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Summer Sartorial Rules for Corporate America

These days it can be confusing when trying to dress for the office. With retailers showing “secretary” dresses that hardly cover one’s behind, painted-on pants paired with blazers, and cleavage-baring blouses with suits, you wonder what actually is acceptable these days. Add to this a sweltering hot summer, and one could easily stray in the wrong sartorial direction. From one corporate employee to another, here’s some rules on summer office fashion that apply to you whether you’re a cubicle dweller or reside in the corner office.

Even if they’re metallic or beaded, they’re still flip flops. And if they’re flip flops, they don’t belong in the office. Period.

A cardigan doesn’t make a strapless dress work-appropriate. Seriously ladies, we can still tell it is strapless. This also goes for low-cut dresses, spaghetti straps, and every other dress more appropriate for happy hour on the terrace than the boardroom.

If I couldn’t wear spaghetti straps when working at the mall, you can’t wear them to the office. When I worked in apparel, even at trendy companies like Express, we had a dress code. That dress code restricted many things like sneakers, but it also restricted revealing attire such as spaghetti straps. If I couldn’t be a 21-year old in Express with spaghetti straps, you sure as heck shouldn’t be an adult with them at work. It’s just not professional.

Even if your bra strap is the same color as your tank, it doesn’t make it invisible. A peach racerback tank with peach bra straps is still a shirt exposing bra straps. A navy x-back sundress with a navy traditional bra is still a dress exposing your lingerie. I commend your attempt, but it’s still not appropriate for the office.

Hemlines shouldn’t rise with the temperature. Your skirt should be near your knee, not near your rear. If you can’t bend down to pick up your pen or sit on a standard chair without fear of flashing, your skirt is too short.

A hoodie is not an appropriate layer for offices that blast the A/C. Even if it’s cashmere, if it zips up the front, has two pockets and a hood, it’s not professional looking. Switch to a cardigan, pashmina, or soft jacket.

White is almost always transparent. I personally think thin white cotton and twill and light-colored linen should not be worn to the office, but if you do, wear with skin-colored seamless undergarments. No lace, no bows, no stripes, and not even sheer (the better to see the cotton crotch and waistband, my dear). If it’s a dress, wear a slip, if in doubt, don’t wear it to work.

Cleavage isn’t appropriate, no matter the season. Somehow, those who understand office attire let everything literally hang out come summer. Low-cut tanks, deep Vs on wrap dresses, strapless tops under cardigans… and none of it is appropriate for the office. If you wouldn’t show your décolleté in December, you also shouldn’t in July.

Dress code still applies. If it’s business casual, that means nice pants and skirts with refined tops or a simple dress. It does not mean chino Bermudas, seersucker sundresses with flip flops, logoed tee shirts with capris, tropical printed maxis with beaded sandals, or super-short cotton skirts with ribbed tanks. This is your office, not a tiki bar. You can beat the heat without dressing for Margaritaville.

Dress for respect. Again, this is your place of work. This is how you pay your rent, buy groceries and gas, and where you should be striving to move up the corporate ladder. Dress the part, no matter how hot it is outside.

For some suggestions on appropriate office attire, please visit:

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Plus Sized Work Attire Options

Dear Allie:
I am getting back into the workforce after five years as a SAHM. I’m really excited, but am having a hard time finding nice work clothes. I am a size 18, 5’5” and an apple and all I seem to find are lowcut dresses and polyester pants. Do you know where I can find suits and work clothes like dresses and blouses for my size?
Why are all plus sized suits made out of polyester? Where can I find a suit that is equal in quality and price to J. Crew but goes above a size 16?
I was recently promoted and my new position requires me to travel on business several times a month. For such trips, I will need to wear a suit while at the office I can usually get away with casual pants or even nice jeans. While I have a great wardrobe of business casual pieces, it is proving difficult to find more corporate of attire for my size (I vary between a 20 and 22). Do you know of any retailers who specialize in suiting and corporate attire for plus-sized women?
Hi Allie, I need to improve my look at work. We’re allowed to wear anything we want but I don’t want to look like a slob any more and think if I look good I may be more likely to get a raise or promotion. I’m 5’7”, a size 20 with a large bust and don’t even know where to start looking for nicer work clothes. HELP!

I am not sure why the world thinks women over a size 12 don’t hold professional jobs. They must think that with the poor selection of career wear for plus-sized women. While quality suits and stylish business casual clothing does exist, it’s hard to find. Below I feature some brands who realize that just because you wear a larger size doesn’t mean you wish to sacrifice style, quality, or professionalism.

If you’re plus sized, I’m sure you already know about Lane Bryant, Avenue, Ashley Stewart, One Stop Plus/Woman Within/Roamans/Jessica London, and other retailers who specialize in plus size fashion. Below are some suggestions on brands I know who aren’t the typical shops, and who provide quality, well-crafted and stylish career wear in plus sizes

I know, I know, Nordstrom again? Thing is, they offer a great selection of quality brands and style for plus sizes. MICHAEL Michael Kors, Rachel Palley, Calvin Klein, Karen Kane, Eileen Fisher, Tahari Woman, Vince Camuto, Kenneth Cole… all these brands and more are offered in plus sizes at Nordstrom stores and online.

Unlike many other department stores who think a woman in a size 22 dress wants a muumuu or a flowing polyester pantsuit, Nordstrom buyers find brands and pieces that are in the same vein of style as the rest of the store. Great colors, fun silhouettes, lots of options. Nordstrom has free shipping and free returns, will perform alterations onsite, and have personal shoppers that can help you secure a professional wardrobe for your job.

Macy’s is another department store who offers a fantastic selection of brands and styles for plus sizes. Alfani, Calvin Klein, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Jones New York, and then their in-house brand INC International Concepts are great resources for great plus size office wear. Like Nordstrom, Macy’s provides a good amount of real estate in most of their stores for plus-sized fashion.

Macy’s always has promotions for discounts and shipping deals. Macy’s has a great return and exchange policy, where you can return by mail or at any nearby store.

Talbots Woman comes in sizes 12-24 regular and 12-22 petite. Each season they offer several styles of suit separates so you can mix and match for the perfect career look. Talbots also specializes in business casual looks, with tailored trousers, well-crafted skirts, polished knits and sweaters and even shoes and accessories.

While many retailers hide their plus size department in a dusty corner or keep it only online, Talbots often has separate stores just for their Woman line, or else it gets plenty of real estate in their mixed-size store. Talbots is phenomenal with customer service, seeking out sizes at other locations, taking returns in-store, and giving you honest feedback and offering suggestions at the fitting room. When I was a size 18, Talbots was my go-to store, where I knew I would find quality, style, and a supportive staff.

