her) so when she introduces new pieces she clues me in as to how it will work with other items I already own. She introduced me to more premium brands, and it is true that there is a huge difference in the quality of fabric between cheaper and more expensive clothing – maybe it doesn’t seem that way in the store, but after you’ve worn the suit for 3+ years it makes a huge difference. It took a while to get over the initial sticker shock, but when I tallied up what I spent over a year of shopping at discount stores and what I spent with the personal shopper, it was about the same (maybe a little more), but I ended up with fewer, better quality clothes (good for the environment!) that fit me, that worked well together as a WARDROBE and were professional and stylish.

    • I second Deborah’s advice. Your talents evidently lie with the law, not fashion, so let someone who loves fashion help keep you up to date. Look for a personal shopper at a store whose clothes you like (or a salesperson at a smaller store) and let her pull together the suits, underpinnings and accessories to go with them. Once she gets to know your body and your tastes she will be able to help guide you to well-fitting clothes that keep you stylish but not too faddish. As you buy through her she will also let you know when something wonderful is on sale. Plus you’ll save time because she’ll have clothes pulled together for you rather than you having to go look for them.

  4. Ballerina girl :

    Does everyone agree that a pencil skirt has to be work with heels? I have terrible feet and stick to flats most of the time. I hate feeling frumpy but are flats THAT bad?

    • ::shrug:: I’m no fashion plate, but I’ve never seen anything wrong with cute flats and a pencil skirt.

    • I wear a pencil skirt at least 50% of the time and flats every day. So, no, I don’t agree that flats with a pencil skirt = frumpy. I do think it is important that the pencil skirt be well fitted/proportioned and the flats be polished etc. Maybe I’m frumpy and I just don’t know it :)

      • I am wearing flats with a pencil skirt as I type this and eat lunch. =)

        • Honestly I think flats and a pencil skirt are fine — but women who wear a pencil skirt with a chunky low heel? Not good.

          • I agree. I’m tall and can wear flats with pencil skirts fine. In fact, if I wear stilettos or non-kitten heels, I get a lot of “Hey sexpot” type comments at work (from women!). It’s too much because I have such long legs!

            Flats are a way to dial down the sass of a pencil skirt. I do think they shorten MOST people though, and that’s a consideration.

          • Can you post a pic of what style you mean?

          • I concur, C!

          • I’m 5’2″ and I have big calves. I wish I could wear flats with pencil skirts–I can’t. But more power to you if you can. Just take a look at yourself in a full-length mirror before you decide.

          • Well, I can’t wear very high heels myself ‘and’ have trouble finding flats that fit well (narrow feet). So my solution is to wear low wedge heeled dress shoes with round toes. The wedges are narrow-so not clunky- but they provide better support than a regular high heel. I think it still looks pretty fashionable. :)

    • I completely disagree with C on that. It depends on the wearer. I see a lot of women who look good in pencil skirts with flats, wedges or other styles of shoes. I’d only avoid flats if you’re prone to cankles or if the skirt is of a length that makes your legs look stumpy.

      • My two cents: “if the skirt is of a length that makes your legs look stumpy,” you shouldn’t be wearing it at all. Get that thing altered!

    • Here’s what I posted on the first thread where this question was asked:

      Ill-fitting clothes, lack of accessories, dated hairstyles, clothing that was trendy when you first bought it, not wearing any color, wearing too much color, wearing skirt lengths or shoes that make your legs look stumpy.

      I shop exclusively at discount stores and sales and no one would ever call me frumpy. It’s not where you shop, it’s what you buy and how you put pieces together. Perhaps you fall into the trap of buying things because they are on sale, not because you love them. A bargain isn’t a bargain if it’s ill-fitting. I also never buy any professional attire that could be considered trendy, because it will look dated in a few years (or less) and I can’t afford a new professional wardrobe that often. See, e.g., the shoulder-pad suits in my mom’s closet. And I also take photos of every outfit, before I take the tags off usually but also when I put a new outfit together with existing pieces in my closet.

      Instead of starting to shop at expensive stores, I think your money would be better spent consulting a stylist, then continuing to shop at discount stores. You might also check out some of the many outfit blogs out there (I’m sure Corporette readers can recommend some – the ones I read mostly don’t focus on professional attire, but I like

      • Oops, hit post twice!

        • I agree, @Erin M. I always find good stuff at Loehmann’s (Theory, Calvin Klein, Tahari, even Armani). I’ve found Filene’s Basement meh every single time I go in. TJ Maxx is hit-or-miss, but you have better luck finding designer stuff in upscale neighborhoods (Kate Spade totes for $100!!). Off Saks is awesome in some locales, trashy and tacky others. I LOVE the Off Saks at the Great Mall of Milpitas in San Jose, CA. Neiman’s Last Call is mostly ticky-tacky and dishelved with castoffs nobody wants, but maybe I’ve just been unlucky.

          The problems with discounters is it’s all about The Hunt. I can’t shop these places when I have a specific need to fill… I treat it like “found money.” Online sales is my sure money shot, saving me time and money.

          • That’s funny, Filene’s and Loehman’s are flipped where I live. Loehman’s is a mess, and Filene’s always has great stuff.

        • Couldn’t agree more! Why buy a classic Calvin Klein dress at a department store at $150 when you can buy the same dress at a discount store for $50?

    • Anonymous :

      Yes, I think they’re that bad. That said, I wear heels to work and slip into my flats that I keep at my desk. If I have to get up, I just slip on my heels.

    • I think pencil skirts and flats can look super cute, as long as you are Audrey Hepburn thin. I, sadly, am not, so I stick to heals, but often find myself eyeing my flats….

    • I think flats with a skirt or dress can absolutely work. Personally, I think you have to have amazing legs, and you have to understand that it’s a slightly more casual look (take one outfit, pair it with heels or flats, and the heels are more “professional”, typically). It’s definitely about body shape and legs– some people need heels to really pull off skirts, and some don’t. I inherited my mother’s fabulous legs, and flats with a cute jersey dress is my summer go-to outfit. Comfortable, interesting, and professional.

  5. That main fashion changes I see in pants and skirt suits is the shift from boxy/loose fit to very narrow, closely fitting (almost like the 1940s… borderline sex kitten). Also, round, jewel neck suits look dated nowadays, and a jacket/blazer that zips in the front is frump-tastic.

    Hems have also lengthened from the late 90s, but they appear to be getting somewhat shorter lately. Also, high rise pleated pants with a cuff are a big no-no. I still have my Jones New York pant suits that look like zoot suits.

    And yes, C, super-pointy boots in leather are out. I think pointy boots are still fashionable in suede though. I have awesome Christian Dior pointy tall brown leather boots that I *still* wear sometimes, trends be damned! LOL.

    • Boxy suits are the WORST. There’s an attorney I work with who always wears a boxy red skirt suit, with loafers. It looks awful, just awful.

    • I think it’s less about leather vs suede, and more a matter of how pointy the shoe is. Too pointy (with extended point) is bad, somewhat pointy in a way that your big toe is still near the tip of the shoe is fine.

      I just realized that a pair of pumps I have falls into the “too pointy” category — oops :)

    • OMG I had to laugh at “I still have my Jones New York pants suits that look like zoot suits.” Brings back (bad) memories!

      • I am almost crying laughing because I had a couple of the Jones New York “zoot suits” myself. One was the first “serious” suit I ever bought as a working professional and I was so proud of it – it cost me serious bucks at the time and I wore it to just about everything. I held on to that long jacket and those pleated pants way, WAY too long. The jacket took up serious closet space and I should have ditched it about 3 years before I finally did.

  6. What an insightful examination of frump! Shirts can be too short, too, and I think older, taller petites should try on both regular and petite sizes to see where things hit and what looks more flattering and modern.

  7. Elle Woods :

    Pencil skirts + flats is only a disaster if the skirt is long ish and your legs are short. Tall girls, no problem. But I’m 5’3″ and can’t help but feel frumpy if I have flats on with a pencil skirt – an emergency look only to be reserved for the occasional commute!

    • That’s funny because I’m 5’2″ and I love flats. Wear them all. the. time. Though I prefer heels with pencil skirts, I have rocked them with flats on those days I just can’t stand to walk around in heels anymore.

  8. And I’d like to add to the list— bad/outdated makeup. I don’t understand how my older co-workers manage to keep finding foundations that don’t begin to match their skintone. One of my superiors shows up to work on a regular basis with clown cheeks and tri-color eyeshadow. I swear, I just want to come at her with a makeup brush and BLEND out her makeup. Please, get thee to a MAC or Bobbi Brown counter for a makeup consultation.

    • LOL! This is so true.

      • Totally agree with Lynette; so these people actually think they look good? My personal favorite is the darker lipliner around lighter lipstick look. Eww. I hate metallic nail polish too. Okay, if you are at least 5’5″ and slender and have nice narrow feet, a perfectly tailored pencil skirt can go well with a point-toed simple flat. Hard to pull off, though.
        I just thought of another frumpy offender: faille fabric shoes with rubber soles.

