Today’s reader question brings up an interesting question, we think: What should the “casual but professional” uniform be for women? Here’s the reader’s question:
In a couple weeks I’ll be wrapping up my MFA and have to do a public reading. Publishers and agents are known for showing up at these end of year readings, so it’s really important for us readers to sell ourselves. I’ll be reading from my teen fantasy novel (sorry, no sparkly vampires), and am worried about not dressing right. I don’t want to be creepy all black goth girl fantasy writer. Or super corporate hack looking. I don’t want to look too dressed up or too casual. If I was a guy I’d wear a suit jacket, dark wash denim and an ironic t-shirt (the wardrobe staples of screenwriters). How do women on the creative side of creative industries dress? And does the “slacker but I own a jacket” guy look have a counterpart in female fashion? Should it? Also, if it matters at all, I’m totally broke.
So this raises a few questions in our minds. First: Should there be an equivalent “uniform” for women? Think about the button-down plus jeans look — you see it on everyone from heads of state to moguls. It conveys a very specific message: “I am real — and I am here to work. And perhaps knock back a few after work.” It’s a friendly, approachable, I’ve-let-my-hair-down-but-I’m-still-a-professional look. For our $.02, we think there probably should a standard uniform for women — after all, it’s a question of effectively communicating a message. It’s one of the tricky things about having so many more wardrobe choices than men — when there is no uniform, it means the message we convey with our clothes is never quite as neat and unmistakable as it can be for men. Which can be a problem, because it means we might be mis-communicating. A little black dress that, to us, looks professional, can be — to some men — flirty. Body-grazing khakis and a twinset can seem too matronly.
So the question becomes — what is the equivalent uniform for women? Are jeans and a blazer the correct look? Is it the trouser jean? Button-down or turtleneck? What shoes? What accessories? Readers, we’re really curious — what would you wear to a semi-work event if the guys in your team planned to wear jeans and a button down?
2020 Update: These are some of the best jeans for work (affiliate links): 1) Paige 2) Madewell 3) Topshop 4) Wit & Wisdom 5) Levi’s
We have no answers, obviously. The best we can do for our reader the author (congratulations, btw — we hope you have a great reading!), though, is to come up with a series of factors to consider for semi-professional meetings.
- First: Where is the event going to be held, and what will the majority of people be dressed in? Here, if the reading is in a place like a bookstore or coffee shop, you have to expect jeans and the like. It might be different if it’s a more formal reading at a university.
- Second: What is your context — why are you going to be there, and what are you trying to convey? The answer is going to be different if you’re the person reading the teenage fantasy novel, versus the agent trying to convince the writer that they should pay you 15% of their earnings, versus the DATE of the agent or reader. For the author, here, we think you’re trying to convey a) that you are a great writer of saleable material, b) that you are presentable and friendly at a reading, and can be approachable (and loved) by your audience, which, here, will be the teens (and their parents), and c) that you’re a trustworthy, responsible person who an agent or publisher can take a chance on and not expect headaches. For a), we don’t think there’s anything wardrobe-specific of note. To convey b), we would wear something that didn’t show too much of your figure or your cleavage — we’d also avoid a high-end look that might verge on looking snotty. In terms of conveying c), it seems to really be more in your actions — your tone of voice, your professionalism, and your follow-up.
- Third: What’s flattering and weather-appropriate? This goes back to a basic judgment call — you exercise poor judgment if you wear a tweed suit in July, or a 3-sizes-too-tight dress that rides up.
Ultimately, we’d probably suggest a pair of dark-wash jeans (no holes), a black blazer, and either a fitted black t-shirt or a fitted ironic tee. You might want to roll up the sleeves to expose a watch (even if it’s just a large Swatch) — that might help convey to any potential agents/publishers there that you are professional), and go with jewelry that is as funky/creative as you’re comfortable with. Oh, yes, and heels.
If you can, you might also want to look into getting some personal business cards printed — Vista Print can be very cheap; so can your local Kinkos — just your name, cell phone number, and e-mail address (and perhaps your degree and a website address) can go a long way towards seeming professional and helping you get to the next step.
Readers, what are your thoughts?
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What is an ironic tee?
I would say it’s something like you get at Threadless.com — it’s a little bit funny but a little bit artsy. A step beyond “I’m with Stooopid.”
You know those trucker caps Judah Friedlander wears on “30 Rock”? They’re kind of the tee equivalent of that.
I remember when Vogue was telling us (ca. 2001-2002) we could wear tweed suits with rock and roll tees underneath, but I never thought the look commanded authority.
Jojo does not approve.