Jones New York
While Jones New York is a department store staple, they also have their own online boutique that has a large selection of career wear in extended sizes. Since you have to return by mail (they offer a pre-paid shipping label), it’s good to try out JNY in a store to know how it fits, and then go online to find a larger selection.

Kiyonna knows how to dress a woman. They make well-made pieces that are stylish and flattering to a plus-sized figure. No muumuus and garish prints here, Kiyonna offers beautiful dresses, and also a beautiful selection of separates. While their bottoms are very basic, they are well-made and classic. Some of their tops can run on the sexy side, but many are great pieces for business casual environments or fabulous shells under suits. Their return policy is pretty standard but I hear their sizing is quite consistent so once you know how you fit in Kiyonna you won’t have to make as many returns and exchanges.

Ann Taylor
If you enter an Ann Taylor store, you may think they don’t care about anyone over a size 12. However online they go up to size 18 and XXL on the majority of their pieces. I also find Ann Taylor runs a bit large and many of my readers have agreed that their size 18 can often fit a size 20 woman.

Ann Taylor regularly has promotions for free shipping and percentages off select items – it’s smart to sign up for their emails or follow them on Facebook or Twitter so you stay updated. Their online selection can sell out pretty quickly when they have such sales, so shop early. While Ann Taylor doesn’t offer free returns, they do accept returns even of larger sizes in any store. And if you have to do a return, check out their sale rack where I have regularly seen larger sizes from other women who have made returns.

Lands’ End
Lands’ End may not be the retailer you would think for career wear, but they do have a pretty great selection of workwear staples. While their summer selection is more geared towards shorts and dresses, they always have a good selection of blazers and coordinating bottoms and come the cooler months have an even greater selection of suiting and work-appropriate pieces.

Lands’ End often has promotions for discounts and free shipping so sign up for their emails to get the latest news. Lands’ End also accepts returns at Sears stores which makes shopping with them even more convenient.

Eddie Bauer
Like Lands’ End, Eddie Bauer mainly focuses on casual weekend fashion. However, like Lands’ End they have a few stand-out pieces each season for career wear. Eddie Bauer often focuses on easy-care pieces, and you’re likely to find wrinkle-free suiting, no-iron button-front shirts, and machine washable trousers and dresses. Eddie Bauer offers free exchanges and accepts returns by mail (they will provide a pre-paid shipping label or you can send by your own method) or in store.

I’m quick to head to Overstock to find a toaster oven or an area rug, but I have now learned to go to this site for fashion. Popular brands like Tahari, Kasper, Calvin Klein, and Ann Klein are featured by Overstock, and at nicer prices than at the department store. While some of the styles offered on Overstock are a bit strange, you can also find some gems – often pieces being sold right now at your nearby Belk or Macy’s. Overstock has customer reviews, ridiculously cheap shipping, and a reasonable return policy.

TJ Maxx
While most of my local discount big box retailers will have some plus size fashion, it’s usually a small section, messy, and full of strange pieces I wouldn’t be caught dead in. Not so for TJ Maxx, who usually carries higher-end brands than similar stores, and they usually have a larger and better organized plus size department.

Where do you find stylish and well-made plus size career wear? I’d love to know your suggestions!

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Ask Allie: Cheap Work Clothing

I am 22 and find myself coming into work every day looking a hot-mess. Unacceptable. I’ll admit I’ve stopped trying to put things together at this point. I am in serious need of advice as to a “starter wardrobe”. I’m working with an extremely tight budget where $50 is too much for a blazer.

I’m getting back into the work world after spending four years at home with my sons and my closet is pretty much jeans and T-shirts. Any suggestions for building a work wardrobe from nothing and with practically no funds?

I wrote this post recently, and it’s worth a look. You don’t need to spend a ton of money to look professional in the office, you don’t need to own a dozen suits or expensive garments. However, it is important to look for versatile, quality pieces for the office. I can’t stress this enough – it’s more important to have a few well-made and well-fitting versatile pieces than a closet packed with cheap junk. It’s okay to wear the same black pants three times in a week, to wear the same suit for each business meeting, to wear the same pencil skirt twice a week if it fits well, is classic, and versatile.

Quality can be found at TJ Maxx, at Target, at Goodwill. You don’t need to go to a high-end retailer to find quality pieces. Shop slowly, shop carefully, be picky. Again, it’s better to only have one pair of black pants if they fit well and flatter. It’s better to buy a pair of $29.99 clearance pants and get them hemmed to the perfect length via the local dry cleaner than to spend $80 on a pair of pants that don’t fit well.

Shopping Online
I find a ton of great business clothing for less online. Subscribe to sites that notify you of online deals, or follow retailers on social media to know when they are having free shipping or discounts so you can save big. Also consider joining Ebates, which will send you a check a couple times a year just for regular shopping online.

Schedule thrifting into your schedule the way you would doctor’s appointments or book club. You will have the best luck when you go regularly, and know where you are shopping. Never buy smaller than you size, but some pieces a hair too large can be easily tailored with a belt, some Stitch Witchery, or your nearby dry cleaners or tailor. Don’t buy pieces that are damaged just because they are a great deal – for office clothing it’s important to have pieces in great condition. Thrifting is a great way to find blouses to give a new look to wardrobe basics – a black pantsuit looks completely different with a turquoise silk ruffled blouse than with a crisp white button-front shirt than with a shell pink silk sweater tee.

Shopping the Clearance Rack
I worked retail for many a year, and highly respected those savvy shoppers who entered my store and immediately went to the back to the sale rack. Stores you may think are outside your pricerange can have some stellar deals on the clearance rack. I own $19.99 blazers from Ann Taylor, $30 cashmere sweaters from J. Crew, and beautiful lined trousers from Nordstrom for less than $40. Again, follow these brands online to know when they have deals – recently Ann Taylor had a “private sale” for regular customers and offered 40% off sale merchandise. For less than $100 I got a pair of work pants, two shells, a cardigan, a skirt, and a merino wool crewneck… you can’t find that much workwear eat any discount mart for that price!

Quality at a Discount
Some things just make a piece look cheap, no matter the price on the ticket. Shiny synthetics, too many embellishments, visible logos, unlined non-knit jackets, too tight trousers, blatant trends (wide flared legs, super cropped jackets, extreme shoulders, cutouts, etc.) will make an otherwise nice work garment look inappropriate. I have found simple suiting-fabric separates at Target and Old Navy. Fabrics like matte jersey and Ponte knit look great at lower pricepoints and are work-appropriate for separates and dresses. Check out sites like for quality footwear at great low prices; also consider stalking eBay for specific pieces you have seen at retailers for a nice gently-used price.