        • I don’t think you have to be tall to pull off flats. In fact, I tend to think that the look works better if you’re petite for some reason. I hate that women are expected to wear painful (not uncomfortable, painful) shoes to look professional. I’m not on a date, I’m at work. And some women really can’t wear heels without serious pain/foot issues. My feet will throb for two days if I wear heels all day. Not worth it. I’m 5’3″ and pretty slender–I think that it has to do more with where the skirt hits you than it has to do with your height. It’s all about proportion.

          • I’m so with you, boo. My feet hurt with heels, and I’m very happy being comfortable in a pair of flats or kitten heels all day. I get that the professional look comes with some discomfort, but there’s only so far I’m willing to go and long-term spinal cord damage, shortening of the tendons on the leg, etc. is too far.

    • You know why? Once we’re over 40 we start losing color vision! I’m sure these women don’t know their make up is so obvious. I was probably 37 when a 5 year old told me it looked like I was wearing an orange mask. I only trust the real young ‘uns now at the make up counter for help.

  9. Here’s what I posted on the first thread where this question was asked:

    Ill-fitting clothes, lack of accessories, dated hairstyles, clothing that was trendy when you first bought it, not wearing any color, wearing too much color (especially brightly-colored, ill-fitting suits), wearing skirt lengths or shoes that make your legs look stumpy.

    I shop exclusively at discount stores and sales and no one would ever call me frumpy. It’s not where you shop, it’s what you buy and how you put pieces together. Perhaps you fall into the trap of buying things because they are on sale, not because you love them. A bargain isn’t a bargain if it’s ill-fitting. I also never buy any professional attire that could be considered trendy, because it will look dated in a few years (or less) and I can’t afford a new professional wardrobe that often. See, e.g., the shoulder-pad suits in my mom’s closet. And I also take photos of every outfit, before I take the tags off usually but also when I put a new outfit together with existing pieces in my closet.

    Instead of starting to shop at expensive stores, I think your money would be better spent consulting a stylist, then continuing to shop at discount stores. You might also check out some of the many outfit blogs out there (I’m sure Corporette readers can recommend some – the ones I read mostly don’t focus on professional attire, but I like

    • I totally agree with consulting a stylist.

      I made the decision last year to hire a stylist and it was the best money I’ve ever spent. She taught me which colors look best on me and what types of clothes look best on my body type. (Check out the book “The Science of Sexy” for more on dressing for your body type).

      I also learned that all of my clothes were too big—even the ones that I had tailored—and how to find clothes that actually fit me properly.

      She taught me how to shop at consignment stores or thrift stores without going crazy. Her philosophy was that you must love every piece in your wardrobe. If you don’t love it, it is not a bargain—no matter what the sales price is.

      I now know that every item in my closet looks fantastic on me, so it makes getting dressed much easier. The money I paid to the stylist is something I’ll save from making mistakes many times over. Definitely, definitely hire a stylist. You will not regret it.

  10. The OP could be me. And I’m finding it hard to avoid the frump. I live in a small town and my shopping choices are exactly 4 stores. One Target, one Kohls, a small Talbots, and a small Macy’s. Unfortunately, they all tend not to stock the skirts, dress pants, dresses that I see on line. Good example, last summer I found exactly one pair of black pants at Macy’s. Everything else was shorts and capris. No blouses or button front shirts. Just tons of skimpy tank tops. I went to Talbots to find a dress to wear to a funeral and found nothing but capris, shorts, and t-shirts. There was one skirt and it was too short and casual looking for a funeral.

    Add to it, that it seems like there is no consistent sizing; I can be anywhere from a 6 to a 10 and need to try on everything. On-line shopping doesn’t seem to be much of an option either. I’d have to drive 4 hours to come anywhere close to a Nordstrom, BR, or AT. And since I have a family, 4 hours just to shop is not attractive to me.

    • Do you know your measurements? If you have a general idea of what styles are flattering on you, you should be able to shop online by consulting the size charts.

    • Why isn’t online shopping a solution? Order a bunch of things (for Talbots, Kohls & Macys brands sizing you know your size now), try on, return by mail. The only time you spend is shopping online and trying on at home.

      • It’s probably just my weird thinking, but if I’m spending money on something, I want to know that it’s going to fit. Even for some things that should fit, I hate spending $$ on and then finding out after it’s finally arrived that the neck is too low, or the armholes too tight or whatever.

        • I hear you, but having spent a good deal of time in small-town America, online is the way to go. You can return what doesn’t fit for free at the Talbots/Macy’s, and just keep your eye out for a free shipping code.

          Even now that I live somewhere with lots more stores, when I’m really busy I find the online method to actually be faster.

        • BklynChic :

          You know, they do have returns in online shopping. I honestly don’t have time to go to a store even though I live in the best shopping city in the US. So I order online in all the different sizes that I may need, keep the one that fits and return the rest. That way you can try on the stuff in the privacy of your closet, with the shoes and other pieces you’re going to wear it with.

          • Me too. Although it is frustrating at times – sometimes the online stuff turns out to be unappealing even if it fits, so I order a ton but end up only keeping one or two items. Sometimes when I return the stuff in the store I get dirty looks from the sales people. :)

          • I also have somewhat limited shopping at home, so when I travel to places with great shopping, I like to “pre-shop.” I will go to a Nordstrom, Saks, etc., try on different pieces from a couple designers/ brands whose look I like so I can figure out my sizes in that designer/brand, and then when I get home I can buy stuff online from those brands when it goes on sale or hits the discount websites and I know it will usually fit.

    • I’m kind of in the same boat, although it only takes me 2 hours to get to the closest Nordstrom in Towson, if I don’t want to brave King ‘o’ Prussia 2 hours in another direction. And I thought THAT was bad. Although I did go from 3 w/in 30 mins… My friend and I went suit shopping a couple weekends ago, and we found exactly one (1) suit in the Macy’s near us that was not, ahem, a mother-of-the-bride-in-an-Easter-wedding-suit.

      But if you know how you size for specific stores or lines, then you might be able to eyeball the online shopping a bit better. Is the difference in sizes due to the style of the pants/skirt? Do you know if one brand’s suits always run larger on you? I find that I can eyeball clothes online thinking about this, and then once I get it it’s either fine or I can just tailor it down a bit (I always order up in suits).

    • I use to work at an higher end boutique type of store – a big competitor of Talbots – and here’s a few insider tips that I can offer you.

      1) Make friendly with one of the sales people who’s style you like. I had a number of clients who started working with me because of my personal that translated to them having great style. And because these clients came to me on a semi-regular basis and built a friendly relationship, I would keep a heads up for items I thought they’d like and their size! This worked out particularly well because when a new shipment would come in, I’d pull everything in their sizes and have them come in. (It’s the same as a personal shopper)
      2) Watch the website, print pictures of the items, and then go to the store. Every store’s policy is different, but we could locate items for customers even if we didn’t have it in store. In some cases we just transfered the item into the store, in other cases the customer had to purchase the item, but we would gladly accept returns if it didn’t fit.
      3) Shop at off times. If you go on a Tuesday or Wednesday night you’re going to get better service than Friday or Saturday. I know this can be challenging with schedules, but seriously, you’re far more likely to get help and good service.

      • I second the shopping at off times. You’ll get in and out so much quicker b/c the store will be emptier and neater, salespeople are more likely to be available to help you, and fitting rooms will be almost empty. I always have much quicker and more successful trips if I go during the week rather than Fri, Sat or Sun.

    • I think the best option is to go to the stores of interest in the bigger one time (including better Talbots and Macy’s), try everything on, and note what size and fit you are in each store/line for future reference. Once you know that you wear a size 6 in AT skirts and size 8 BR Jackson Fit pants, you should have no trouble doing online shopping in the future. Even if sizes aren’t consistent among stores, they usually are consistent within one store.

      I find that the measurement method isn’t always helpful if you have figure issues that don’t show up on the measurement charts- e.g. short or long torso, more muscular arms, etc.

    • J. Crew suiting (check the descriptions carefully – some of the styles don’t have lining in the pants) is a good value and they have multiple styles of pants and jackets, plus skirts. Best part is that their customer service reps have measurements for every single item. You can email or call and they will give them to you. I like the wool crepe suit and have the two-button blazer, trousers and skirts in three colors – black, navy, and charcoal. The length on the pants is just great (they also have petite and tall) and the drape is great, even for traveling – very little wrinkling.

      • newassociate :

        the super 120s is the unlined suit collection. the gab, crepe, and stretch are all lined. i think the flannel is too, but that’s too seasonal for my preferences. i have gab and stretch, and am tempted to move into crepe, especially thanks to AC’s comment!

    • Anonymous :

      try getting custom tailored clothes! is pretty highly regarded for quality suiting.