Something from http://www.topatoco.com/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=TO&Category_Code=QC
I think it’s a great idea considering the specific situation here where the writer wants to appeal to a teen demographic. I don’t think Kat intended the ironic tee to be part of the standard “casual-but-professional” uniform.
Sounds like something that you might find funny – but someone else may not — too risky for anything professional!
My favorite ironic tee ever (no longer topical, sadly) dates from when Martha Stewart was serving time. It had a little cartoon of a blonde behind bars with the slogan “Free Martha” underneath.
If guys wear a blazer, t-shirt, and jeans, you can too. I saw a woman on the train today wearing skinny jeans, a buttoned black blazer (couldn’t tell what was under it) and a great pink scarf partially tucked into the top of her blazer. Her hair was up in a ponytail and I thought she looked casual but totally put together. A springy dress with a blazer (or maybe even a neat cardigan) seems like a good look too.
Another idea for you – think of some successful female writers in your category and do a google image search for their name +reading.
I don’t always love what JK Rowling wears, but here’s an idea:
But with less cleavage than JKR is showing!
IMHO, scarves are a key tool here. A nice scarf or pashmina can make a twinset and khakis look more hip and can make jeans and a t-shirt just dressy enough (I’m thinking the nice plain colored t-shirt variety, from anywhere from Old Navy to BR, but today I’m wearing a Hanes v-neck, cardigan and a scarf which makes it acceptable for wearing to grad school exams :) )
Scarves are great ways to transition clothes from casual to business casual, and from winter to spring/ fall to winter :-)
Isn’t one of the benefits of being an artist that you don’t have to wear a corporate professional uniform?
no, that’s one of the benefits of being a starving artist.
Good lord, yes! While I admire some of the suits that Kat features, I am thankful that I don’t have to wear them and even more thankful that I don’t have to worry about the subtle nuances of opaque vs. sheer pantyhose.
Oh yes opaque and sheer… most ladies at my job don’t even bother to wear hose, but I still enjoy dressing up a notch more corporate than the others because my job is more externally focused.
I think black blazer, dark trouser-cut jeans, heels, and (maybe ironic) decent shirt would be fine. I wouldn’t go the ironic-shirt route, but that’s just me. I like to save the irony for the bar…
All of the above and jewelry… some funky, statement jewelry.
I work in a creative industry where the typical male uniform is a blue button up and khakis, so I fully understand the quandary about how to match that level of professional casual. My answer is typically a dress. They’re easy to dress up or down and a wrap dress or sheath with flats or boots can say trendy, put together and feminine without being overdressed. It’s also easy to find a good printed dress or a fun necklace to layer on top, which helps convey that creative professional vibe. Many of my dresses also double as weekend wear for brunches, dinners, etc. so I feel like they’re money smart choices too! My go-to places for inexpensive dresses – Banana Republic, Target, Anne Taylor Loft and Lohemans / Marshalls / TJ Max.
quick sidenote question: is late April/early May too late to wear boots with dresses? Even in the northeast where it’s only in the 50s?
I’m wearing boots with pants today, because it was 50s and raining this morning, but I wouldn’t if it was sunny & 70. I think in April & May its a day by day call. I read it snowed in New England today, boots would definitely be OK there!
You can wear “summer” boots (i.e., lighter, and lighter colored, slouch type boots). . . but the original writer seemed to indicate she did not want to buy too many new items for this, so that’s a factor.
I’m on the foggy west coast where summers are sometimes cooler than winter, so I wear my lighter suede boots nearly year round. I think if paired with a more summery dress, i.e. light colors, flowers, flowy, it can create a cute “artistic” or cowgirl-esque look.
Here in NJ – definitely… although that could be mostly attributed to the fact that we’re so ready for spring! But it’s been bouncing between the 50s and 70s since the end of March so I haven’t seen anyone in boots since then.
I put away my boots by early April and am in Chicago. That said, I am always so ready for spring when it arrives.
Second the dress option. I was thinking maybe a nice wrap dress + tights if cold.
JK Rowling always looks great, approachable, not-too-formal and is somewhat close to your target audience… try google-imaging her for some inspiration.
Although, having just done that, I’d suggest modifying the look for a little less cleavage!
If the guys on my team planned to wear jeans and button down, I would also wear jeans and button down. It’s pretty easy to replicate the pieces; just find them in a feminine and elegant fit. My ‘uniform’ for this sort of event is dark skinny jeans, a tailored white button down (with a beige or white cami underneath), and nice but comfortable, neutral heels (I’d go with black leather, beige patent, or subtle metallic in an almond or round toe with a slim heel at about 3 inches). I like the idea of rolling up the sleeves a bit to show a cool watch. Interesting but modest earrings or necklace.