Capsule Wardrobe
In my last post about a work attire, I focused mainly on the entry-level employee. However, you can look professional at any level with a small wardrobe. This capsule wardrobe is only an example – while you can click the link below it to see the specific pieces I used, do know I was working with pieces that have images available online, not on a model, and on a white ground. I chose pieces that I know can be found a low pricepoints and can look like quality even if they are purchased from a discount retailer; pieces that can look current even if they are purchased from a thrift store.


As you see, I chose a color story of black, gray, and shades of lilac as the accent hue. I chose black as a base because it’s a color that’s easier to mix and match from various retailers and easier to hide the price of a garment because the stitching and details are less visible. A gray “snow leopard” print adds interest and works with all the colors in the collection. All silhouettes are classic so they will work now and a couple years from now. Lighter-weight sweaters look more professional than chunky knits; warmth can be had with layers. I chose black pumps as the lone shoe since they are so versatile; if you can afford additional work shoes, a flat or a tall boot can be quite versatile and also classic. These pumps can be worn with bare legs (dress code permitting) in warmer months, with trouser socks for the pants, with tights or sheer stockings with the skirts come the colder months.

  1. Black jacket, black pants, ruffle blouse (can switch out pants for either skirt)
  2. Black jacket, black pants, white shirt (can switch out pants for either skirt)
  3. Black jacket, black pants, lavender sweater (can switch out pants for either skirt)
  4. Black jacket, leopard cardigan, black skirt
  5. Leopard cardigan, black pants
  6. Leopard cardigan, either skirt, ruffled blouse
  7. Leopard cardigan, white shirt, pants or either skirt
  8. Lavender sweater, gray skirt, leopard belt
  9. Lavender sweater, ruffled blouse, gray skirt
  10. Lavender sweater, white shirt, pants or either skirt
  11. Lavender sweater, black pants
  12. Black sweater, black pants, leopard belt
  13. Black sweater, white shirt, black skirt
  14. Black sweater, gray skirt, leopard belt
  15. White shirt, gray skirt, leopard belt
  16. White shirt, black pants, lavender sweater around shoulders
  17. Ruffled blouse, gray skirt
  18. Ruffled blouse, black pants

So with less than a dozen pieces, you can create over 20 different ensembles. An extra tank top or silk shell can add a handful more options. As you add to your wardrobe, keep in mind the color story and silhouettes so new pieces will fit effortlessly into your collection and increase the versatility of each piece.

When You Can’t Afford a Suit
It’s better to not have a suit than a cobbled-together mess. A blazer is expensive, and without stalking clearance racks, eBay, and your nearby thrift store you very well won’t be able to find a decent one under $50. So don’t buy one. You can look professional in a simple cardigan, blouse, and pants; a shift dress and pumps or flats, a button-front shirt and trousers. A matte jersey wrap dress, gabardine sheath or Ponte knit shift with a strand of pearls and simple black pumps can look just as sophisticated and professional while being far more easy to find at a low pricepoint. Don’t make it work, only own that which deserves to be in your closet.

So maybe now it’s a Forever 21 cardigan, Target pants, and a thrifted oxford as your work uniform – there’s nothing wrong with that. Take good care of them, launder them carefully, treat them like couture and they will be good to you in return. As you move up the corporate ladder you may replace these pieces with higher-end pieces once they wear out… or you may be pleased to find that quality doesn’t have to equal a higher price!

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Making A Wardrobe Work For You

making your wardrobe work for you by wardrobe oxygen tips on how to adjust a wardrobe to fit your body and personal styleEmerson tugs on me. She tugs on my shirttails, the hems of my skirts, my crossbody bags. “Emerson, tug on my hand, not my clothes,” I tell her. “If you tug too hard you may break it.” And sure enough, recently she took a tug on my Rebecca Minkoff Mini M.A.C. and the leather loop that holds the strap pulled completely off, with it tearing off part of the leather exterior.

rebecca minkoff mini mac leopard calfhair via wardrobe oxygenI went to eBay looking for a replacement as my leopard calfhair version is no longer available. I went to Rebecca Minkoff’s site to see if there was a new bag that would be a worthy alternative. Many gorgeous ones, but none that were a worthy alternative. Then I thought… why the heck am I looking to plop another $200 or more on a new bag when this one may be able to be repaired? So I took my bag to my cobbler… and for $15 he fixed the bag so well one wouldn’t be able to tell unless they were looking for the mend.

how to hem a chiffon maxi dressAt 5’3”, many of the clothes I admire in stores are just too long for me. Add to the fact that I’m overweight and need a larger size, hemlines are often dragging several inches on the floor. I recently purchased this dress from Charlie Jade and fell in love with the boho cut and print (stay tuned for an outfit post!), but didn’t love the fact that in my highest heels there was still a ton of fabric pooling on the ground. Inspired by my “DUH” moment with my purse, I decided to mend the hem issue. I went to YouTube and searched “how to hem a chiffon dress” and found this video. I have a sewing machine, though it only gets used a couple times a year. Hey, this video makes it feel really doable! So one morning I woke up at 5am, literally dusted off my sewing machine, grabbed a pair of scissors and my iron and two hours later I was walking out the door in a 5’3” appropriate chiffon maxi dress.

Last weekend, the zipper in my Gap Real Straight jeans died on me. This happened to a pair a year ago, two days after getting them and I took them to the store for an exchange. I went to the website, they no longer had the color and size I own and love. The jeans are now in my car, ready to head to the dry cleaners with my next load of Karl’s shirts and my blouses to get a new zipper.

When you’re overweight, 16” necklaces don’t really cut it. Well they actually do cut it… cut into your neck and look as though your head has been cut off. But such necklaces are the trend, and even though I tell brands I need at least an 18” chain, I have received more than one beautiful, delicate, too-short necklace. Well I picked up this necklace extender for $8 and now I can wear all the trendy delicate chains without them cutting off my circulation.

When you’re not a standard height, weight, or shape shopping can prove extremely frustrating. When you’re not handy or crafty, a snag or too-long hem can be the straw that breaks your sartorial back. It’s easy to get frustrated, or throw money at it, but often there is a solution out there. Yes, we women are snowflakes – no two of us are alike. However, many of us deal with the same issues when it comes to our bodies and desire to dress them in a stylish manner.

One thing you’ll see again and again when it comes to the closets of stylish women is pieces they have kept for years. They don’t buy new things each season, yet it seems they are able to keep their pieces in great wearable condition for decades. It’s not because they are perfectly pristine people who never sweat, trip, or spill. They don’t find those perfect items right off the rack to fit their body like a glove. There’s work behind the scenes to make clothing work for them, and work for a long period of time. As a fashion blogger, it’s easy for me to buy a new item when something in my wardrobe isn’t quite right. Heck, it’s often a good investment if it looks good in an outfit post and many of you click to buy. Re-wearing the same pieces and accessories don’t benefit me financially, but it does benefit my personal style. Having pieces I love, that I know as well as the back of my hand, that aren’t almost right but actually right, that don’t require any MacGyver tricks to work (been there, done that) not only improves my style but my body image and confidence.

