Reader Requests: Formulas, Uniforms, and Office Attire

outfit_formulas

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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Originally posted 2016-02-10 06:17:19.

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One Response to “Reader Requests: Formulas, Uniforms, and Office Attire”

  1. Courtney L.

    Re uniforms:

    The first two uniforms you mention actually work well in conjunction with each other. I usually follow the outer layer-printed blouse-slacks combination, but I also have a few dresses that I throw into the mix, usually topped with a jacket or cardigan. Also, the dress option flows from one season to the next with minor adjustments in the toppers/accessories: cardi + boots (and maybe tights, depending on weather for spring), light cardi (or no topper if the dress has sleeves) + heels or sandals + necklace for summer), jacket or cardi + tights and boots + scarf for fall & winter. I had one sleeveless sheath dress that I was able to wear every week for 2 years with that formula, and even though the dress was a bright fuschia, I was able to change up the color combinations of the accessories enough that it didn’t feel like wearing the same dress every week. I’d still be wearing it every week if I hadn’t gained weight.