      • To Mew:
        I share your reluctance to order online. I just cant bring myself to order too much that way (it’s depressing enough when I go into a dressing room w/a bunch of clothes that end up not working out; can’t imagine having to then also return that armful via UPS or the mail after). But even if the better shopping options are 4 hours away, I think you should just bite the bullet & take one day a year (or one day twice a a year) & just go update your clothing. It’s effort, but find someone to watch your kids, pick a day with good sales (president’s day is coming up), and just go. It’ll be worth it. And, bonus, you’ll know what sizes you are in certain brands (like BR), and you’ll be able to order things online with much more confidence.

        • Sounds like I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and spend a day shopping around at Macy’s and Talbots. Maybe then I’ll be less relunctant to order on line. Finding time to get to the bigger stores is probably also a must. I must be the only woman on the planet who hates shopping.

          • oh no you’re not. while i love having pretty shoes/clothes/bags, i HATE the process of acquiring said items. i’ve been relying on the generosity of my sister, thus far, to keep me well shod and clothed…

      • Totally right. Just like it can come out the same to use a personal shopper for good buys rather than shop too much in discount places, it can be more efficient to have something custom-made and perfect rather than try to force your body into whatever ready-to-wear’s harebrained idea of the year happens to be available.

    • mew – I think we live in the same town. If so, Ann Taylor LOFT and Chicos have some offerings, but really the internet is your friend. Try to find places where you can get free shipping. Sometimes if you have to return, the $7 is worth it. I try to make big orders from places like J. Crew or Banana Republic to get free shipping, then return what doesn’t look good and can’t be tailored. I also have a great seamstress – if you know what the Waffle Shop is, we live in the same place. Let me know and I’ll pass on her name!

    • Try YOu put in your measurements and they tell you what size to buy. I’m the same, my closet has 6s and 10s and they all fit.. But I do lots of shoppping on line at that place.

      and for the OP, I hired a personal shopper (I am 40) and look way better than before. We shop together at nordstrom rack or outlets. The key for me has been better accessories and doing things that seemed to difficult (changing my purse to match my outfit).
      What I do for shoes is buy 2 pairs for each outfit — heels for when I need to look better and flats for the other half of the day.

  11. To me, frump tends to consist of unnecessary patterns or ruffles in the wrong places. Often there is a mixture of too much jewelery and/or too much makeup; although neither of those alone constitutes frump… it’s when one (or both) is combined with an odd outfit combination. Unnecessary accessories also contribute to frump. Frumpyness is not something that can be pinned down to one thing (clothing, accessory, or otherwise). It is a combination of mismatched pieces and unnecessary pieces.

    I would also suggest that often times someone who’s outfit may not necessarily be frumpy could be labeled as such because the outfit is a little too large. When ‘seasoned’ women wear clothes that are too baggy in an effort to conceal the weight gained while becoming seasoned, it tends to send out the frump-vibe, even when the outfit might actually be really cool.

    This article has some great advice:

    • The whole “you have to die your hair” to avoid looking frumpy thing really bothers me. Grey does not automatically equal frumpy.

      Some of the frumpiest women in my office wear too much makeup and have died hair, and some of the most stylish women have natural, beautiful, grey heair.

      • Just b/c I want to make sure everyone is aware that I know proper word usage – meant to say “dye” not “die” up there (twice)!

      • My mom never dyed her hair and always seems to get compliments on the nice gray color. The reality is that it is much frumpier to dye your hair and have the awful landing strip because you don’t get your roots done than to have a full head of lovely gray hair.

      • You don’t have to dye your hair, but you have to know how to take care of gray hair. Often, that means taking extra steps conditioning & using special shampoos to make the color silver-y and not dingy.

        Most women who have gorgeous gray hair do take those extra steps. So, no, you don’t have to dye your hair. But, yes, your hair has to look nice — however it is that you end up getting there!

        • FWIW, I used to color my hair, but about a year ago I let it grow out to its natural gray. It turned out to be a nice, silvery color, and with conditioners, it’s quite silky & shiny. I can even wear it below shoulder-length. I’ve never before had as many compliments on my hair as I do now.

        • All this stuff about grey hair looking frizzy or yellowed, and especially about bad texture, is all about evaluating hair that’s recently grown out of a long dyeing period. It’s not representative of reality. Real hair, when it turns grey, may get a bit thicker individually, and may change texture some (for the better, in my case) but it does not get dry or scaly or anything reprehensible, that’s from dyeing.
          And if you want it to be a nice color, just make sure you fend off the hairdressers who think you won’t notice when they dye it vaguely pink so you look like a proper old lady. Harumph.

  12. I never thought of frumpy as meaning primarily outdated.

    • Outdated usually means you stopped trying to look good around 1995, so yeah, it correlates with frumpy. The same women who wear boxy suits and loafers to the office wear sweatpants and a stained t-shirt on the weekends.

    • I agree. Especially outdated hair. One of our law librarians is such a nice lady, but she clearly learned how to do her poufy bangs in the 80s and never moved on.

    • There is a difference (if Joan Collins, circa Dynasty, walked in — she would definitely look outdated, but hardly frumpy). But the two often do overlap (so that if your typical size 10 woman wore Joan Collin’s outfits from Dynasty . . esp. with, say, loafers . . . it would be the height of frump).

  13. Accentuate whatever is thin about you. This will help you look more tailored. If it’s your waist, cinch with belts. If it’s your neck, wear your hair up. If it’s your arms, wear sleeveless or close-fitted shirts. Legs, wear shorter skirts. Etc.

  14. North Shore :

    Anyone read “How Not To Look Old,” by Charla Krupp? She says no matchy-matchy, no tan hose, no dark lipstick, etc. Then there’s Nora Ephron’ s “I Feel Bad About My Neck” — same subject matter, but hilarious. Oh, the maintenance required as you age . . .

    My problem is that I’m 5′ 2″, so I need shoes with some height, but my mid-40s feet are a painful disaster in almost any heels. I tend to pick frump over pain.

    • I just don’t get the whole “no tan hose” thing. Assuming tan means nude, what is wrong with that? It seems to be the norm for a court/formal office setting around here. I don’t see why it’s frumpy at all.

      • Delta Sierra :

        B – I don’t get it either. All of a sudden a while ago it seemed like bam! no more tan hose. Well, tough. I’m sure not putting my tender naked feet into anything remotely like a pump. It’s painful, and makes the inside of the shoes filthy with soaked-in salt and dirt. Ever wash out hose after a day’s wearing? All that ick gets left in your shoes if you’re barefoot. I buy good shoes that I expect a lot of wear out, and salt is corrosive. So if people want to think me a frump over sheer hose the same color as my own personal legs, fine.

        Other than that, although it stings sometimes to read, I’m glad to know what others consider to be frumpy. On my own time I’ll wear what I want, of course, but at work, I do want to know what my clothes ares saying about me that I might not be aware of.

        Maybe next week we can do a piece on how not to dress too… whatever the opposite of frump is ;^ )

        • I’m with you. Maybe I’ll never over come the frump factor, because I’m going to continue to wear my sheer hose matching my skin. I’m not putting my bare feet into my pumps.

        • DeltaSierra – I have these stocking-material foot coverings (foot socks?) that have elastic and so cover my toes, go under my foot, and come up again and cover part of my heel. I wear them under pumps and ballet flats, even in summer and they do absorb the gunk you’re talking about. They are not visible – completely covered by the shoes, except if I wear peep-toe.
          They are my skin-color and the material is exactly like stockings. Try them out. I think I bought a set of 3 or 4 pairs and I use them a lot.

          • I also have these and swear by them. There are also peep-toe versions out there, that have a hole cut in the front.

          • That Hat Lady :

            I need something between my closed toe shoes and my feet. Spray chemicals and powder aren’t “something.” They’re cosmetics that wear off. It’s still bare feet in shoes, which is unhygienic, uncultured, painful and unnecessary. Those little foot coverings you’re referring to are PEDs. Sometimes they are white, and sometimes flesh-toned. They’re awful! They always move & slip no matter what you do. They show. If you tuck them in, they pop out. The heels of PEDs slip underneath your feet as you walk. I had 2 brands and ended up throwing them out. They’re useless. For me, I’ll stick to trouser socks (with trousers), athletic socks (with sportswear), or hosiery with my closed to shoes. Thank you very much.

      • Nah, nude and tan aren’t the same. Hose that matches your skin tone so that you can barely tell you’re wearing it is fine. A lot of women buy a color that’s often called “suntan” and it is frump city.

        • Exactly! When you wear hoes that are significantly darker than your skin tone, you’re entering dangerous territory.

    • I love that book! I’m only 30 but I found it very, very useful and have begun implementing some of the suggestions. Charla is big on a nice pink lipstick and I have started using that a sheer pink on my lips that works a lot better than the red/wine colors I used to wear. I don’t know how to feel about the tan hose suggestion. I seriously cannot imagine going to work in the winter with no hose, and black/gray hose doesn’t always work with some outfits.

