Posts Categorized: reader requests

Reader Requests: Formulas, Uniforms, and Office Attire

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Instead of tackling one question with a long-winded answer, here are a few that have come in over the past few months that pertain to related topics!

I’ve heard that many leaders choose a “work uniform” to avoid making decisions about what to wear each day. I love the idea, but I’m stuck on what my options might be. What work uniform options would you recommend I consider? (I’m a professional in my thirties, and my work environment is business casual.)

Some style mavens find personal uniforms dull and predictable, but plenty of fashion tastemakers do outfits on repeat. Have you ever seen Carolina Herrera in anything other than a white button-front? Or Vera Wang without her beloved leggings? Uniforms make dressing quicker and easier, but also broadcast power and confidence. Picking a few for yourself can be a smart and savvy practice.

When I work with style consult clients, three business casual formulas generally arise. The first is an outer layer (blazer, cardigan, jacket), a printed top, and a skirt or pair of pants. The idea here is that the printed top adds interest and movement, but also serves as a bridging piece. For instance a floral top with burgundy, navy, and olive in its print allows you to wear a burgundy blazer and navy pants, or an olive cardigan and navy skirt. Use the print’s colors to guide your choices.

The second is a jacket or blazer with a dress. The jacket adds instant structure and formality, which means you can opt for a classic sheath dress or a more casual fit-and-flare and still look professional. The two elements create balance, and also a bit of a blank slate. You can include a statement necklace to liven up your look, belt the dress to accent your waist, or throw on a scarf to add color or print to the mix.

The third is a solid top, a solid bottom in a different color, and an accessory in the same color as the bottom. (So red sweater, black pants, black necklace.) Worn alone, the solid top and bottom have no visual relationship to each other. A necklace, scarf, or brooch that brings the bottom color into your top half unites them.

Do you have an opinion on patterned tights in the office?

I do indeed! Overall, I think subtly patterned tights – especially small, regular geometrics like dots or basket weaves – are suitable for all but the most conservative of office environments. Sheer, patterned tights are a fabulous option for transitional weather: If it’s too warm for opaques but too far into the season to do bare legs, a pair of black tights with low-contrast diamonds or chevrons will look a bit more interesting and contemporary than sheer black nylons.

Now prepare yourself for a big boatload of “howevers”: Fishnets are risky across the board, because for many people that pattern still screams “lady of the night.” There are some marvelous fishnet variations on the market, including microfishnets over a layer of sheer black nylon, but still proceed with caution. Multicolored patterned tights are far more quirky and casual than tone-on-tone and low contrast options, so reserve them for creative environments and casual wear. And bold patterns like large-scale florals, wide stripes, and busy paisleys won’t look as sophisticated as their more subdued cousins.

Still unsure? Ask HR about dress code specifications, or check in with your coworkers. Every working environment is different, and I’d hate to get you fired for splashing out on a pair of pin-dot tights.

Is it sloppy not to tuck in a button down shirt for work if you’re a woman? What are the rules here?

Style “rules” are merely guidelines, so remember that you can always bend and break them as you see fit. That said, here’s what I know about tucking:

Button-front shirts were once tucked by women and men in all professional situations, but style preferences have changed. Nowadays, lawyers, C-level execs, and other suit-wearing folks are generally still expected to tuck. The rest of us aren’t, and many don’t. So long as your shirt fits properly and is freshly pressed, it will be office-appropriate worn untucked. Since wrinkling happens organically when you actually WEAR a shirt, consider wrinkle-free fabrics to minimize your level of mid-day rumpled-ness.

Be aware, though, that your tucking preferences may be proportion-dependent. We expect to see a longer torso line with pants, so untucked button-fronts usually look natural with them. We expect a shorter torso line with skirts, so tucking may work better.

Of course, if you just plain prefer the look of a tucked shirt, by all means tuck. And if your generation sees untucked shirts as a sign of slovenliness, tuck your own shirt and do your best to give your untucked coworkers a pass.

Images courtesy Banana Republic, Nordstrom, Talbots (left to right)

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Reader Request: Balancing Style and Appropriateness

personal style dress code

Reader Maddie sent me this request:

Something I think a lot about is how to balance “dressing for situations that require ‘appropriateness'” vs “dressing in a way that makes me feel awesome and cool.” Like you I’ve been trending much more edgy – cool recently, and it’s a balancing act to figure out how far to let that go when I’m on site with a customer at a big health system. For example, I’m not taking out my eight ear piercings, no sir, but should I balance that out by not wearing my pointy edgy heeled booties? Is a leather pencil skirt too much now that my hair is dyed dark and I’m not pairing it with a cheerful floral, but a dark blouse? (But also, forgive my French, fuck the patriarchy, where does that fit in?) Are there some general ideas/guidelines for how to keep from accidentally going too far? I don’t care too much about offending people, but I do read the boss-lady blogs like Corporette and I really struggle to reconcile the dress-for-you vs dress-for-those-around-you-at-work messages I feel I get from different camps.

