Reader Request: Clothes that Move

Esti asked:

I’d love to hear your take on how to dress for a job where it’s important to look nice but be able to move. I’ve worked in libraries for awhile, and though there’s plenty of desk time, pencil skirts aren’t good for pushing book carts, sitting on the floor and stretching/climbing to reshelve books. I imagine teachers (especially of young kids) have some of the same issues, and I’m sure other professions do as well.

I’m pretty good at finding outfits that work for me, but I could definitely use some more ideas, especially from a fellow skirt-and-dress devotee.

Some advice that is applicable to Esti’s situation can be found in this post about durable dressing, but here are a few other tips for those of you in need of clothes that allow for easy movement:

BEFRIEND JERSEY

There’s a great big world of gloriously fluid, drapey, sumptuous jersey knits out there, and it’s a world that all women who need comfort and range of motion should explore. Jersey dresses, waterfall cardigans, skirts, and tops can all look sophisticated and elegant but they’re stretchy, relatively breathable, and washable. Ideal for women who need to stretch, climb, and sit cross-legged on the floor.

EMBRACE PONTE

Another amazing fabric that looks as great as it feels is ponte knit, a heavy-weight, stretchy, double-knit interlock fabric that is more sturdy and stiff than jersey, but almost equally flexible. Due to its stability, clothing made from ponte can be structured and architectural, which means that this fabric can play tailored to jersey knit’s flowy. Ponte pieces are available everywhere from Old Navy to Saks these days, and range from slim pants and pencil skirts to blazers, dresses, and tunics. Pick up a piece or two and see how they fare in those active environments.

LEARN ABOUT LAYERING

For those working in fast-paced, kid-centric, or borderline-athletic environments, you’ll probably need more than a few fab fabrics to make your wardrobe workable. If you’re dancing with toddlers, climbing to high library shelves, or engaged in activities that might put your rack or ‘tocks into plain view, you’ll need to embrace layers. For your upper body, simple stretch camisoles under blouses and v-necks work beautifully, as do scarves. For your lower half, tights are the obvious choice for cold weather, but cropped and footless versions can work when it’s warm outside.

LOVE LEGGINGS

My enduring love-affair with leggings is well documented here at Already Pretty, yet I know that some of you loathe ’em. Here’s the thing, friends: Leggings are comfortable, flexible, cute, versatile, and it is entirely possible to make them look polished enough for work. (Assuming you’re not a lawyer or a corporate CEO.) Take your brand new ponte tunic, a pair of cute ballet flats, and a sweet scarf. Now throw on a pair of cropped or ankle-length leggings and tell me you don’t look darling. Leggings also pair beautifully with boots, and if you’re worried about shortening your leg line, pairing dark leggings with dark boots mitigates stumpification quite tidily. Give it up, people. Leggings rule. ESPECIALLY if you’re working somewhere that requires loads of running, jumping, and climbing.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that women working in jobs that move will mostly be annoyed by brooches, belts, and delicate clothing embellishments that might pop off at any moment. While a nice jersey knit wrap dress is probably perfect and a cute tee with some fabric ruffles will definitely work, loads of accessories aren’t practical and garments that require vigilance, tugging, or rearranging will merely annoy. Keep your looks and layers simple and sleek, and all that moving you’re doing will continue unimpeded.

Top image courtesy Athleta

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  • Carbon Girl

    I love Jersey but find that it wears out fast–I usually get some slight pilling and wear around the boob area within a couple wears. Now my boobs are not big and I wear the right size so it is only stretching slightly. Any tips on wear to buy good Jersey pieces that will not break my bank? I am scared to invest in Jersey because I am afraid it will wear out? How can you tell good jersey fabric from bad?

    • Sal

      Ugh, bummer! Thin jersey drapes beautifully, but thicker versions will probably hold up to wear better. Also I’d wager that jersey with a high cotton content will pill less. (Some jersey is all synthetic, but I love the cotton blends myself.) Does that sound right to you sewists?