My go-to “put together without trying” look is Vince leggings or skinny jeans (black or charcoal) with a men’s Hanes Premium white v-neck tee, blazer, and linen blend scarf, and heels. I am top-heavy with chicken-legs though, so someone who is smaller on top might want to reverse the proportions and go looser on the bottom with a more fitted blazer/jacket on top.
I think jeans+blazer when a more casual tee is probably a good bet (or throw on a scarf). Also, try asking around with other authors. I read a ton of fantasy, and I know a lot of my favorite authors are online and incredibly accessible to readers because they’re not the big name j.k. rowlings and stephenie meyers of the world. They may have no idea because some of them are older, but then again, they may have noticed what young authors wear to these sort of things. (example–one of my favorite teen fantasy authors–and yes, I still read teen fantasy even though I’m mid-20s– is sherwood smith, and she is always answering questions for readers on her blog and a live journal community–her blog is http://sartorias.livejournal.com/ ).
I’m another reader of teen fantasy. Glad I’m not the only one :).
One of the blogs I read recently posted pictures of a lot of successful YA authors from the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. These aren’t the best pictures of people’s outfits, but they do give a lot of different examples of how various authors dress when meeting with agents and editors.
As someone who works in a casual-dress industry (biotech) who would like to convey some level of authority, this is a question I continually struggle with. A jacket that has some kind of interesting detail, dark wash jeans, and nice shoes has become my go-to “uniform”; I second the recommendation for a not-too-dressy dress with boots or flats as well. I also have a few nice white shirts – not traditional button downs – that I might wear with jeans, but in this case I’d probably bring on jewelry or some other accessory to kind of finish the look.
But it’s true that it’s much more difficult to balance the “business” with the “casual” for women – I’m sure I spend a lot more time on this than my many male colleagues who rock the button down/jeans look!
Boots might not work for spring, depending on where you are, but I always find them more relaxed than heels, yet dressier than sneakers.
I’m envisioning a blazer with scrunched sleeves, like Corporette featured a while back, with skinny jeans and a baby doll tee.
I think an “artsy” tee would be a better choice than an ironic t-shirt. Ironic tees strike me as being something worn by teenagers or on college campuses. Plus I am not keen about the idea of inviting people to read off my chest.
Not sure where the baby-doll fit comes in. If you are trying to command a professional image, a shirt cut associated with dolls and maternity wear won’t be my top choice.
A well-cut jacket (and not necessarily traditional) balanced out by the right cut of jeans is how I’d play it. A great piece of statement jewelry (necklace or bracelet) or scarf, and shoes or boots with a heel would make it feminine.
I’ve never really associated “baby-doll fit” with dolls or maternity wear except when I’m looking at it written out. When I see it in person, I tend to think it looks nice and fitted – and I don’t think about the words baby doll, or about babies or maternity wear. But I guess the name must come from somewhere, so maybe I’m in the minority.
You aren’t in the minority, I can’t imagine associating that cut of tee with babies or maternity! You learn something new every day.
A non-baby doll tee can look sloppy and gym-like, unless it’s the perfect combination of thin material and close fit but not too tight.
How can a babydoll type shirt look fitted? I thought the point is that it is _not_ fitted, right where others are (the waist/stomach area)?
I think a babydoll tee is different than the floaty non-tee shirt you’re thinking of. I assume Kat was referring to tighter fitting, non-baggy tees you also see advertised as “girly” fit sometimes.
People use the term baby-doll to describe closely-fit t-shirts…totally different from the empire-waist cut of a baby-doll dress. I’m guessing the first is what was being suggested…
I think this is an issue of semantics regarding the t shirt. I think Kat meant a “baby tee”, which is shorter and more fitted than a regular or boyfriend t-shirt. “Baby doll” is usually fitted at the bust and looser/flowy through the torso.
I totally get this question. My other (other) job–besides my day job and my blog– is in the creative field, and I am constantly struggling with how to dress professionally yet creatively. I really like the fun dress with flats or boots suggestion, as well as nice jeans with a shrunken blazer and scarf. I would definitely show personality through jewelry.
Good luck on your reading!!
This blogger did a really good post on creative business wear, but you’ll have to search for it. http://youlookfab.com/
I like the look of the floaty top under structured jacket over jeans from this blogger-but you might want to skip the turban. http://whatiwore.tumblr.com/page/2
For the bolder side of creative dressing-and yes, both of these women work in professional offices.
Congrats! My husband is finishing his MFA this spring, too! As a writer you can get away with a lot in terms of fashion. Most importantly this is a chance to express yourself, so wear what looks good and feels comfortable. I would recommend a dress with a cardigan or blazer and statement shoes. Skinny (dark wash) jeans and a blazer would work well, too. Good luck!