The seasons are changing, and even if it’s still 90 degrees where you are, our thoughts are on scarves, sweaters, boots, and newness in our closets. But before you go out and buy a bunch of fresh clothes and accessories, consider your current closet and how you can refresh it. Your dry cleaner can shorten sleeves and hems, companies like AlterKnit New York can reweave sweaters to look like new or replace linings in suit jackets, bridal salons and quality department stores have skilled seamstresses on staff who will often work on pieces not bought in their store. There’s gadgets out there to make style work for you, and likely with a YouTube video or two you can find you have more crafty genes in your body than you realized. Before you drop coin, reconsider your current wardrobe and see if there’s any hidden gems just waiting to take your personal style to the next level.

Working Lunch

So I want to look nice. Nothing too conservative or severe due to the attendees, but still professional.

Orange-red silk knit tank from Banana Republic. Orange-red stone necklace from a boutique at the beach. Denim blazer from Ann Taylor. Black textured trousers from Ann Taylor Loft. Black pumps from B.P./Nordstrom.

Hair was dried in a hurry with a paddle bruch, then a round brush on the edges. I was running so late this morning! Some BioSilk on the ends so they don’t look grossly raggedy.

Makeup is L’Oreal True Match foundation, Chanel powder and concealer. Nars Orgasm (just a little) on the cheeks. Eyes? Well a real hodgepodge as that I was rushing and didn’t have a plan in my head. Some Clinique Snow in the corners/tear ducts. The same brown as my brow powder on the crease and around the lash line. A touch of a shimmery peach/beige over all this. MAC’s X mascara in black. On the lips is just some Cranberry Lip Balm from The Body Shop.

Not my finest fashion or beauty effort, but I look presentable and I was not late for work!

Back to Work!

The husband took the pictures, so forgive me for looking so cheesy! The First picture makes me look like Tammy Faye with a Dolly Parton wig – I swear I don’t really look like that today!

Ivory faintly ribbed blazer from Ann Taylor. Black sweater tank from Ann Taylor Loft. Denim trousers from Ann Taylor (see a theme?). Pearls from the Limited. Black leather thng heels from Mossimo for Target.

As for makeup, L’Oreal True Match foundation in C3, The Body Shop stick concealer in 03, a touch of Chanel pressed powder around the eyes to set, and Physician’s Formula Magical Mosaics bronzer on the face for color. On lips is Sally Hansen’s Diamond Lipgloss in a bright sheer pink. A bit of Clinique Snow shadow in the inner corners of the eyes, a line of black Ultra Liner by maybelline on the top lids and two coats of L’Oreal Voluminous mascara in balck on lashes curled thanks to Shu Eumura.

As for hair, it was rinsed with Suave/Redken wannabe conditioner, complimenting curling mousse added to damp hair, dried with a diffuser and a bit of a curling iron on the unruly sections. Ready to go back to work after a week off!

Late to Work

Said the dog was sick, but that was the equivalent to saying the dog ate my homework. I was late, and my dog was feeling fit as a fiddle. Oh well. I am always on time. I won’t feel guilt.

Electric blue cap sleeved square neck tape yarn sweater from a no-name brand and bought for less than $10 at Marshall’s. Denim blazer from Ann Taylor. Black trousers from Ann Taylor. Black pumps from B.P./Nordstrom. Silver and black leather necklace from Chico’s, silver cuff and silver hoops.

Makeup is i.d. Bare Escentuals foundation and concealer. Nars Orgasm on the cheeks. Pale pink gloss from Sally Hansen. Pale taupe/pewter shadow from the Body Shop. Think line of black liquid liner from Maybelline. Black mascara – MAC’s Zoom Lash.

Work, then Stones!

My friend got tickets to see the Rolling Stones. If I leave work 15 minutes early, we will get to the concert on time.

This leaves me about 3 minutes to get ready. Attire for a concert – a little different than that for work.

Screw jeans on Fridays. I am wearing them today with a pair of pointy black heeled boots from Nine West. On top I am wearing a plum v-neck sweater shell and a pink stretch courdoroy slightly shrunken style blazer and a pink brooch. Hair is straight, makeup is a bit more intense, but not frightening.

Plan of Action come 4:55 PM: Switch to strapless bra, black off the shoulder dolman sleeve sweater. Big black and silver chandelier earrings I got at the beach. A bit of bacc combing and hairspray will make hair fun. Brought gray shadow and mascara to oomph up eyes, and a reapplication of gloss and I am ready to rock!

never saw the Stones in concert before… should be a good time!

Work With Wardrobe Oxygen

Since 2005, Wardrobe Oxygen has not only showcased Alison Gary’s personal style but also provide real-life fashion advice for all women, regardless of age, figure, lifestyle, or budget.

Wardrobe Oxygen has been featured on sites such as Refinery 29, StyleCaster, Washington Life, Racked, and Washingtonian, and publications such as The Washington Post, B Woman Magazine, Redbook, and Parents Magazine.  Alison Gary has written for, The Savvy Life, The Washington Post, AOL Patch, ShoeBuy, and Redbook.  Alison Gary and Wardrobe Oxygen have been referenced in style books such as Living the Savvy Life and The Power of DRES and quoted on sites like U.S. News and World Report, Redbook, MSNBC, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Get Rich Slowly.

Along with writing for Wardrobe Oxygen and other publications, Alison has also performed speaking engagements for companies such as PR News and IKEA; hosted events for Westfield, Style for Hire, Gwynnie Bee, and The Shoe Hive; and in-person styling for brands such as The Shoe Hive, Foxcroft, and CAbi.

With over 25,000 RSS, Bloglovin, Feedly, and email followers, 5,000 newsletter subscribers, and an average of 175,000 unique monthly site visits and 450,000 monthly pageviews, Wardrobe Oxygen was rated as one of the Top 25 fashion blogs in America (2014 via Les Cahiers).  The average Wardrobe Oxygen reader is female, between the ages of 32-55 who is interested in current fashion and beauty trends.

Gwynnie Bee event DC hosted by Alison Gary of Wardrobe Oxygen Foxcroft Style Stars Teacher Styling Event featuring Alison Gary of Wardrobe Oxygen

If you would like to advertise with Wardrobe Oxygen or have Alison Gary feature or review your product, do not hesitate to contact Alison via email.

 Disclaimer: FTC Regulations Effective December 2009 require disclosure that compensation is received for the placement of advertising on Wardrobe Oxygen, compensation may be received for giveaways, and compensation is never received for reviews. Regardless of whether compensation is received from a seller or advertiser, my opinions are always my own.