      • See Erin’s comment above. Suntan & Nude are not the same!

        Also, some of the suggestions in that book are good (e.g., don’t dry clean your jeans, ladies). But Charla looks “old” to me & what’s worse she looks like she is trying way too hard — never attractive!

      • That Hat Lady :

        Charla’s deceased, and so is her advice. Wear red, wine, nude, whatever you want.

    • BklynChic :

      I GET that high shoes may get to be uncomfortable as you age, but come on! There are so many fashionable comfortable brands out there!

      Cole Haan Airsoles are AMAZING!!! And if you’re looking to go cheaper, some of the Aerosoles styles aren’t that bad. You can still have a couple of pairs of nice, high heels that don’t feel like it.

      • Also — where i live (NYC), a lot of older women manage to not look frumpy w/o actually wearing heels. There are lots of ways to be stylish! But as much as I hate to say this, but it’s a lot easier to look stylish without heels, etc., if you stay in shape. This goes for women of ALL ages.
        I know that for me, an extra 10 lbs will instantly take a formerly stylish outfit into frump category if I am not careful. Obviously you can be larger & avoid the frump, but it is much harder (see e.g., comments about flats w/pencil skirts above).

      • That’s actually not true. I am only 30 and have pretty bad bunions (sounds gross but it’s actually just painful) which I got from wearing heels all through my 20s. I can’t even FIT my feet into Cole Haan Airsoles b/c my feet are too wide in the front to fit into them b/c of how swollen they are from the bone deformities that have developed.

        I LOVE heels and am very stylish but it’s just not an option. It bothers me a ton when people assume that I’m just being wussy when I’ve had to schedule surgery for later in the year for both of my feet–with a six week recovery time expected for both. I can only imagine what it’s like for women in their 40s. Good luck with your feet, BklynChic, b/c it can be hit or miss. Hope you’re lucky enough to not have to deal with the physical repercussions from wearing “comfortable” heels all the time. (I mean it!)

        • I am in the same boat as you, boo, though caught it early enough that I am putting off surgery until absolutely necessary (BklnChic et al, it is a progressive problem once it starts – so I will most likely need surgery eventually). I lived in “comfortable” heels throughout my 20s and early 30s and in my mid-30s definitely am paying the price! Stay away from the pointy toes – yes they are flattering, but they were the nail in the coffin for my feet. Go with flats or a 2.5 inch heel max for weekdays. I bring out my 3-4 inchers only for the weekend, to carry me from the cab to a seat.

          Good luck with your surgeries, boo!

      • Even a 1 to 1.5 inch heel can exacerbate bunions, as I’m starting to learn. It isn’t just about comfort – shoes that feel perfectly comfortable to me will cause the bunions to flare up. It’s the heel height and the size of the toe box, not the comfort of the shoe. For a while I was wearing some great Taryn Rose (expensive shoes designed by an orthopedist) heels, and they were comfortable – but over time the bunions started flaring up.

        Don’t assume that anyone in clunky shoes hasn’t tried all those shoes that seem comfortable to those with good feet….

    • Supportive shoes don’t have to be frumpy. Clark’s, Rockport, Naturalizer, Aerosoles (although I can’t recommend Aerosoles for quality) and – my favorite, although it’s pricey – Dansko make work-appropriate, pretty and supportive styles.

    • “How Not To Look Old,” by Charla Krupp is so WASP-y. It totally did not apply to me at all

  15. Is the hate for “tan” hose (fake looking) or for all natural colored hose? I wear natural colored hose often (very shear), especially in the summer. They make my shoes fit better and help numbers skin flaws such as bruises and spider veins.

    I know many people hate hose, but I like them and wouldn’t consider wearing a skirt suit with bare legs. That just seems unprofessional to me. Would people really go to court in a skirt suit without natural colored hose? They seem like a necessary evil to me!

    • I assumed that “tan hose” was code for “hose that is way mismatched with your skin tone.” Sheer hose that match your skin tone are just fine, as far as I know (although I tend not to wear hose at all unless going to court, since I hate the damn things).

      • Yes — tan is tan (and usually makes you legs look a whole different color from your arms) and sheer is sheer (and your legs look approx. the same color).

        Tan is bad, in my opinion. Sheer is fine — and I would say is even necessary if you have skin flaws. I still remember an older woman in court from last summer that wore a skirt suit and had so much in the way of cellulite & veins on display that everyone was literally staring aghast (you dont want to be that distracting).

        I would add that as far as looking dated/frumpy — I would nominate WHITE hose. Ugh — I see so much of that, and I have never seen that look nice on anyone past the age of 10. Grown up women in white hose just look wrong; and at my work place, white hose tends to go hand in hand with overall frump!

        • If it was not clear, the distracting woman I mentioned was NOT wearing any hose.

    • Actually, all this going on and on about hose (or not, and color or not) just means that what is considered cool changes frequently. Just about every year, in fact. But that’s OK, because hose is cheap and disposable, unlike suits. Make a point of reading something every Fall about what’s cool this year. Go out and buy that for the rest of the year. End of story.

  16. Without considering the “unfairness” that women need to be concerned about looking frumpy and men don’t, here are the things that most make me think frump:

    – ill-fitting pants, especially those that are baggy in the crotch/behind area, and as already mentioned, too short
    – chunky heel shoes, pilgrim shoes, loafers, square toed shoes, obvious “comfort” shoes
    – boxy tops and jackets
    – poorly cut, synthentic jackets with higher rises (3+ buttons that start out high)
    – shirts tucked in, if you have any visible midsection flab (the dreaded “pouch”)
    – chico’s/eileen fisher (not that those are appropriate workwear, but are the image that come to mind when I think of frump)
    – basically, anything that makes a woman look short, wide, shapeless, bulgy and/or stumpy (yes, as unfair as that is)

    I think taller people can get away with more, regarding venturing into frump territory. It’s a lot easier to look frumpy as a short person with slightly loose/unfitted clothing.

    • PurpleViolet :

      Men can and do look frumpy. My boss (lawyer) still wears short sleeve shirts with his tie around the office. Oh, and how about the men who wear black sneakers for dress?

    • “Without considering the “unfairness” that women need to be concerned about looking frumpy and men don’t”

      Yep, nothing says “unconcerned about looking frumpy” like Dockers and a checked button-down with striped tie. Except maybe a black suit (worn to work, not a funeral), white socks and brown shoes.

      • I’ve always heard of “frumpy” as a descriptor for women, never used for men. The above descriptions of men would definitely seem unfashionable or “dorky,” but not “frumpy.”

        How many people, men or women, ever think about a man’s body being long- or short-waisted, or whether certain pants or shoes make a man’s legs look long or short, or whether their shirts are unflattering? For women, I think “Frump” is very much tied to body image, which is not the case for men.

        • I seem to recall that Obama joked about himself being frumpy compared to Michelle. I disagree that Men do not feel pressures to appear sharp.

    • I disagree that men don’t have to be concerned about looking frumpy. I see so many slimmer men wearing boxy, American style suits that appear to be 2-3 sizes too big. I remember when I was doing an internship with a federal judge, most of the interns paid attention to what all the attorneys were wearing, not just the female attorneys.

      • Men can be frumpy for the same reasons as women: cheap looking, ill fitting and/or outdated clothes.

  17. BklynChic :

    There are two button-down shirt features that I think scream FRUMP yet all kinds of women insist on wearing them.

    1) 3/4 inch sleeves. I know you’re going to yell at me and tell me how awesome it makes your arms look. But guess what? Get a grown-up shirt and rolls up the sleeves!!!!

    2) Shirts with buttons that don’t button all the way up. Brands like Liz Clairborne are notoriously bad about this. Again, seriously people, you’re professionals. Stop buying shit a middle school principal would wear.

    • I could not agree with you more about the 3/4 sleeves. It just looks like something doesn’t fit right

      • ballerina girl :

        I disagree–I think that 3/4 length sleeves can be very cute if they fit properly. In fact, I think they look more professional than rolling up your sleeves (though I do both, in fact, i do the latter more).

      • I think rolled up sleeves don’t look very professional. They’re fine if you’re warm in your own office, but I cringe when I see them in business meeting settings. Even if you roll the sleeves back down, you end up having the wrinkles left over.

        I live in Florida and 3/4 sleeves make more sense than a full sleeve for most of the year.

        Add me to the group who get really annoyed by the educator comments. Guess what, many (if not most) middle and high school principal work as many hours as attorneys. Many also have advanced degrees bar beyond the undergraduate level and are getting paid far less than attorneys with less education than they have.

        • PurpleViolet :

          My son’s 5th grade teacher makes $72,000 dollars a year. In Florida, beginning teachers with no law school debt are paid the same as beginning prosecutors and public defenders. While educators will never get rich, they also get to have all summer off work.