      • Miss T

        When fabrics are abraded, the fuzz either falls off or it stays there and pills. It’s pretty hard to tell in advance if a fabric’s going to pill, actually, because of all the treatments that fabrics and fibers undergo these days. But overall, it’s the finish of the fabric that governs pilling: for example, with wool, a suiting worsted (tightly twisted fibers woven tightly together) is not going to pill, whereas a wool sweater (soft, loose fibers that rub against each other) is subject to pilling. So, look for a “hard” finish fabrics and the pilling will be less.

      • Synthetics and blends will definitely pill faster than 100 percent cotton or even cotton/lycra. But it has a lot to do with the quality of the fabric as well. My Talbot’s and Eileen Fisher cottons wear better than my Target cottons.

        I agree, it’s hard to spend a lot because regardless of quality, jersey just isn’t made to last.

  • AW

    Oh, yes, this is my job to a “t.” I can be meeting with board members or potential clients one minute, and down on the floor with babies the next. Knee-length a-line skirts are great for sitting cross-legged on the floor, because there’s lots of extra fabric to gather around and cover your bits. Layers. Lots of layers. And you’re right–no delicate accesories popping off everywhere. Thanks for this post!

  • As a fellow librarian, I doubly recommend EVERYTHING Sal says! Jersey and ponte are the bomb! And leggings….I hated the idea of them until I wore them, then I became a total devotee. They have every good characteristic of tights, without squishing your tummy up AND they’re totally totally opaque and warm. As a plus size girl, I love http://www.onestopplus.com,http://www.fashiontofigure.com, and (for you taller ladies) http://www.lanebryant.com .

  • Cat

    Great tips! I’m an Early Childhood Educator, and quite often I find myself sighing at the jeans and t-shirts that make up most of my work clothes. I think I’m going to look for some tights and some tunics to pair them with. I recently had to give away almost my entire wardrobe, so this will be starting from almost scratch.

    You’re right about keeping it simple, by the way, at least in my case. Little kids love to pull on anything that catches their eye, and I’m sure pretty belts and brooches would be an issue!

  • Amanda

    When I worked at a library, I lived in slim black ponte knit pants. I got pairs from old navy and ann taylor loft. The pants were as comfortable as leggings and professional looking. Also cute detailed cardigans and plain inexpensive tees were a must. Also in warmer weather cute a-line dresses, and knit blazers were awesome.

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  • Leah

    I prefer leggings and tunics to jeans. They’re just that much cuter, and just that much more comfy. Gotta love an elastic waist band!

    If you can get your hands on woolen jersey, do so. It wears beautifully but still has the drape of it’s finer cotton cousin.

  • Eliza

    My mother’s a kindergarten teacher, and a few years ago I helped her revamp her closet. Her school has a no-denim policy, but corderouy pants tucked in to riding boots and a thin sweater are fine for casual days. She also sometimes wears plain sweater dresses, though it is harder to find these with wider skirts to facilitate floor-sitting. Waist-cinching belts can be uncomfortable when sitting in unusual positions, so she often wears a narrow scarf (or ribbon) as a sash instead. She rarely wears jewelry, but her bug jewelry is always a hit with the kids. Life size, enameled ladybug earrings, and a bee shaped pin are small enough not to get in the way, but add some personality.

  • Queen of Sheba

    Got a question for you Sal. . . I’m in a silhouette rut. Seems I can only put together outfits that are fitted top/bootcut bottom, or big-over-small (tunic over pencil skirt or slim jeans), and I’m BORRRRED with this. How do you recommend rethinking the shapes one uses when getting dressed? I’m also fattish and shaped approximately like a brick, so any shape I want I gotta fake. . .

    LOVE your devotion to color in the winter, btw.

    • Sal

      Hmmm. Well, experimentation is key, overall. Take some time on a weekend day and force yourself to try some different looks using what you’ve already got. That’s the super-general, slightly wishy-washy advice.

      If you’re bricklike yourself and sick of long-over-lean, you can experiment with full skirts and blazers (structure on top, flare on bottom), wide-leg pants and vests (structure on top, flowy on bottom), and dresses, of course. You may find that the silhouettes you’ve been employing are the most traditionally figure-flattering, but mixing it up is always good for injecting some life into personal style!

