By Cassie, Already Pretty Contributor
Wearing an outfit that I think expresses something about who I am and what I like can make an enormous difference to my mood and self esteem. But on weekdays, I’ve long been confined to an office environment, and offices equal my least favourite dress code of all time – the dreaded “smart casual.”
Maybe “smart casual” works for you, but I’m not a “smart casual” kind of person. I’m a little bit weird, and I like geeky things, and I’m a relatively unfashionable shape – to quote Tori Amos, I’m anchovies and “smart casual” is tuna. Unfortunately, looking like tuna when you’re really anchovies is one of the things you get paid for in an office job.
Apart from the limitations my employer’s expectations put on my wardrobe, I’ve also long had a little problem with money – as in, not nearly enough of it. A bright skirt or bold patterned dress are an awesome way to spruce up your office wardrobe, but the thing about attention-grabbing pieces is that people notice if you wear them all the time. My budget for clothes often doesn’t extend beyond a couple of skirts and an assortment of shirts, so I tend to pick things I can wear over and over without it being completely obvious. Which is to say my work wardrobe has ended up very functional, but ultimately very, very dull. I’m sure I’m not the only one to end up backed into this bland little corner of affordable plain skirts and interchangeable tops; not only is it boring, it’s actually kind of depressing after a while.
Lucky for you guys, I’ve decided to share my two favourite ways to inject some personality into my workday wardrobe easily and economically.
Indie Eye Shadow
I’m sure you’ve seen a million other places that a pop of colour in your eye shadow is a great way to lift an outfit, and I entirely agree. However, it took me a long time to figure out how to incorporate a pop of colour without making it look like I’d been popped in the eye. I’m currently nursing a deep obsession with indie loose eye shadows, a formerly tiny market that has really exploded over the last couple of years. The colours available are just incredible, and there is almost endless variety on the market. These are a very small sample of my exponentially expanding collection.
Clockwise from top right, these are Shiro Cosmetics in Nic Cage Raking Leaves on a Brisk October Afternoon; Femme Fatale Cosmetics in Wavemender; Femme Fatale Cosmetics in Dreamstate and Shiro Cosmetics in Lingered in Twilight
I’ve also found indie eye shadows to be much more pigmented than your average mainstream offerings. There are similar products available from companies like MAC, but I just don’t have the budget to throw down for a full tub of an eye shadow I might not even like in the end. Almost all the indie eye shadow makers I’ve come across offer sample sizes (Spectrum Cosmetics, Shiro Cosmetics and Femme Fatale Cosmetics all offer three different sizes), so you can try them out before you commit to a full size container. Heck, you might not ever even NEED a full size container, considering how far these products go. Because they’re so pigmented, they’re not only quite economical but also really versatile. You can use a heavy hand and create a really attention getting look, or just the merest whisper and it will still make your eyes sparkle. If you mix them with foiling medium, you can also use them as liquid eyeliner.
But the colours are only part of why I’m so obsessed with indie eye shadows at the moment. Companies like Geek Chic Cosmetics and Shiro Cosmetics have discovered an even more direct route to my wallet; by making beautiful products that are also inspired by some of my favourite books, TV shows, and movies. Maybe I’m a sucker, but if you make a series of eyeshadows inspired by The Neverending Story, or The Hobbit, or the infamous Windows error BSOD I AM going to buy them. I get such an illicit, childish thrill out of wearing Gollum green eyeshadow to work, where I’m supposed to be professional and bland and boring.
If you’ve spent any time at all on Etsy, you’ll already know handmade jewellery can be a real crapshoot. For every stunning piece, there is something that looks like my cat coughed it up being sold for a ludicrous amount of money. But if you can find the good stuff, it’s so very VERY good. You would be surprised at how unusual a necklace you can get away with in the average office – people will notice that you’re wearing jewellery, but not necessarily that, for example, your pretty silver locket actually has an anatomical model of a heart on it. I get the same illicit thrill out of “getting away” with pieces like this at work as I do with fandom-inspired eye shadow. It feels like I’m sneaking a little bit of me into an environment where I’m supposed to be totally interchangeable, and that feels fantastic.
If you’re as amused by anatomical illustrations as I am, The Spangled Maker might be just your style. Their work is very heavily influenced by Victorian illustrations and surrealism, and while some of the larger pieces would probably be pushing it, I think you could get away with the brain cuff links just about anywhere.
There is also an Australian artist who trades under the name Jubly-Umph, who does some incredible rockabilly, tattoo inspired jewellery. They’re all resin on stainless steel, so while they look fragile they’re actually very durable and totally waterproof.
The thing I really love about Jubly-Umph’s pieces is that they’re all created from her own original drawings. She sells prints of these drawings, as well as cardigan clips, handbags, and earrings all based on her artworks. I have the anatomical heart and the Dia Dos Muertos fox head pendant, and I get compliments every single time I wear them.
If your taste runs a little more conservative, there is another Australian creator I like a lot who sells from a shop called Planet Pickle. They do hand-crafted sterling silver and gold jewellery, and their designs are small and simple enough to pass unnoticed most of the time. While less bold than some of the larger pieces from The Spangled Maker or Jubly-Umph, they are definitely unique and have a lot of personality. There are also pieces available in silver plated versions, for those of us not on a sterling silver budget.
What’s your favourite way of sneaking a little personality into your work wardrobe? Are you a scarf person, or the one with the cool hair clips? Are you allowed to wear whatever you want? Are you entirely confined within a strict uniform? I’d love to hear how you express yourselves in the workplace.
Image credits: Author’s own photos of Femme Fatale Cosmetics and Shiro Cosmetics loose eyeshadows, promotional product images courtesy of The Spangled Maker Etsy Store, promotional product images sourced from the Jubly-Umph website, promotional product images sourced from the Planet Pickle Etsy store
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The author of Reluctant Femme, Cassie is a queer thirty something Australian who thinks too much, reads too much, talks too much, and has way too many pretty things. Her writing revolves around an exploration of femme concepts, beauty products, feminism, and how they intersect with being a queer, poly, cisgender woman with fantastic nails. You can catch up with her in shorter bursts on Twitter as @anwyn, and see endless pictures of her nails on Instagram as @anwynincognito. She lives for comments, so if you’re reading by all means speak up! Even if you think she’s full of crap, she always likes to hear feedback.