My mom is a novelist, and does readings frequently. She’s writing for an admittedly older crowd than you are, but some of her strategies would probably be helpful. First, although a skirt or dress seems easy and appropriate, keep in mind your space – if you’re going to be sitting on a stool or a high chair with nothing in front of you, don’t pick a skirt shorter than mid-calf unless you’re also wearing ironic underpants. If you’re standing, wear comfortable footwear, because readings can last a long time, and there is usually a meet-and-greet afterward. My mom opts for simpler, but not business-y, clothing pieces (usually a close-fitting shirt, with a structured sweater or floaty cardigan on top, and dark trousers) and then wears an interesting scarf or a piece of statement jewelry, usually a necklace (which can be really cheap – check Etsy or even Target). Color is important; you’re often reading against a white wall, or a brick wall, or a row of bookshelves, so wearing something bright close to your face will keep people interested. I’d stay away from any t-shirt with a slogan or logo; you want people to remember the words you’re reading, not the words on your chest. But a graphic t-shirt could be all right. My mom opted to use bookmarks instead of business cards; you can leave them at book stores, or tuck them into the book as you’re signing, or even sign the bookmark. Good luck!
Hahahaha. I’m going out and getting myself some ironic underpants right now.
Dark wash flared jeans, check. Flats with a little interest, check. Tee, check. Jacket however, can be black OR if a color, then wear a tone on tone scarf. So if you find an aqua canvas jacket, also wear an aqua/turquoise/blue scarf. And a little dangle in the earrings to indicate you’re letting down your hair. Even if you don’t actually let it down:).
I’m large chested so statement Ts look ridiculous on me. Plus the types of blazers that look good over statement Ts are the wrong kind for girls with big boobs.
I love a good fitted turtleneck in a solid, dark color. I’ll pair it with either black pants or dark wash jeans and either a bold bangle bracelet or a great pair of bold, sterling silver earrings – something stylish that makes a statement but isn’t too jingly or glittery.
Jeans, heels, and a blazer sounds like a good plan. I also wear dresses to events of the same casualness level if I want to look less professional – blazers to me, even with jeans, make it more professional than an equally casual/dressy dress.
Heels with jeans have to be a certain look, though. Otherwise it looks dated or old-lady. Not too heel-ish. More elevated-flat-ish.
My roommate and I wear jeans with heels all the time. So do all of our girlfriends. We rock 4 and 5 inchers and they look great. The only thing you have to do is make sure your pants are the right length.
I like to wear at least 3 pieces for business casual. Dark jeans or dark trousers, t-shirt or blouse, and jacket, vest, scarf, or jacket. Of the 3 items, at least one show be interesting (bright color, patterned, non-traditional cut). Then, I show some personality with accesories. A unique purse, plaid ballet flats, and bold jewelry finish the look.
Cat mentioned business cards on this post. For someone who wants to stand out, I would suggest the mini moo cards. I have not ordered any myself, but have seen them. They definitely stand out amongst the sea of cookie cutter cards.
I actually got Moo cards for my wedding — we handed them out at the reception and told people where we’d like them to upload their digital photos. They’re great because you can have up to 100 different images on the front, but the same typed info on the back — so we put like 10 shots from our engagement shoot on the front.
The Moo cards are beautiful, truly — but for my $.02, for the price/quality, though, they’re probably best-suited to someone who really has an image-based business and wants to display their wares. For example, a friend is a furniture designer, so I recommended them to him. Or a graphic designer, or model, or something like that. They were perfect for the wedding situation.
They are extremely expensive though compared to other business cards — I’ve seen letterpress business cards for less than moo cards cost per card – Keep that in mind when you start shopping.
I meant to type “jacket, scarf, vest, or cardigan.”. It’s been a looong day.
BTW, where can I find some of those ironic underpants? Lol.
@LPC & ST
Ask & ye shall receive…ironic underpants ! http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/womens/6792/
Perfect. I should give those as presents. I wish I could figure out some appropriate way to do it:).
I’d wear a fitted V-neck sweater and dark wash jeans with nice flats.
Great suggestions so far. I would also consider the following: tunic type top with slim, dark jeans or pants; maxi or knee grazing dress with optional shawl, cardigan, or blazer on top; a line skirt with structured cardigan over a layering blouse (you could rock sandals, flats or heels with any of these looks depending on length of your bottom layer). If you’re going for an eclectic vibe, check out anthropologie for styling ideas. Good luck!