          • Teacher pay varies by district. Districts in my area of FL really haven’t granted pay raises for years or moved people from one step to another. One of my friends just left teaching last week and had been stuck at $38,000 plus her department head supplement since 2004. So while yes, it’s true that a first-year teacher may make more than a PD/SA, there is much more growth potential for attorneys.

            The idea that teachers do nothing all summer is also a myth. Most of my friends in teaching spent a good half the summer in trainings of some sort.

    • (a) Those things don’t sound frumpy per se as much as your personal pet peeves.

      (b) Can people on this board PLEASE stop dissing educators who, as a general rule, work every bit as hard as, say, lawyers and get paid much less for the privilege.

      • Amen to (b). Amen.

        Get over yourselves!

        • Absolutely, v! My little sister is a high school special-ed math teacher in an inner school who is working on her second Masters degree. She is my hero (and very fashionable).

          • Totally! People often forget that educators have MAs and PhDs, get paid garbage, and have educated all of us to get where we are.

    • lol – no offence…but that’s nuts!! absolutely nuts! … in my opinion of course….

      3/4 inch cleaves on clothing items is frump? wow.. i honestly don’t even understand where you get that? There are millions of 3/4 inclu sleeves on say casual cotton blazers cuff already on…and are 3/4 inch that are classy as anything when paired with right outfit and accessories? what is frump and dated is having a long sleeved button down shirt, unless it’s the see through chiffon style. Like im in shock i think still! Again.. i dont know who said it… but i think frump screams when people don’t know how to play up their best features. Now someone who has wrists/hands the size of a man..and larger arms… ya! they might actually look better in long sleeves (but because of different reasons). I understand you said .. guess what.. buy a shirt and roll it up?……..unless you are 100% in shape and don’t care to roll it up, why not get the same look with an already made shirt to that length WITHOUT all the fabric bunching up? Anyways…. i think frumpy is ill fitting clothes.. mom jeans not fitting the rear…. shirts way too big….. etc etc. I am still so kind of mind blown that frump can equal 3/4 sleeve? lol look up some classy ass outfits with 3/4 blazer style… even other ones…. combined with proper things can look amazing!!!! classy.. yet stylish… nothing to do with being frumpy because you didnt buy the shirt with all the fabric and then roll it up…. i dunno……just difference of opinion…..

  18. operaghost :

    Being overweight automatically makes you look frumpy. Now, I know that not everyone can be built like Megan Fox and I understand that some people are just “bigger”, but there’s a difference between being plus-size and just plain overweight. I’m always amazed when I see women who are packing an extra 60 lbs. at the nail salon wearing Juicy sweatsuits and toting Prada bags – if you really cared about your appearance, you’d stop worrying about your nails and get on a treadmill.

    • Not Megan Fox :

      Hey, being catty automatically makes you look like a b*tch, and I’d rather be frumpy.

      • Snap. But I totally agree.

        I’m a 10-12, which would probably make me fall into the ‘overweight’ category, but I wear clothes that fit, and I think that makes all the difference in the world. I quite frankly would rather invest my time and energy into work and putting good into the world than cutting other people down.

        • I’m a size 10, also, but when I enter into my height-to-weight ratio in any of the calculators, I end up smack in the middle of the “ideal” weight range for my height. It’s a nice reminder that maybe there’s nothing wrong with me, but instead there’s something wrong with a society that demands women to have unrealistic images.

      • Ditto, let’s PLEASE stop perpetuating the stereotype that overweight women are lazy and out of shape and skinny women are athletic. That is just not true. I have plenty of very healthy fit girlfriends who work out regularly and are not thin. I, on the other hand, am stick thin (I have to get size 0 pants taken in) and people always assume I am a vegetarian and work out; waiters always ask me if I want the fat-free dressing on the side, (no, that stuff tastes nasty!) and never ask if I want dessert, assuming I somehow have the self-disipline to refuse it or something. It drives me crazy.

        And what’s wrong with getting manicures and Juciy sweats and Prada bags??? I love all of those things; who doesn’t?

        • Finding well made clothes that fit individual body types and sizes is hard enough without some asshat telling us to get on the treadmill. I’m athletic/average size 8/10, but I’ve got a ruler shape, and it takes time to find clothes that fit my shape well.

          Juicy sweats, Prada bags, and manicures? No, I don’t love these things. But I will hang out in faded jeans and a 1997 Neil Young concert shirt, while eating Ding Dongs and watching Holmes on Homes.

    • One of the most fashionable women I knew was a woman who was probably about 225 pounds. She was very big, but she had such a great sense of style and knew exactly how to dress to look her best. Everyone would give her compliments on her clothes, including the skinny girls.

      • Yeah, one of the women in my choir is short and very overweight — not talking just 20 extra pounds here (that would be me ;) — but I look forward to rehearsal every week to see what she’s wearing, because she just always brings it. Similarly, I’m a grad student at a women’s college, and I notice that many of the heavy undergrad women have outstanding style; they work with their bodies, they aren’t afraid of color and accessories, and they walk with confidence.

        I do think that being overweight makes it harder to find clothes that fit properly, and as noted above bad fit = frump, but it’s not *impossible*.

    • Anonymous :

      I disagree. One of the most stylish and fashionable women I know is actually rather large. No one would EVER call her frumpy. It is true that some women are naturally beautiful (whatever their weight) and could probably show up to work wearing a trash bag and look fantastic, while 99.9% of women won’t fit into that category no matter how hard they try.

      More importantly, your comment is utterly insulting and just plain mean. One of the parts of this blog that I love the most is that people can be honest yet supportive. Your statement was ignorant and obnoxious. I’d rather see a woman carry a few extra pounds than turn into a nasty bitch because she has a headache and emotional issues resulting from her attempt to starve herself into a size 2.

      • Same “Anonymous” person here (9:59). I also wanted to add that who cares whether a woman wears her Juicy sweatpants to get her nails done? It’s her own time and, heck, after a long week or wearing heels and work clothes, I too must confess that I wear my sweats/yoga pants on the weekend. I’m 30, work out and am a size 2, but I do feel just as frumpy in my sweats as anyone else. It is what it is.

        • To piggy-back ‘anonymous’ — something that I love about this blog is that it feels like a group of professional, intelligent women coming together in a ‘community’ find camaraderie, support, and conversation that *perhaps* we do not find else where in our lives. I hope that we keep the tone around here a touch more classy — honest, yet supportive as the poster above stated.

      • operaghost :

        Ignorant and obnoxious? Ha. What I don’t understand is why it’s OK to be fat and unhealthy, and everyone is so up in arms over my comment. Study after study shows that obesity contributes to heart disease, diabetes, poor blood circulation, joint pain, etc. (not to mention the skyrocketing costs of health care connected with treating all of the above) but we just have to ACCEPT that some people are overweight and say that it’s OK. It’s totally not. Yes, I understand that a small percentage of the population has thyroid issues, PCOS, whatever, but there is a much larger percentage that just plain chooses to be unhealthy.

        BTW – I don’t have a headache, nor emotional issues, I’m a size 8, and I have never “starved” myself.

        • “What I don’t understand is why it’s OK to be fat and unhealthy”

          It’s not. But neither is it OK to be thin and unhealthy – and guess what? Fat people who are healthy actually exist! Yes, obesity correlates with various health problems, and that’s because there are a lot of fat people who would be medium-sized if they ate better. But then there are fat people with diets and exercise habits that would make Jane Brody proud.

          Also, it’s a hell of a lot easier to buy a new suit than it is to lose twenty pounds. I’m just saying.

        • I find it hilarious that the argument has changed from “fat=frumpy!” to “umm… fat=unhealthy!!” Frump and disease are completely independent variables.

        • PurpleViolet :

          Having a bad attitude and being negative will kill you, too.

        • I’m so sorry that your life is so awful that you have to take out your frustrations by saying horrible things about people. There are therapists who can help you. You also might try developing more satisfying relationships with people who you can vent to safely, getting a pet, or finding a hobby that you find fulfilling. Anything that will help you manage your unreasonable anger towards people who have not done anything to you personally.

        • Frumpiness and fatness is all in the eye of the beholder. Size 8 isn;t exactly thin.

        • Actually, it’s being a couch potato that’s unhealthy, not being fat. Get over your ignorance. and for instance.
          As to obnoxious, it doesn’t even begin to describe you. I wish all the best to the poor people who actually have to work with this walking specimen of toxic stereotyping… The main consolation I can offer them is that with this kind of superior attitude she’s probably already developing high blood pressure, which is at least twice as bad as obesity :-).

    • Wow, I hope that you don’t work with anyone overweight! It would be really hard for you to not discriminate against them with that kind of attitude. It’s also lucky for you that you’ve never been placed on a medication that resulted in weight gain or had an injury that prevented exercise. If you’re interested in SEEING what counts as “overweight” as currently defined, here’s a good resource.
      You might be surprised to learn that many of the people you think are “normal” are in fact “just plain overweight”!