Friday: Work from Home

Sweater: Rafaella c/o Gwynnie Bee
Tank: Caslon (similar)
Brooch: Ann Taylor (similar)
Jeans: Gap
Shoes: Ivanka Trump
Lipstick: Revlon Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stain in Crush Begun

Friday I worked from home. While it’s tempting to stay in pajamas, I like to wear something appropriate so I can answer the door, say yes to a friend who asks me last-minute to lunch, or step out to run errands. On this day, I knew after work I would be heading out with my husband (and Emerson!) to photograph a friend for an upcoming True Fashionista post.

I decided to wear comfortable clothes that look put together; this ruffle-trim cardigan arrived in my most recent Gwynnie Bee box. This is NOT a color I usually wear but I always love. Good use for Gwynnie Bee – try out a new color! I ended up loving this color so much I bought another sweater in the same shade. This sweater is pretty awesome – it’s free of closures, so you can wear hanging open, belt it, or do as I did and cinch it with a brooch. I bought this pin at Ann Taylor a few years ago and love that brooches have come back en vogue so it can get more play!

This weekend was pretty crazy – we found out our hot water heater was slowly leaking so we had some major cleanup to do (and still do), and Sunday we helped my mom take down her 30-year old steel toolshed. But to make up for the weekend, tonight I am going with my friend to see Gossip at The 9:30 Club! Woot!

As a reminder, if you are interested in trying Gwynnie Bee (read more about it here), they are offering your first two months half-price!  Just mention Wardrobe Oxygen when signing up to get the promotion.  Deal valid until September 30, 2012.

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Friday: Working for the Weekend

Shirt: Lands’ End Canvas
Jeans: Jag (similar)
Bracelets: Nordstrom, Ann Taylor, Lauren Ralph Lauren, c/o Soft Surroundings
Shoes: Halogen (similar)
Sunglasses: Ray-Ban
Bag: Banana Republic (similar)

I really should have had my husband get a shot of my travel mug – it’s for Saturn of Bowie.  My dad got it when he bought his 1994 Saturn, which I inherited when he passed in 1998 and drove into the ground until 2002 or so when I took over the loan on my mom’s ’99 Saturn, which I drove into the ground and replaced this past Easter with my Kia Soul.  The more I have the Kia, the more I like it.  I no longer feel like a hamster in a track suit – it’s great for carrying a ton of stuff, is good on gas (went to SC, KY, and DE with us this summer), and is roomy and comfortable.  And it’s my first non-inherited car!

This week has been busy. So busy, I haven’t done laundry in quite a while. I started trying to pull together fancy-shmancy outfits, thought maybe I’d go all kitchen sink today… but then realized I just want to get through today so I can enjoy the weekend. So I went to closet basics.

Last night I went back to Weight Watchers… for the first time in three months! Ack! We’re doing a wellness challenge at work so I figured it was time to get back on the Weight Watchers bandwagon. I was surprised I only gained 1.6 pounds in the past three months but no gain is a good gain. We’re moving offices soon and I am excited because the new one has a gym in it – a few of my coworkers and I have already decided to make good use of it, coming in early a couple days or using our lunch hours when we don’t have client meetings later in the afternoon.

Tomorrow we’re going to see Band of Horses and My Morning Jacket at Merriweather and I couldn’t be more psyched. Favorite band, and also get to spend time with some of my favorite people! What are your weekend plans?

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Friday – Working for the Weekend

Dress Lands’ End (on sale!)
Scarf – c/o Ann Taylor (similar)
BraceletsJewelMint, c/o Soft Surroundings, Lauren Ralph Lauren, Nordstrom
Necklace – LOFT (similar)
ShoesSofft “Pavia”
Bag – Nordstrom (similar)

The past few weeks at work have been a killer. Early mornings, late days, hardly have time to heat up a Lean Cuisine for lunch. And today? Not a single meeting, no deadlines, no frenzy. I felt that called for a celebratory outfit, something that makes me feel as though the weekend is already here.

I love this dress from Lands’ End – I threw it in the washer and dryer and it came out a bit wrinkled, but in a good “oh this is linen and linen wrinkles” sort of way. Though I must admit I took my hair flat iron to the straps to smooth them out enough to cover the bra!  And I shared the random picture of me talking to Emerson not just because I think she’s a cutie and I love her sense of style (she now picks out her outfits from head to toe), but to show the back view of this dress, which I know I will be wearing weekly all summer long.  And did you see, the dress has pockets! Perfection!

This weekend we have a relative’s 5th birthday and will be having a chill time for my husband on Father’s Day. Do you have any fun weekend plans?

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Forgot My Camera at Work….

So I wasn’t able to take pictures of me. Sorry!

Black merino turtle/cowl neck from Ann Taylor. Like a full turtle, not as unflattering as a regular turtle, but not as droopy as a cowl.

Ivory sueded cotton trousers from Ann Taylor. Creased flat front, cuffs.

Black pointy high skinny heel boots from Enzo.

Silver hoops

Subtle smoky eyes, a bit of bronzer in place of blush, brownish pink gloss from Sally Hansen.

I like this outfit. I think I may wear it to the casual holiday party I am going to on the 17th. Dinner, drinks, TV sort of event. told to dress casually, but you know me – I don’t own casual. it’s business casual or paint-splattered. Little in between! Better to be over dressed than under dressed!

Personal Style Should Not be Work

Fashion should not be work. Fashion is a form of art – when art becomes work, it no longer is artistic.

Many women I know both in-person and through this blog seem to work too hard in becoming chic, fashionable or stylish. When style becomes frustrating, tiring, annoying or exasperating, it no longer exists. If a painter becomes so famous that he creates works of art in an assembly-line fashion, those paintings no longer are true art – they no longer hold part of the artist’s soul.

If style doesn’t come to you naturally, you are in the MAJORITY. Just as the majority of the population cannot sing, cannot sculpt, cannot dance well. It is something that you work on, and with passion it may grow to either a talent or something you enjoy behind closed doors. The problem with personal style is that it cannot be kept behind closed doors. Every day you are seen and judged by your wardrobe; and so the pressure for style skill is ever present.

If you stick to very simple basics in your wardrobe, dressing will be far simpler. So stovepipe jeans are in, as are platform sandals with dark hose. This does not mean they should be in your wardrobe. The hot color is yellow but just the thought of wearing that color makes you turn green, then for all means DO NOT WEAR IT. If you feel safest in a wardrobe of black and gray and denim, then until you feel more confident and skilled, there is no reason to venture into blue and red territory. Keep it very simple at first, stick with simple until you feel secure.