IMHO, I’d skip the “ironic T-shirt” and instead go with “ironic shoes.” I have a wonderful pair of pink suede shoes that I wear with dark jeans, a crisp white shirt, and a navy blazer with a pink flower pin. I get lots of compliments on the whole outfit.
Agreed. My casual look is usually some version of dark jean, button up under cashmere crew and blazer, if its cool, dressy tee/ cardi as it gets warmer, and usually a scarf.
I also like the tunic with dark jean look….. it is a great work to happy hour look.
I’d probably wear a more casual dress (or a skirt and cute T-shirt) with a suit jacket. But then, I like skirts and dresses.
I’ve worked in one end or another of the publishing industry all my life. We are not a fashion-forward crowd, trust me in this. Jeans, t-shirt, jacket and maybe a scarf will be perfect. Boots, too, if you like, and if they make you feel good.
I hope you’re able to relax and enjoy it. There’s nothing like your first reading. You’ll remember it all your life. Good luck.
99% people there will be totally on your side and kinder than kind, but watch out for the one or two who want to score points off you by asking smart-ass questions to get attention, if there’s a Q&A after your reading. They’re just jerks, and jealous they haven’t been asked to read.
I was a writing major and now I’m a law student. I think writers get to be feminine and pretty in a way that business women don’t on a daily basis. For a reading, I would wear a pretty but modest (not too short, not too low cut) dress in a color or pattern that flatters my complexion with a nice cardigan (or jacket if you insist) belted with a skinny belt. Something very J.Crew: pretty, polished, put together. You should look like yourself but nicer, with nice subtle make up and smooth hair. Wear colors that really flatter you. I don’t think you have to wear a blazer unless that is a look you really like.
Hm! A few months ago two friends of mine (one of whom is very successful, albeit not of Stephenie Meyer proportions) who are in that exact field were giving a reading together. I attended it. Both wore eye-catching dresses in strong colours; one wore a dark blazer over her dress.
I think it’s a good idea to stand out from the crowd. Avoid jeans.
Wear a jacket over an interesting dress. Many current female fantasy authors like Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan and Melissa Marr have blogs and other online presences that frequently have pictures of themselves taken at readings and book signings. Lots of pictures of these up on fan blogs and the like.
– <3 u Corporette but you've not "translated" this person's question well. The creative-dude uniform as described by your letter writer (blazer/tee/skinnies) is quite different from the "lawyer man at a picnic" uniform you describe (button down/blazer/Dad jeans). Thus the female equivalents would be different.
On to this fair reader's questions.
-its too late for boots, if you're in the Northern hemisphere. It will look confusing. I'd wear flats or if you're in the mood, some kickin' heels.
-blazers yea/cardigans not for today. I think this is an event that demands the authority of a blazer rather than the cuddly approachability of Pam from the Office.
-I like the arty tee suggestion from Threadless. Words are bad. Cerebral designs are good. Or you could wear a nice blouse.
-*If* you go the chic shift dress route (highly respectable!), don't wear a cardigan.
-dark jeans on bottom.
Single best wardrobe item I ever purchased for this type of cross0ver (casual but professional) dressing has been a high quality navy blue, double breasted, hip length (standard length) blazer with brass buttons. This item with jeans and a white, red or yellow tank, T, or turtleneck and a great necklace, or cool earrings or a statement scarf is feminine and hip and very professional but approachable. Good shoes are a must. The jeans and shirt can be almost anything but the blazer, accessories and shoes are key to making the look “wow”. This is based on 30 years of navigating professional waters.
One of the best classic casual yet authotative looks is a classic blazer (navy or black are best) a plain white crew necked tee shirt or lightweight sweater (like from the underneath part of a twin set) and plain dark jeans (or kahkis) with a really classic loafer. You need to do your hair as if for work, and plain gold earings, maybe a nice watch.
Another alternative, a knit dress that looks like an overgrown golf shirt. Paired with either a jacket or a cardigan.
Last, a favorite of mine in summer: Linen pants and a linen “big shirt” or tunic. A total favorite, white linen pants with a navy big shirt. It looks clean, classic and breezy.
I can tell you what I’d wear: my blue paisley poplin skirt. It goes just past my knees and is very conservative, but when I pair it with black stockings and ankle boots, and a black t-shirt, I think it hits just that look.
Thank you for all the wonderful suggestions and well-wishes!! I’m already putting together a great outfit (and obsessing about it keeps me calm about having to get up and read in front of people!). Thanks!
My fav corporate but casual is a trouser jean (dark wash, boot cut, medium rise), a blazer (short, army green with funky embellishments) and a lace cami (not deep cut, no cleavage) or a baby doll tee with a chunky necklace. For my shoes, I usually wear funky sneakers or ballet flats.
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