      You can also try accessorizing your current preferred silhouette differently. Incorporate scarves, big jewelry, amazing shoes … adding new accents may enliven those well-worn shapes.

      • Queen of Sheba

        Sal, you are so full of win. Great advice, thanks!

    • Katie

      I’m a “bricky” girl with a very soft squishy torso myself so I find it challenging as well. Have you tried semi-fitted blazers? They aren’t boxy but they aren’t super fitted either. Go with one-button closure. You can wear it with wide legs, flouncy or a-line skirts, slim skirts or over a dress. I find that this “fakes” a slightly hourglassy silhouette.

      I would think there would be ponte knit variations of these blazers as well?

  • Kate K

    I’m a children’s librarian and I saw this on your facebook feed and I clicked over, thinking “I need clothes that move!” Haha πŸ˜€ Hurray for fellow librarians! I would absolutely echo everything you said here, Sal. In fact, today, I’m wearing a jersey dress with a camisole for some chest coverage, a little corduroy blazer for structure and some good quality thick tights tucked into boots. One suggestion I’d like to add: buy high quality tights. I used to buy the cheapie brands from Target but I kept having to replace them. (Who knew working in libraries would be so hard on your clothes?) I have a pair of gray Hue tights that I bought at Macy’s last year; I wear them constantly and they still look brand new. Beyond just being more snag resistant, they’re also more opaque which makes me feel much more modest when I’m bending down to pick up something. Sal, I also think that your “keep it simple” suggestion is a great one and one that I kind of failed to realize. I’ve tried belts and fussy layering and by the end of the day, my clothing is driving me mad–all that bending and stretching throws off everything.

    Also, I know you’re a huge fan of Athleta dresses but I can’t seem to get past the whole “work out dresses” thing. Maybe I just need to order one.

    • Sal

      I know what you mean, Kate, and some of the Athleta dresses DO look workout-y. I stick to their organic cottons. They’re just fab!

      • Kate K

        I’m definitely intrigued–I’ll have to take a look (and keep an eye out for the organic cotton dresses!) Also, this is only somewhat related but I’d love to hear your thoughts about shopping online and reading the user reviews of a product. I’ve found that more online stores are using reviews, which is good and yet bad as well. When do you trust them? If an item seems like a good option but has awful reviews, do you order it anyway? (I’m asking because both on the Boden site and the Athleta site, the reviews have kept me from buying items.)

        • I would also like to know how you feel about reviews and online shopping. In the past, I’ve ordered some highly reviewed items that weren’t worth it and I’ve also passed up something that turned out to be wonderful, despite reviews. I find this to be especially true with my shoe purchases!

          I love reading your reader requests and tutorials. Thanks for sharing, Sal!

          • Sal

            Hey gals, I find user reviews valuable, but take them with a grain of salt.

            If a product has received a DELUGE of negative reviews, I’ll avoid buying it. There was a Tracy Reese-designed skirt on the Anthro web page in early fall that I adored, but after reading literally dozens of people complaining that it fit funny on all manner of body types, I skipped it. I got the chance to try it on while in New York and guess what? It fit me funny, too. (http://reviews.anthropologie.com/5310/19131820/reviews.htm)

            That said, reviews that just say, “This is awesome!” or “This sucks!” are completely useless, in my opinion. User reviews are only helpful to me if they’re detailed. If something didn’t fit, I need to know why, how, and the quirks of that person’s body. If something fit beautifully, I STILL need those same bits of info. Reviews that omit reasons and information about the reviewer herself/himself don’t generally sway me unless the person voices a very specific concern about materials or construction.

            Does that help? Hope so!

          • Jen

            I do a lot of online shopping & find that user reviews are most helpful when describing fit– ie, sometimes you will find multiple reviewers saying that an item fit smaller or larger than expected. Even more helpful is when the reviewer describes their body type and why it didn’t fit. And I try to look for a pattern with the reviews– if everyone is complaining that a shirt is tight in the arms, then it probably is, and you’d best avoid it if you have bulky biceps.

            Also, sometimes the reviews will cue you in to something about the product that’s hard to tell online- ie that the fabric was very thin, or scratchy, or whatever.