SUCH a tough one. And I will open this particular can of worms by saying that learning to balance your personal style preferences against the expectations of those around you is a delicate art, and also a highly individual one. What you can “get away with” depends on your environment, tasks, and – to some extent – personality. I can offer loose guidelines, but you should always trust your gut. And when your gut refuses to offer any guidance, consult your friendly HR rep. Or, if you feel comfortable, chat with your manager. I sincerely doubt anyone will dock points or giggle at you for asking earnest questions about what you can and cannot wear to work/with clients, but if they do? Better get that embarrassment and aggravation out of the way up front, and feel confident of your choices moving forward.

So. Here are some ideas to ponder if you aren’t sure how to balance what you want to wear with what you’re expected to wear:

One envelope-pushing item per outfit

As Maddie guessed, it’s gonna be easier to get away with a leather pencil skirt if you balance it out with something from another fashion family – something soft or retro or colorful. Something distinctly NOT tough, edgy, or sexy. Juxtaposition is your friend, and can help you slide a few items aligned with your personal style into outfits aligned with your boss’s expectations. (Or your friend group’s or your in-laws’ … this works in multiple settings.)

Accessories generally get a pass

If you’ve got a dress that you think is toeing the line, you’re probably better off relegating it to weekend wear. But aside from anything printed with obscenities or designed to be reminiscent of genitalia, most accessories are easier to incorporate into conservative, work, or client-facing outfits. OK, you might not want to wear a black leather dog collar or five-inch perspex heels … but chunky necklaces, funky shoes, stylized eyeglasses, unusual watches, and sculptural handbags will simply create interesting contrast against more conservative clothing.

More coverage = less kerfuffle

And here we delve into irritatingly patriarchy-related territory: Most people are more willing to accept unusual, edgy, or stylized pieces if they offer coverage rather than being revealing. Which is stupid and confining, but can also be used somewhat subversively. A skull-print top that’s sleeveless and low-cut will turn heads, but a skull-print scarf worn with a crew-neck and blazer might not even register. A leather miniskirt will cause a stir, but a leather miniskirt worn with opaque tights and knee-high boots could pass muster. If you’ve got something you know to be controversial, wear it in a mix that errs on the side of more coverage.

High quality, good fibers

Clothing that’s well made and created using high-quality fibers will generally make its wearer look sophisticated, even if it’s done up in wild shapes or funky prints. If what you’re wearing is both cheap and borderline-inappropriate, it’s more likely to attract attention. Which doesn’t mean you should start buying super-expensive clothes that might get you in trouble with your manager! Just know that you can get away with more envelope-pushing personal expression if you make sure to keep some top-quality items in the mix.

Very few of us are privileged enough to have total freedom when it comes to style choices, and it can feel stifling to conform to employer or social expectations. But there are always ways to make sure your unique style shines through, and I hope some of these will prove helpful to you. And to Maddie!

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Reader Request: Styling Shawls and Scarves

styling shawls

Images courtesy Un-Fancy

Reader Isabel had this question:

I love to knit and am always trying new techniques/patterns and am slowly building a collection of knitted garments. Styling toques (I’m Canadian after all) and sweaters is pretty straight forward: it’s cold, so wear a toque or sweater. My challenge is primarily with shawls and scarves: how do I incorporate these into my wardrobe of jeans and t-shirts that works for a mother of a young kid and someone who is kind of lazy in the fashion department? (I’d rather knit a few extra minutes, or spend the time outside or with my family than fuss over clothing that same amount of time). In other words, how can I make my hand knits er, hip, instead of dowdy?

With blanket scarves and ponchos in high demand, this is actually a great time to work those hand-knits into your daily outfits. And I think jeans and tees are the perfect balance to shawls and scarves that may be a bit on the bulky side. As always, balancing volume (the handknits) with fitted-ness is wise, so go for slim-fitting jeans, tops that skim your curves, and figure-hugging jackets. In addition to the two above from Un-Fancy – both of which will work well with large scarves or shawls – here are a few other ideas:

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This works best with a large rectangle, but you might be able to finagle a similar look from a triangular shawl. The key here is asymmetry: One half of the shawl hangs straight down from the shoulder and over the arm, the other is thrown across the body at a diagonal. This looks fabulous with a simple dress – add tights and boots for winter wear – but could also work with skinny jeans and a thin sweater.

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This is the tie I see used most often for blanket scarves, but you fold them into a triangle before tying so it’ll work great with triangular shawls. Since wearing a scarf or shawl this way places a ton of fabric right near your face and neck, I’d recommend wearing your hair up and doing fitted clothes all over if you can.

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Yep, belting giant scarves is a thing right now. The addition of a duster or long blazer makes this look feel less overwhelming. Also make sure to use a medium or thin belt – wide belts tend to look odd over huge scarves. I’ve seen belted scarves over maxi dresses, but personally prefer the look with jeans as shown here.

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OK fine, this is a ruana. But consider the other elements – heeled ankle boots, slim boyfriend jeans, fitted top – and swap in a large shawl.

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Image source – tutorial there, too

This is some pretty advanced scarf-wearing, but I think it might look a little less funky with two scarves of the same color. Or even in the same color range. Click the link above for a tutorial on the tie. This is cute with the jacket and button-front, but could also work with a sweater dress and boots or a simple sweater and jeans.

Hopefully some of these will work for both hand-knit scarves and shawls! Need more ideas? For a cornucopia of scarf-tying inspiration, check Mai Tai’s Picture Book.

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