When you first ride a bike you have not only training wheels, but often a parent holding on to the back of the seat. The parent lets go, you wobble on the training wheels and then begin to feel steady. The training wheels are removed, but the parent is back to keep you straight. Once you have the hang of it, the parent lets go of the bike, you coast down the sidewalk and suddenly you can ride. Now, once you ride, you won’t be popping wheelies and jumping of 5’ cliffs in the mountains. You get acclimated to concrete and asphalt. You master turns and quick stops. After a long time perfecting your basic pedaling skills, you may move on to rougher terrain, or maybe tricks or long journeys. You will move from the standard bike to maybe a road model, one for trail rides, or one for BMX. Possibly you may find that you really don’t want to go farther than the occasional ride on the street and are perfectly happy with your first bike. You dabble in one style, find that you have a passion for it, and only then do you invest in the proper tools to follow that passion.

We women often try to be Lance Armstrong when we haven’t even taken off the training wheels. We want it all, and we want it now. We’ll buy every self-help book out there, subscribe to a dozen fashion magazines and TiVo What Not to Wear and how Do I Look. We go from a wardrobe of sweats to stilettos and complicated frocks. We feel frustrated and lost and hopeless.

Go back to my staples. These are simple items you can find at the local mall, big box retailer and often even a thrift store. If you are scared of color right now, then replace the colorful tops with muted shades. If you don’t ever wear jewelry, then hold off on the hoop earrings. Get some basic, well-made pieces that fit you properly and make you feel secure when you wear them. You have pieces that you can wear to work, to church, to pick up your son from pay group, to head to the grocery store. You have stepped from covering your body to dressing it. Stay at this point as long as you like, be it a couple months or a couple years. Don’t push it. There are things in life far more important than finding your proper colors or the It bag for the season.

You know you’re ready to take off those training wheels when you start admiring fashion in magazines, on TV and in stores. Like paintings, you can find beauty in a Dali, a Monet and a Warhol. The thing is to see which styles really capture you and tug at your soul. Is it the feminine lacy and sheer blouses in whites and pale shades this spring? Maybe it’s the yellow patent leather clutch in your recent fashion mag. Whatever it is that appeals to you, really think about it and how it connects to your personality. Slowly allow yourself to indulge in a piece of clothing or an accessory that you adore. Maybe it’s a modern silver bangle bracelet or a woven straw purse. Possibly it’s a biker-inspired leather jacket or a floral silk scarf for your throat. Take this one item and infuse it into your wardrobe. Examine your reflection before you leave for your day and in shop windows and restroom mirrors. Do you like what you see? Do you feel comfortable and yourself with this piece? If not, that’s okay. We all impulse shop. Take this as a learning experience and give the piece to a friend or donate it. Don’t hold on to it just because you bought it. Having items in your wardrobe that are wrong is far worse than having a miniscule wardrobe of things that are right.

When you wear this new piece, see what types of reactions you receive. Do people say you look as though you lost weight in that turquoise shade? Did a stranger compliment you on your necklace? Did someone ask you directions (this is a good one, because it often means that you seem to be confident and knowledgeable and approachable)?

You will see that your fashion tastes will most likely be in line with your tastes in movies, music, art and home décor. A person who loves Laura Ashley sheets will often like more feminine and delicate styles. One who loves indie flicks will often like styles that are one of a kind and have a funky, artsy vibe. If your favorite genre of music is rap, you may be drawn to strong lines and bold colors. Just because celebrities and models and fashionistas wear it does not mean you need to wear it too. The reason certain celebrities are celebrated for their style is because they have dressed to fit their personality, not a how-to book or a glossy page from Vogue.

As you begin to understand your personal style, your wardrobe will grow. You will make mistakes, you will get frustrated, you will occasionally feel lost. This happens with all aspects of your personality and life. If you can have a midlife crisis over the state of your life and your direction, so can you about your wardrobe. In college I lived at J. Crew. Lots of sundresses, chinos, polo shirts and cardigans tied around my neck. I was attracted to simple lines and neutral colors. My hair was long and wavy and often in a ponytail. Makeup was some mascara and a swipe of tinted lip balm. After college I got into a creative field and my wardrobe morphed with my tastes in music and books. Suddenly I had a lot of leather in my wardrobe; I counted six pairs of leather jeans and ten black turtlenecks at one time. I straightened my hair and dyed it a very very dark brown. I wore lots of animal prints and had my nails short and often a strange shade like dark green, black or silver. As I got older and got married and comfortable with myself, I saw my tastes change again. I liked natural fabrics with stretch that grazed over my curves and were comfortable. I mixed bright cheery colors with neutrals and began wearing almost only silver jewelry, much that was made by my Great Aunt or picked up on trips around the globe. I preferred a night in with the husband and a nice bottle of wine over an evening of club-hopping in the city. None of these changes were overnight, they were subtle transformations. Keep this in mind – your style will change based on your place in life. Be aware of how you tastes change with food or movies or music; this is often a way to help you know when it’s time to let your wardrobe catch up to your self.

Often we hold onto clothing because it reminds us of our past self. I’ll admit that I have red leather jeans hanging in my guest bedroom closet. They are three sizes smaller than what I wear now, and I look at them and see a very confident, strong me who was skinny, powerful, and a bit frightening. I feel that if I could wear those jeans again, maybe I could still be that person. But then I realize that I wouldn’t want to be that person. Now I am a calm, happy and comfortably confident person who doesn’t need a suit of armor to work a room. We all have that dress, pair of boots or jacket that reminds us of when we may have been thinner, happier or hipper. The thing is, you are not that person any more, and that’s okay. You can’t go back in time, and if you could you probably wouldn’t find the past to be as wonderful as you remember it to be. The only way to be happy now is to live in the now and that peasant skirt or leopard-print trench is holding you back from the person you can be. Celebrate the you are now by tuning into your interests, your passions, your loves and your unique personality. Find objects and garments that show you off. If you tune into who you are on the inside, it becomes easier to figure out how you should look on the outside. Next thing you know, you may be giving Lance Armstrong a run for his money!

Flat Work Shoes for Fall and Winter

A big request that comes in my mailbag is suggestions for work-appropriate flats. I’m glad to see such requests, because not every flat is created equal. I hate to burst your bubble, but standard issue ballet flats and the patent elastic-backed flats do not give an air of professionalism, no matter the brand name. Not only that, such shoes offer so little support they aren’t very comfortable or healthy for your arches. Luckily, flats have come back en vogue the past few seasons and there’s a wonderful assortment of stylish, chic, and supportive heel-free shoes available that will give you an air of professionalism. A few styles I am loving this fall:

The Oxford
I wrote about the oxford or brogues trend last fall/winter, but this trend is still quite hot. With the second season, there’s more variety and style available. From animal-print calfhair to metallics to more classic wingtips, there’s an oxford shoe that works with most any personal style. A plus to the oxford is it is a style of flat that looks quite chic with hosiery.