          • Kate K

            Okay, I can’t, for some reason, reply to your responses, Sal and Jen but this is a huge help. I’ll keep this is in mind when I read reviews in the future!

          • Kate K

            Never mind–it did work! Ahh, the interwebs πŸ˜€ Oh and since I didn’t include it explicitly: Thank you!

  • I also work in an environment that requires bookshelf clambering, and one thing I discovered was that while all slim, “professional” skirts were awful, there are a number of gathered or pleated skirts that work well with my apple-y figure so long as a) they aren’t super-full – the “circle” skirts I wear are more like 270 degree skirts when I lay them out, and my pleated skirts tend to have six or fewer pleats b) they have yokes or are stitched down down to the hip-line c) they are mid-knee, since that’s the length at which I can sit crosslegged on the floor while checking shelving without people seeing my skivvies. I also stand by tunic-length dresses over pants, and always will. I admit that I totally wear yoga pants for this, because the long knit band means that they lie flat under drapey fabric.

  • Erin

    This past year I have really gotten into skirts and dresses in comfy cotton or jersey paired with thick tights. This has been a great change for me, getting me out of the black-pants-bright-top rut, and is much more figure flattering.

    I’m excited – talking about comfy clothes – I scored an amazing Atheta dress at the Ridgedale Goodwill yesterday for just $4.99! I can’t wait to wear it to work!!

  • Amy

    I’m a teacher and I couldn’t agree more. My “uniform” is usually a cami, dress, leggings, long cardigan and scarf. It’s easy to layer for long walks to the office or supervising and since my classroom has the most erratic heating system of all time, I can take clothes off as needed or add them when I get chilly.

    One other thing to add: comfortable shoes are a must. I spent my first year in the classroom aiming for “cute” and teaching in heels. Forget it. Flats and flat boots are my best friends. It’s not worth the pain.

    Great post!

    • Mindy K

      This. I teach elementary school music and am on my feet all day long (or sitting on the floor playing instruments!) I am having a very difficult time finding comfy shoes that are dressy enough for work and yet still look cute enough for a 29 year old to wear. Some of the “comfy dress shoe” brands just look so dowdy to me. Anyone have footwear suggestions??

      • Mindy K

        Oh, and I forgot to say…I don’t like boots at all πŸ™‚

        • Eliza

          Paul Meyer Attitudes are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn! They are very soft leather, and have an adjustable drawstring. I have picky/hard to fit feet, and these are the only brand I can wear all day, even before they are broken in. I only buy the plain ballet flats, since the heel versions usually look dowdy/aren’t nearly as comfortable.

      • Sal

        I’d suggest Camper (a Spanish brand) and some of the lower-heeled or flat John Fluevog styles. Neither brand is cheap, but they’re well made and beautifully designed.

  • my mom works with kids, and i can’t even think of the last time i saw her in jeans. she’s always in leggings and long skirts and she looks like a cute little bohemian hippie. don’t fear the leggings!

  • also WHERE is that dress in the image from? it is so adorable!

  • rb

    Though this is the opposite of my job (lots of desk sitting, too corporate for leggings) I love your suggestion about jersey & ponte. Although I’m not lugging things around or climbing up ladders, there are still days where I know I’m going to be stuck in my office crunching numbers all day, and those are the days I wear jersey head to toe. It feels like wearing pajamas, but with the right pieces one can still manage to look very put-together.

    And I still think that every recommendation of leggings should include the public service announcement, “Leggings are not pants.” πŸ™‚

    • WORD — Leggings are not pants! Everybody, please remember this.

      I love ’em too, but cover that tush πŸ˜€

  • Elizabeth

    Can we get a picture or link to something Ponte? I’m not clear on what this fabric is. Thanks!

  • MJ

    I teach K & aspire to not be the stereotypical k teacher with the denim apple dresses & themed sweaters. I wear lots of below the knee skirts & leggings with boots. Occasionally pants & tops but I just really love skirts & tunics.
    AFA shoes I can only wear flats due to the dress code but I mix it up with boots & various colors of Sketchers & Crocs.
    I agree that layering is wonderful!! I have tons of camis & other layering pieces. I also keep a basic sweater in my class that can be easily layered over just about anything.