      I think it is harder to find non-frumpy work clothes in larger sizes, but with some shopping and a tailor it’s not impossible. Wearing the right size is always important, but too loose is a big problem for a lot of plus size women.

    • Wow. You’re suggesting that overweight women don’t deserve to get their nails done? That they shouldn’t be allowed to have Prada bags? What?

      It’s harder to dress well for an overweight person (male or female) because the cloting choices are so terrible (polyester pants with elastic!). But this doesn’t mean that they cannot do so.

    • I am confused about what you are trying to say here? Women should dress in their Sunday best to get their nails done? They should give up on looking good entirely once they reach a certain weight? The reality is that you can’t look at a woman and have any clue why or how she became overweight. Thyroid conditions, PCOS, medications, and a variety of other factors that a person cannot fully control may have contributed to the weight gain.

    • smh over that one, operaghost… :O)

    • Whoa. Plus-size here, and I look better than most thin women I work with. The difference is that I KNOW I have to work at fit and styling to look good. And, like a previous poster said, cattiness is never attractive.

      • I’ll also add that, because I can’t get by on being “pretty,” I also have to be smarter, harder-working, and better at my job than my “hot” colleagues. And THAT is why I can afford a Prada bag, although I’m not into wearing sweatpants in public because I actually do try to not look like a sloppy fat girl.

        • ballerina girl :

          I would never assume that an overweight woman was sloppy or lazy but I also wouldn’t assume “pretty” women got where they are through their looks. It’s simply not true most of the time…unless you’re talking about snagging a rich dude, in which case you’re probably right!

          I think it’s dangerous for women to fall into the trap of stereotyping women like this. Attractive/unattractive has nothing to do with smart/not smart. Traditionally attractive women should not have to deal with their intelligence coming into question and vice versa. Just perpetuating stereotypes that hurt us all.

        • Stereotypes hurt everyone. When I was just out of college working in a male-dominated profession, people just assumed I was some blonde ditz who didn’t know as much as my male counterparts. Hot or not, most of the women had to be smarter, harder working, and better at their jobs than men in order to get noticed and promoted.

          • My apologies to both you. I didn’t mean at all to imply that pretty women didn’t have the chops. However, I do believe I have to work harder to overcome the “lazy fat girl” stereotype. Just as I’m sure a girl with supermodel looks has to work to overcome the “pretty girl” stereotype. My point was more that there is no where for me to hide. I have to be great at my job, because there’s no other reason to keep me around. :)

          • Concur.

    • Anonymous :

      While I completely disagree with the tone of the OP (operaghost), and don’t see how her comment was totally relevant to this thread, I do agree that if someone’s goal is to look more attractive, and they have “X” amount of time per week to spend on this goal, and they are not skinny or average weight, I’d suggest they spend the majority of this “X” amount of time working out or otherwise trying to lower/maintain their weight, rather than *only* (or primarily) focusing on buying trendy clothes or getting their hair/nails done. I’m not saying at all that overweight people are not entitled to dress nicely and have their hair/nails done, I just think that I can sort of see what the OP is saying regarding people prioritizing those over weight-loss when the latter would produce better results IF the goal is “attractiveness” (as it’s generally defined by others). It’s unfortunate but, I think, true, that the thinner someone is, the more attractive / put together / fashionable they will look, or at least they will have an edge up on their overweight sisters — and I think this is consistent with an earlier comment that overweight women do have to try harder to avoid the frump. It’s sad, but this is life, and until we can control how the media / men / others perceive us and get rid of all their biases, then it’s best to just work with it to the extent you can.

      But again — not trying to defend the OP, I think her tone was clearly hurtful and provocative, and belies some underlying discrimination of, or hatred towards, overweight people that is totally unacceptable.

      • You are right, of course, that health should be a big priority. There’s something to be said though for the self-esteem boost of looking the best you can right now. It’s really hard to work on yourself if you don’t like yourself enough to get your hair done, you know? I also can’t look like crap on a stick for a year while I lose weight. So, there has to be a balancing of the priorities, all done in the small amount of free time we all have.

        And, to operaghost, I’m actually extremely healthy. I just had a physical, and I have numbers that would make most of my skinny friends jealous.

    • And how do you know the manicure wasn’t her reward to herself for being on the treadmill for the last hour? Talk about judgey.

  19. Use the wardrobe consultants at Nieman Marcus! It’s free and they will help you find what looks best on you. And they will contact you with new looks, sales, etc. until you get the hang of doing it yourself. I’m sure other stores have this kind of service – I just happen to have used NM.

  20. SummerAssociate :

    I am a law student in my late twenties who has recently discovered her own an alarming tendency toward “frump”! I have found some very helpful ideas on

    It takes time to complete a profile, but then the program gets a sense of your tastes and makes suggestions based on both your size and your personal style – accessories and everything!

  21. As a 2L, I just received a job as a law clerk in a DA office, so I will be trying midemeanor cases over the summer. I need to purchase some suits and would like something that is flattering but doesn’t break the bank. Has anyone had any luck with the personal shoppers at Macys?

    • You can get perfectly nice suits at JC Penney’s for under $100. Don’t spend too much; I’m assuming this is an unpaid internship and that you’re in debt.

    • Do you wear the same size on top and bottom? I think Macy’s sells suits primarily as a set, so if you need different sizes, it’s probably not the most economical choice.

      If you’re near an outlet, Ann Taylor and Banana Republic usually have a few basic suits on sale that should do the trick. AT often has 2-piece suits for $99-120 and three-pieces for $160, but they’re sold as separates so you can pick the size you need for each. I actually got 2 cheap suits at Target (Merona) for one of my unpaid internships. I think I paid no more than $20 for either one and they were not bad quality at all. When I clerked at the local DA’s office, everyone looked put together but no one looked like the broke the bank buying suits.

    • I had an appointment with a personal shopper at Macy’s in NYC a few years ago and it was a good experience. I got two reasonably-priced suits, as well as a top and sweater set that I’d never have picked out on my own but ended up loving. It’s also MUCH better than shopping the floor at Macy’s because you don’t have to wait in line – the personal shopper rings you up at her desk when you’re done trying things on. I haven’t been organized enough to go back, but I recommend it if you have a Macy’s with a good selection.

      • Anonymous :

        Are all personal shopper appointments free? If so, do you feel pressured to buy more than you would have, or buy things you don’t absolutely love? Any advice on which store would be the best option for a first-time personal shopping experience?

    • YES! My Personal Shopper is at Macy’s and she’s amazing, but she’s also the second one I tried. The first tended to work more with the “ladies who lunch” crowd who wear St. Johns all the time, and less a with a younger, professional clientele (the bread and butter of the PS I work with now).

      A few things – be open minded but also KNOW what you like and don’t like and be prepared to say “no” or “not now,” especially at first as he/she is getting to know your needs/wants/style. Tell the shopper what your budget is but be realistic – if you say your budget is to get suited up for $100 they aren’t going to waste their time($500-1000 should be considered an initial investment and get you 1-2 GOOD suits and some underpinnings). If you want to develop a long-term relationship with the PS (highly recommended for all the benefits mentioned above – advanced notice of sales, wardrobing, etc) then you need to be prepared to spend more at first (and if you really like him/her, recommend friends and make sure the PS knows you provided the recommendation). Think of it as an investment. I am still wearing all the suits I first purchased with my PS 5+ years ago because they are timeless and excellent quality, and she has updated me over time with new underpinnings, etc. After the initial first year sticker shock of buying basically a new wardrobe (4-5 suits that first year with some underpinnings – I spent about $4000 that year), I’ve been able to go to see her once/twice a year for maybe a new suit (but only if it was really great quality and unique – she would call me if one came in that was “me”), and some new underpinnings/accessories. In the end I have an actual WARDROBE that works together, not just a mishmash of pieces. And BONUS, I don’t have to shop for myself (to be good at it takes a lot of time, which I don’t have) – she knows me and my wardrobe so well I can even buy things sight unseen from her.

      Think about it – these are people whose job it is to know fit and style. It’s well worth it if you find the right PS – they can and should stay with you through your whole career! Good luck!

  22. To avoid frumpy: style, quality, proportion, and fit.

  23. I find operaghost’s comment not only catty, but incorrect. I am packing around a lot of extra weight and do not look frumpy, in spite of the prevalent frumpiness in the plus size section. Furthermore a heavier lady who works in my building is one of the most well dressed women that I know. She is in her mid thirties, wears about a size 24, and keeps herself up. She always wears fashionable clothes that flatter her curves and coloring. Her hair is always styled and she never has visible roots. Her makeup is always perfect and adapted to newer trends. She has a really fun personality that is reflected by her style and office decor. I have heard many women, including thin attractive women, talk about this woman’s style and good looks.

    On another note, I have a soft spot for geeky men. I find their “frumpy” style endearing.

    • I love the geeky guys too!

      • Liz (Europe) :

        As do I. Where else can one find a smart, sweet guy who is not so full of himself as think it entitles him to (fill in gap)?