Such a shoe looks amazing with trousers, be you channeling Katharine Hepburn with a wide-leg menswear style, or a trim ankle-length cut. I also like oxfords with boyfriend and ankle-length straight jeans. I have seen many women carry off oxfords with fuller skirts of every length from mid-thigh to ankle, but you need to have a very defined personal style and understanding office to carry off that look.

The Smoking Slipper
Another flat trend that has carried over from last year, the smoking slipper, is easy, comfortable, elegant, and work appropriate. Such a shoe looks great with trousers of any leg width, and with all the prints and fabrics available, can add a personal touch to a more traditional suit.

The Loafer
The loafer has returned, and in all styles and heel heights. The flat loafer is a classic and looks excellent with jeans and trousers, as well as pleated skirts and kilts. The collegiate look is trending this fall, and a tassel or penny loafer fits the bill perfectly and comfortably. Like oxfords, this style of flat looks chic with a sock or other form of hosiery.

If your style is more eclectic, consider a loafer with a pointed toe, an unusual fabric or finish, or unexpected hardware. I love the juxtaposition of a tough leather moto jacket, jeans, and then a classic penny loafer.

The Pointed Toe Flat
While a pointed toe may seem like torture for a heel, a pointed toe is more of an accessory on a flat shoe. Without the angle, the toes aren’t shoved into the narrow front, but sit comfortably in the normal-width body of the shoe.

As a petite woman, I love the pointed toe flat because it extends the look of the leg. It looks fantastic peeking out of trousers, as well as being paired with cropped and narrow pants. I also find it more flattering with skirts than rounded-toe ballet flats.

Flat Booties
This season, two popular flat ankle-height boot styles are the Chelsea boot (more of a riding boot style with elastic gussets on the side) and the Beatle boot (very sleek, slim profile with an elongated pointed toe). Both styles are far more professional looking than the chunky bulbous ankle boot styles that are also available in stores this season. Like the oxford and loafer, this form of flat begs to be worn with socks to keep you warm this winter.

Both styles of bootie are extremely versatile and lend to the season’s pant trends. They can peek out of classic or wide-leg trousers, but also look very on trend with narrow, cropped, and pleated styles. Both also look quite modern with skirts, from a pencil to a pleated midi. A black flat bootie with black tights is a wonderful winter base for dresses and skirts.

How to Determine if a Flat is Work Appropriate:

  • Fabric.  Canvas, denim, metallic twill, jelly, rubber, cartoon prints… if you’re looking for flats for Corporate America you should likely steer clear from these fabrics.  Leather, patent, haircalf, matte velvet, suede, croco-embossed, snakeskin… choose a more traditional fabric for a more traditional and professional feel.
  • Details.  While I find the stud trend to be quite fun, it may not be appropriate for the office.  With the return of the flat has come some very wacky details – rhinestone-encrusted toes, plastic heart shoe clips, 1″ long spikes, clear vinyl cutouts… if it’s not appropriate to be worn to work on your torso it likely isn’t the best choice for your feet.  Also look for details that make shoes too casual – lug or gum soles, visible stitching, visible logos, industrial-style lacing.
  • Trim.  The quickest way to make a shoe look casual is the trim around the opening.  A lovely leather flat, and then a polka-dot grosgrain trim.  Sleek patent shoe, and then an elasticized opening.  A work shoe should be more polished, and an easy way to achieve that is having the shoe be consistent from top to sole.
  • Structure.  If one can see the shape of your toes through the shoe, they’re not structured enough for the office.  If your foot is spilling over the sole onto the ground, they’re not structured enough for the office.  If you look as though you don’t have feet under your trouser legs, they’re not structured enough for the office (ballet flats are infamous for such a travesty). 
  • Condition.  Color worn from the toe, sole peeling away from the shoe, scuffed, the back bent up from wearing as slides… your place of work is why you can buy shoes in the first place so show it a bit of respect.  Keep those shoes for the commute to the office and change once you arrive; this way your work shoes last longer and stay looking crisp.

My list is not all-inclusive.  There are many styles that are out there right now, and fashion is so accepting this day and age, you don’t have to stick to just the current hot trends.  The goal is to look polished, structured, and professional, and you can achieve this no matter the height of your heel!

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On Making it Work (and when to give up)

I said it before, but it bears repeating…

It’s not worth it to “make it work.”

The other day I wore this skirt. While it looked cute in the photos, and even in my full-length mirror, it wasn’t a good choice for me. A tad shorter than I feel comfortable wearing, and a very lightweight fabric meant I spent the entire day with my arms pressed against my thighs trying to prevent a Marilyn moment. It was so bad, that I hobbled from my office to Ann Taylor a block away so I could sneak into their fitting room and change into a dress that had arrived in the mail earlier in the day. The dress I changed into was a maxi and too long, but I felt better carrying my skirt like a wedding dress train as I hopped Metro trains, than chancing a show of my skivvies during a breezy rush hour.

Most of my comments from that post are lost in cyberspace due to a bug with my commenting system, but I had a good dozen comments, and even a few tweets, Facebook comments and emails offering suggestions on how to make the skirt work for me. Wear it with tights. Add a band of fabric to the hem to make it longer and weigh it down. Save it for when I have lost 10 pounds for that will make it longer on my body.

The thing is… I don’t want to make it work. Making it work makes sense when you’re in the 11th hour of a Project Runway challenge. It makes sense if the only skirt in my closet is this one and I have an event to go to in an hour where the dress code is Skirts Only. It makes sense if it was a gift from my husband’s grandmother and she asked to see me in it for her 90th birthday party. There’s no other reason why I should try to make a garment work.

If a garment doesn’t work, it doesn’t deserve real estate in your closet. 

Stop trying to make it work with belts and tights and control garments and half-baked DIY projects. All that effort does is make the same not-quite-right garment not-quite-right, but now decked out with opaque tights, a skinny belt, and a weird band of fabric that sort of ruins the flow of the piece. This isn’t to say that with a bit of sewing skill one could turn trash into treasure. What I’m saying is if a piece isn’t right and you don’t have the creativity, skill, and desire to make it right… get rid of it.

It’s better to have fewer pieces in your closet than a wardrobe of things that require effort to make them passable. This isn’t just that skirt that is a hair too short, it’s also the top that pulls at your shoulders, the dress that can only work with a strapless backless bra (and you don’t own a strapless backless bra), the dress that looked smashing 10 pounds ago but now looks like a potato sack, that other dress that looked great 10 pounds and 10 years ago but now looks like Saran Wrap, the blouse that is a bit too sheer but looks frumpy with a camisole, the pants that are cute except for wrinkling in the first minute of wearing and the fact that they give you camel toe.

Donate them. Sell them. Swap them. I don’t care what you do with them, but I beg of you, get rid of them and stop trying to make them work.