    My only question is about boots for spring/summer. I like knee highs but I’m having trouble finding ones that I think look summery enough.

  • rb

    Hey, here’s a ponte knit jacket that was featured on workchic today:

    http://www.qvc.com/qic/qvcapp.aspx/view.2/app.detail/params.aol_refer.false.tpl.detail.msn_refer.false.item.A203514.ref.CJ4?

    This is for the commenter that was asking about ponte.

    And now I may have to order this jacket!

  • For me, when I want to get out of a slacks rut, the answer is a below-the-knee skirt and knee-high boots. (Of course, a below-the-knee skirt and knee-high boots are pretty much my answer to everything)! The skirt can be somewhat straight and fitted, so long as it’s made from a durable yet yielding fabric. I’ve done well with certain cottons, stretch denim, and corduroy.

  • Alissa

    I feel ya on this post! I am a children’s librarian, too, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to wear to a) follow the dress code (meaning no jeans) and b) be comfy enough go from running toddler times to leading library tours, so all these suggestions are great! I didn’t drink the kool-aid of leggings until this past fall, but now that I have, I own so many pairs it is a little ridiculous:)

  • Tracy

    I’m just so bummed out that the sweet, sexy JNY dress with the twisted bodice is nowhere to be found unless one happens to be size 4. Umm…I’m so not a size 4, but I know that this dress would be perfect for us zaftig types! And, it would move beautifully!

  • Natalie

    Sal, I love the advice you gave. As an academic biologist, my day activities are about as varied as a librarian’s, it seems – computer work and reading; climbing onto lab benches trying to find the extra pipette tips, which always seem to be hidden on the top shelf; leaning over lab benches while dissecting things; plopping onto the floor for easier access to specimens on the bottom shelves; etc., and at any moment I may be called upon to chase and catch insects/birds/frogs outside. Some of your tips are ones I have recently discovered for myself, especially the beauty of leggings and importance of layering. In the summer, I wear capri-length leggings under skirts for extra modesty on days I expect to be especially active – they let me sit cross-legged in a skirt worry-free!

    Thanks for the tips about jersey and ponte knits – I’m looking forward to trying them.

  • I agree with this list whole-heartedly. I’m not a teacher or children’s librarian, but I do ride my bike to work everyday and so have to wear clothes that allow me to ride my bike easily (no pencil skirts) without showing off my goodies (no mini-skirts) and still look professional. I rely heavily on leggings, full and or A-line skirts and dresses, layering, ponte and jersey (I’m wearing a jersey dress today, actually), but I do have a word of warning about jersey.

    As a plus-sized gal, I find that jersey can be a little clingy and show a little much in terms of my rolls. Of course you can purchase thicker jersey pieces, but the thinner ones usually drape more nicely. I do love jersey, but I’m cautious about the pieces I wear.

  • Kristie

    What is a good place to shop for jersey dresses? I’m hoping to start incorporating them into my wardrobe a bit more…

    • Sal

      I’ve gotten them from Athleta, Target, Macy’s, and loads of them thrifted. My faves have come from Athleta, though they’re not making the one pictured in this post any more. Sad!

  • Su

    Thanks to you, I tried my forst ever leggings yesterday, and I was a convert in 2 minutes! Warm, comfy, easy to wear………where have you been all my life?? πŸ™‚
    I immediately bought another pair!

  • Nadine

    Fantastic post. Also, ‘tocks! (lolz)

  • Eva

    Just wanted to add that a lot of these pieces of advice go for those of us who commute to work by bike and don’t fancy a full shower-and-change when we arrive. Layers! Jersey! Leggings! Totally.

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  • Thanks for answering my question, and for the tips! I am definitely a leggings-lover… I don’t know how I’d live without them. I will definitely look into some ponte pieces… I have lots of jersey but I would love to own some more structured pieces. Keeping it simple is probably the most useful advice you could give me… I get carried away sometimes and find myself shedding/cursing half my outfit by lunchtime. Cheers : )