        • Me, too. I’ve been married to a scientist-geek for more than 25 years, and he’s as sweet today as he was when we got married.

      • Hooray for geeks! My husband couldn’t get a date to save his life in high school – he’s the most amazing husband and father, and “grew into” his looks to boot. Too many women overlook nerdy/geeky guys who are much better husband material than “polished,” athletic guys.

  24. Liz (Europe) :

    My personal pet peeve is stretched out knees on pants that people try to iron out. If the knees are stretched out, the pants have outlived their lifespan I’m afraid.

  25. I would also like to disagree with the comment that overweight = frumpy. In my office, I actually find the thinnest women to look the frumpiest. Something about the lack of shape in their body combined with very plain clothes (think basic solids from LL Bean, Land’s End, etc) comes across as the frumpiest to me, where as basic solids one someone a bit bigger wouldn’t look quite as bad, IMO.

  26. Frumpy mainly comes from clothes that don’t fit well, aren’t made well, or looked obviously dated (not retro, just dated).

    Get clothes that fit and flatter your body, in a current or timeless style, and you’ll be able to avoid looking frumpy.

    Also, make sure hair and makeup and shoes are also flattering on your features and work for you.

  27. I don’t think anyone mentioned ill-fitting bra & panties! Also, dated glasses. If you haven’t bought a new pair of specs in 5-7 years; time to refresh your look and invest in a new pair.

    Best to you,

  28. Anne Vohl :

    Filene’s Basement has totally changed – under new ownership. Try it again – you will like it. Flats can be fine – but sometimes they cost more than heels to get something that really looks right.

    In my office building, there is a frump – pretty, nice, but a frump. I study her appearance to learn what to avoid: suits with too many dressmaker details, harsh, bold colors, striking costume jewelry, huge wardrobe of old, old clothes, visble evidence of control undergarments (seen through seat of pants).

  29. You have to up the funk factor to avoid looking like a frump. I am a judge and am always on the lookout for an unusual jacket I can pair with basic black or navy under it. I snagged a top from Anthropology that is a sweater/jacket with tons of buttons all over the front, I always gets tons of compliments and no one else wears something like it. I fell in love with a clothing line called CoVelo and every year buy 3-4 of their jackets. Fun, funky but not too weird to wear to court and not a basic suit uniform look.

    • HAW – my hats off to you! All of the female judges I know wear suits every single day to chambers. It’s great to see that you’re mixing it up.

  30. I haven’t seen eyewear mentioned, but it’s also important if you wear glasses to update your eyewear every couple of years. Also (personal opinion here) I think the “rimless” glasses tend to look frumpy too.

    • newassociate :

      i just got new glasses from kliik, a brand i came across in a boutique eyewear store. they have tons of great, professional looking frames with little hints of interest, like subtly interesting shapes or judicious use of great colors. as an added bonus, there’s a nice selection of frames sized for those with smaller heads, which some of the european designer brands (chanel, fendi, i’m looking at you) don’t offer.

      these are my new glasses, in the (very dark) purple-(dark)pink:

      • I just got a pair of kliik frames as well, which are great. I have horrible vision, so I need glasses with some interest to make up for the fact that my eyes look absolutely microscopic thanks to the lenses. I think rimless isn’t a particularly flattering style for me since I just end up looking like I have freakishly small eyes.

        @Anonymous- these days it seems like the rim on top, rimless on the bottom is still popular, but full rimless is not really in.

    • Anonymous :

      Really? I thought rimless was trendy. Or am I a couple years behind and they are no longer in style?

      • They’re kinda Sarah Palin, don’tcha know?

        I’m kidding, don’t want to start a political flame war here. I don’t think rimless glasses are per se frumpy. I think glasses should at least correlate with your personal style, in addition to being a size/shape/color that suit your face. To me, it looks deeply silly when the preppy-fashion-plate-designer-everything women at school wear the big, black plastic framed “nerd” glasses because that’s what is “in” right now.

  31. This has been interesting–and enlightening. My, there seem to be many many ways to enter into frump territory!

    Is there a general consensus that shirt collar outside the suit jacket is bad? Some of my button-downs are constructed in a way that this works well, but others are not. So I have done both, depending on what shirt and jacket I’m wearing. Never thought the “out” collar looked frumpy or bad. But, I’ve never been much for fashion mandates, so what do I know!

    • I’d say it depends. I’d say unless you have a jacket and shirt with complementary collars, it’s better to keep the shirt collar in. When the shirt collar is pointier or wider than the jacket, it really looks frumpy and outdated to me. From a practical standpoint, I think it’s easier to keep the collar in.

    • Anonymous :

      there was a whole post and poll about this a while back:

      no consensus.

      • Thank you for the responses. Anonymous, I missed that post; that was helpful. Glad to see there’s no consensus. But, given the hot debate on this topic, am considering pestering the firm’s marketing people about getting a do-over on my “out collar” website photo ;)

    • Anonymous :

      I also think that it depends; there is some frump potential here, but for some women (like, I think, myself) who are built more masculine-like, wearing the collar inside just seems to accentuate that and make me look like I’m trying to wear a man-suit. But that’s just my personal opinion, and when evaluating someone else’s collar out for frumpiness (which is, really, not something I ever do.. usually don’t even notice) the decision will really turn on the rest of the outfit and whether she looks like she is generally up-to-date style-wise with the rest of her look.

  32. Frumpy = long and/or gathered skirts, bangs AND glasses (one or the other is fine), hair that’s naturally curly/wavy that’s blown out straight (unless it is very healthy & shiny looking, ie Jennifer Aniston) or chemically straightened (ie, african-american women look so much younger with natural hair), hair in a long bob or in a short-but-old-ladyish style (ie, permed and fluffy), hair that has obviously been dyed (ie, skunk stripes), shirts tucked in, and overly big/gaudy jewelry. Also, I’ve fluctuated sizes post-baby, and I look sooooo frumpy when I wear clothes a size too big (so strange how they looked so cute when they fit!).

  33. Wow … lots of activity here! Love it. Sorry I missed the last sentence of your post re: undergarments. I applaud the lawyer who wrote in … Self-awareness leads to true style. The better you know yourself, the clearer your choices. She is on that journey. If she still feels stuck, she should set up a FREE appt. at Nordstrom’s w/ a personal shopper/stylist.

  34. I see that several folks have recommended personal shoppers. I tried one from Lord & Taylor and she was a disaster – she put me in a lot of “frumpy” clothes despite the fact that I was in my 20s at the time. I ended up buying a few things because I felt guilty going away with nothing (which is dumb) but then I ended up returning everything a week later.

    My sister, on the other hand, went to Macys and had a fantastic experience. The shopper ended up having a very similar body shape to my sister and knew exactly how to make my sister look her best.

    I notice that when I go to Nordstrom, several of the staff essentially act like my personal shopper and bring me clothes that I would like even when I have not asked for an appointment. The suggestions have been hit or miss, but I appreciate the individual attention. I have also noticed that the shoppers at Nordstrom are NOT pushy at all and will honestly tell you when something doesn’t look right.

    The other advantage of a shopper is that she can suggest clothing for you that you may not otherwise even consider trying on, and she can also give you tips on what styles work best for your body shape. It helps to have an objective person look at your body and give you suggestions on how to enhance it.

    I would ask your friends who have personal shoppers and see if they can recommend a specific person. Good luck!!

    • I agree about Nordstrom. I went in at the beginning of my summer job and said “I need to wear suits everyday, Help!” This told the clerk that a) I was looking to buy and b) I was willing to spend money. That’s a big motivator and Nordsrom’s clerks make commission. She set me up, and then I gave her my number and she called me when things I liked but didn’t buy went on sale or when new things she thought I’d like came in. When they didn’t have my size in the jacket I needed she called around and had it brought to her store, and she rushed my alterations. It wasn’t “personal shopping” but it was definitely personal service.

      • After working as a private consultant and career coach for many years, I am now a Personal Stylist with Nordstrom in Metro DC (The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City) and I LOVE working with with new and established professionals who want a fresh, modern look. The service is free and you’re never obligated to buy. Working with a Personal Stylist is especially good for (a) women who don’t like to shop; (b) women who do the “drive by” shopping at discount stores – buying deeply discounted items that never seem to work with the rest of their wardrobe – a waste of time and money; and (c) women who want to leave their comfort zones but don’t know where to start.

        If you’re in the local DC area, let me work my magic by making an appointment with me. I’ll even buy you a latte if you mention this post! Call the Pentagon City store and ask for Gretchen at extension 1455. Happy New Year!

  35. When I was a young lawyer I paid attention to the women lawyers with more experience than I and emulated the styles I found to my taste and looked good on my body. Note that there was no one person who I copied exactly, just bits and pieces here and there. This eventually morphed into developing my own style. The one valuable lesson I learned is that quality clothing costs more but lasts a WHOLE lot longer and ends up being cheaper in the long run.

  36. I’m changing this topic. I’m 5’2″, 125 lbs, 41 years old, and have a colostomy. I have not found anything, other than “buy maternity”, that would be helpful. I dress like a frump out of necessity. Advice?

    • Anonymous :

      Not sure I understand the problem — is it that the colostomy causes excess weight around the midsection and you’re trying to figure out how to hide it or work with it? If so then the same advice that people give to those carrying a baby should work; I think there are particular styles that hide this pooch more than others, but offhand I don’t have specific suggestions, maybe someone else can help out.

      • Not excess weight-simply a large bulge on one side of my abdomen. Not quite a “pooch”, not even close to carrying a child. I’ve been focused on cool shoes and longer jackets, but as I said before, I’m no giant, and the longer the jacket, the more I look like I’m playing dress-up in my mother’s clothes. Thanks anyway to those who responded.

    • I don’t really know what dressing with a colostomy bag entails, but my suggestions are as follows:

      -I think there’s lots of chic maternity stuff out there that doesn’t scream “maternity” and would be suitable for a more casual office. Why not give it a try?
      -Other than maternity clothes, look for empire-waisted tops and dresses. That should give you room in the midsection, but be more fitted up top and through the sleeves to avoid the baggy frump factor?
      -Wear sharp jackets (open, if necessary), great shoes, and killer accessories, to draw the focus away from your middle.

      Hope that helps!

      • PurpleViolet :

        I have no advice. Just wanted to say more power to you, Dottie. A good reminder not to judge other women for what they are wearing. Whether the problem is bunions, thinning hair, blotchy skin, cankles, belly fat, or serious medical issues, we all try to look our best.

        • That was sweet. Thank you.

          • Purple Violet is totally right :-).

            Now I don’t have a colostomy, but for years I had very large fibroids, so I think I’ve had similar issues, apart from being more symmetrical :-). I basically ended up with modified-maternity. First, never tuck anything in, ever! Which to me, tall but with very short legs, basically means fairly cropped tops, like below the hip rather than below the butt. Jackets can be that length too, as more length doesn’t really disguise rotundity. Then I’ve also gone to and still practice all-elastic-waists pants. Between the fibroids and the post-op feelings, I could never stand any tightness, in addition I’ve kept a shape that just looks weird and functions badly with the low-slung waist fashionable for much of my adult life. The trick? Good fabric. I sew, so I can make myself waist-high elastic-waist pants in very sharp wool gabardine, and read more Katherine Hepburn (one can dream :-)) than early Roseanne Barr. It also helps that I can make a smaller size, and just add to the belly, rather than wearing the potato bags that my largest point would otherwise warrant (read the other articles on this site on the travails of large-busted women and dress shirts for similar problems). That said getting inspiration from the cool maternity wear of the moment does point to which styles you can wear comfortably, and which will look good too. Empire waists are getting a bit dated, but they were great while they lasted, for instance.

            I’d recommend a good personal shopper, if you’re in a large city. Or better yet a good custom dressmaker, at least one as a complement. The cost will probably come out about the same. And you don’t need that much variety, just to update something in style every year or so. You’ll be much happier with clothes that fit your special needs comfortably, not to mention you’ll also feel better physically.

  37. – When I see sleeves, pant legs, and skirts that are too long for the wearer and should have been shortened. As a short plus-size person, if I didn’t get things altered, my entire wardrobe would be from Talbots, which has the only comprehensive plus-size petite line appropriate for work I’ve really found. I budget for alterations, which I get done (relatively) inexpensively from my dry cleaner. Pant legs dragging on the ground is a big frump offense I see way more frequently than I should. So are mid-calf length skirts that were meant to be knee-length on a taller person. And full, ankle-length skirts on short people.

    – Wedge heels. I realize they come in and out of fashion, but when I see them, they just seem to add a heaviness to the leg that 99.9 percent of people don’t need.

    – Wearing no makeup of any kind. I see a lot of older women forego makeup entirely and it just doesn’t work. After 30, women look better with SOMETHING on their face, even if it’s just powder, lipstick and mascara. My coloring is starting to “wash out” – I used to have naturally rosy cheeks and lips and they just aren’t as vibrant any more. My skin tone also isn’t as even, despite regular exfoliation and applying of many costly skincare products. Makeup is just one of those facts of life – I highly recommend visiting a more “natural” cosmetics counter if someone is averse to heavy makeup (like Origins, for example).

    – Clothes that are too big. I think slightly too tight (not painted-on tight, I’m talking snug) is better than way too voluminous any day. If you lose a ton of weight, get alterations or buy some new clothes on your way down. My weight goes up and down a lot and so I have pants that fit me at different weights.

    – Women who dress in an overly masculine way. Conservative suits are fine but I think there are still a lot of boxy, masculine cuts of suits (especially jackets) out there, because I see them a lot, and they don’t make women look good. I think it’s perfectly okay for jackets to skim curves and show that you have a shape.

  38. The biggest frump is pants that are too short — ala Hillary Clinton. They have got to almost touch the floor when you are wearing heels. I also think that flat shoes are really frumpy, especially with skirts. Long skirts — yuck. Personally, I also think that “capri” length pants are frumpy, which I realize is only applicable if you are in a really casual office where you could even get away with that in the first place.

    Buy new jewelry– big, bold jewelry — it’ll do wonders for otherwise basic and plain clothes.

    • Anonymous :

      Where to buy big, bold jewelry that doesn’t run the risk of looking like costume, cheap jewelry? I would have no idea where to start, I always just buy basics at Ann Taylor or Macys, try to keep them classic and nondescript. I’m not sure what nice, big , bold jewelry would even look like, can you link to any favorites?

      • ITA. Big, bold jewelry almost always looks (and is) cheap costume jewelry.

  39. I, too, am a “middle aged” (gasp!!!) attorney. While I have finally reached a stage where I don’t go into an office everyday, I still have to wear suits to appearances/court. I can’t emphasize too strongly here, find a designer who makes clothes that fit YOUR body. As trends evolve, that designer is likely to come out with newer or updated looks.
    I am long-waisted (did I once read “freakishly so”?), with broad shoulders and short muscular legs. I have had a devil of a time finding suits that I can buy as a set, and have them fit both ends. But, I have finally found some designers who do actually make suits that work for me. And I am sticking with them!
    I also strongly recommend that whatever you buy, if it does not fit well (and is not all that comfortable) should be tailored for you. Its not all that expensive to have done, and the difference in appearance and comfort is truly amazing.
    I have come to understand that some styles are just not meant for me. Those shorter jackets with the high waistline? Forget it. I look like my jackets were washed on hot and shrunk, or that I’m wearing my little sister’s clothes. But, I finally found a brand that works for me, and while I’m not wild about the specific style, at least this one fits me, and the suit fits with the current look. (I will be glad though, when the short jackets pass on…)
    Good undergarments are a must. Even if you have a fabulous figure, especially for those of us who do not. Spanks and their equivelent are a must. Lumps and bumps under your arms and on your back (eek, the dreaded “back fat”) can be smoothed out with good undergarments. If you have not changed your bra size in many years, its very likely you are in serious need of the professional fitting. Our bodies do change, and keeping up with those changes is very important in looking professional.
    Last, cheap fabrics, typcially unlined, too, are a waste of money. And they make you look cheap, too. People judge other people by their appearance. Sad, but true. Who wants to be known as the woman who wears cheap, tacky and/or ill fitting clothing? Same goes for shoes. (Go for nicer leather, better soles, and try to stay away from “man-made uppers.” I have learned that the more expensive shoes do last longer, look better, and were worth the extra money. But do keep them up with maintenance.)

  40. Anonymous :

    While we’re on the topic of personal shoppers — can people advise whether they tip their shoppers or provide a end-of-year present? I’m under the impression that it’s not necessary but thought I’d confirm popular opinion.

  41. Christine :

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned this….

    NOTHING is schlumpier and frumpier than poor body alignment – bad posture, hunched shoulders, walking duck footed (your toes pointing outward – I see A LOT of this), head down, shuffling stride, tense face/not smiling and/or sitting with legs splayed out. I don’t care WHAT you wear, if you don’t carry your body (and face) with grace, you will always look frumpy.

  42. Really? Stilettos? I can’t imagine giving up pencil skirts just because I don’t wear stilettos. I’d wear three inch heels, but screw risking twisting my ankle for fashion!

  43. Spike heels aren’t really work-appropriate for me in a field that often requires a good deal of running/walking around without any notice (journalism). While I’ve been known to pair pencil skirts with flats in a pinch, my more put-together option is a pair of black leather wedge pumps (

    They’re sturdier and more supportive than spike heels, yet the slim wedge and and almond toe are feminine and keep the skirt in proper proportion.

    I suppose they may be a riff on the Kate Spade wedges that were declared the “Female Politician Shoe” in 2010 ( While mine aren’t quite as well-constructed as the Spades, I prefer the more delicate toe, the lower heel and the matte leather.

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