I thank you all for your amazing, caring, and creative suggestions. You women amaze me on a daily basis with your resourcefulness, knowledge, and heart. However, you will not see me in that skirt again. I really could make it work, and for a moment I considered keeping it and wearing it come fall with super opaque tights and a fitted turtleneck. And then I realized that it meant this skirt could ONLY be worn with super opaque tights, and it still would be short enough to cause a Marilyn moment on a breezy day. Enough to make the item too difficult to deserve to be in my closet. I’m not going to make it work, and because I care about you and your personal style, I hope you won’t either.

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Summer Capsule Work Wardrobe – Business Casual with Color

Living in the hot and humid DC area, I understand the difficulty of appearing polished and professional when the temperatures rise. Though it’s tempting to throw your hair in a quick ponytail and wear the skimpiest and lightest weight clothing in our closet, it’s important to dress appropriately for the workplace, no matter the weather. Many of you have emailed lately asking how to dress for the weather, some of you work in creative fields, some in business casual environments, and many of you are teachers. Below is a sample summer capsule wardrobe for the workplace that is high on color and personality.

Summer capsule wardrobe - Business casual with color and personality, perfect for teachers! By Wardrobe OxygenShop the Capsule Wardrobe:

Fabric choice matters when it comes to creating a summer capsule wardrobe. Plenty of retailers will have synthetic and jersey knits filling the sales floor, but such fabrics are not comfortable on a hot or humid day. They’re also more likely to cling, and quicker to look cheap or too casual for the workplace. Seek out cotton, linen blends, silk and silk blends, and tencel for fabrics that breathe and don’t cling when the temps rise.

Shop Pants and Skirts:

Ankle and slightly cropped pants give a bit more airflow than traditional trousers and are available in cotton, twill, and other summery fabrics. While it’s tempting to stick to neutrals, bright colors and prints are surprisingly versatile. A pair of orange or red pants will go great with basic black or white, be a great contrast to denim and neutrals like khaki and olive, and are gorgeous when paired with other colors like turquoise, coral, and violet. Treat a pattern as a neutral; the green printed pants featured would work well with the chambray shirt or black silk shell, but also would complement the melon-colored wrap top or the aqua silk tee. Stripes are brilliant for pattern-mixing and would also go with these pants; to tone it down consider adding a black or white blazer or cardigan. Culottes of all widths and lengths are back in style and really great for hot days; treat them like a midi skirt and pair with flats or pointed toe low heels for a feminine vibe. Fuller skirts of fabrics with body (cotton, sateen, twill, ponte) will stand away from the body giving you air flow and comfort on hot days; a hem ending at the top of the knee to mid-calf will provide modesty while still keeping you cool. Again, a print can often be more versatile than a neutral solid; this orange print skirt would look great with the striped top, a simple tank of any color and the dotted cardigan, the chambray shirt, the aqua silk tee, and even tucking in the melon-colored top for a monoblocking effect.

Shop Dresses:

Dresses are brilliant in the summer for both ease and comfort. Again, choose fabrics that have some body so they don’t cling to the body and provide a breeze. Dresses that provide focus at the waist automatically look more polished than shift or tee-shirt style dresses; if you choose cotton or breathable fabrics it won’t be much hotter. A dress with a subtle fit and flare shape looks equally great on the weekend with a pair of flat sandals as it does to a day wedding with heels; a fun print distracts from red faces and dripping necks. A shirtdress is a classic style that will be flattering for summers to come; a bright color keeps it from looking like a uniform. Switch up belts (or tie a scarf at the waist) to change the look. While matte jersey is a synthetic knit, it doesn’t cling like traditional jersey and doesn’t wrinkle making it a good choice for summer. A simple dress in a graphic print provides impact with simple one-piece dressing; switch out the self-belt for a different one in your closet to give a frock a new look.  Be sure dresses have necklines and backs appropriate for the workplace; if you need a special bra it’s likely exposing too much.

Shop Tops:

With tops, look for ones that can have two lives. All of these tops can look great untucked or tucked in, adding variety. Tuck the denim shirt into the skirt, tie it at the waist of the culottes, or wear untucked over the ankle pants. Tops are where solids are often more versatile and can dress up more easily; the turquoise silk tee with the printed pants is perfect for a basic day at the office but if you add a black blazer the outfit is suddenly appropriate for a client meeting.

Shop Cardigans and Blazers:

No matter the temperature, it’s good to have at least one layering piece in your wardrobe for too-strong air conditioning, transition weather, and when you need a bit more coverage. For this capsule wardrobe I added a black and white polka-dot cardigan, but this could be switched out for a simpler cardigan in a neutral or signature color, or a blazer. It’s not a bad idea to keep such an item at your workplace to slip on when unexpected situations arise.

Shop Accessories:

Summer is a great time to get more creative with your accessories. One or two statement necklaces in the focal colors of your wardrobe can truly pull the entire capsule together. To minimize the number of accessories you need, consider sticking to one color metal to keep things cohesive and styling simpler. Instead of a bag to match your shoes, consider a bold signature color that will coordinate with everything in your closet. With shoes, you don’t need a lot. For this capsule I chose a gold flat sandal and a black patent kitten heel; both work with all the skirts and dresses and give completely different effects. A skinny black patent belt can offer a layer of polish, whether it’s through the beltloops of ankle pants with a tucked in blouse, or worn at the waistband of the skirt. Finally, consider a sunglasses upgrade this season; a pair of designer frames in a classic silhouette shows you’re aware of trends yet appreciate quality. If treated well, such sunglasses will provide you with many years of sun protection with style.

Ask Allie: Well-made Ankle Pants for Work

A few months ago I bought a pair of Old Navy Pixie pants in black, and I loved them. Comfy, appropriate enough for where I worked at the time, great for weekends, etc. But I recently changed jobs and my new job has a stricter dress code – Pixie pants just won’t cut it anymore. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for ankle pants that are comfy enough for weekends but look professional enough for a dressier business casual work environment. I’m really working on being a more conscientious shopper, so I don’t mind spending a bit more money on a pair of pants (or two!) I’ll wear multiple times a week.

the best ankle pants for the office

I love me some Old Navy. I own a ton of things from there, but honestly few of their clothes are appropriate for a more dressier professional workplace. Pants are one of those items that while sometimes you score a fab pair at a discount retailer, more often than not you get what you pay for. That’s not to say you need to spend $500 on a pair of trousers, but you want to look for styles that veer more towards suiting than chinos in regard to cut and fabrication. A few I found that would look quite appropriate in your workplace:

Talbots has been a work fashion go-to of mine for a couple years. Their clothing is stylish without being too trendy, classic without being frumpy, and quite office appropriate. When shopping at Talbots you can narrow down just to ankle-length pants. My favorite for the workplace is the Signature Tailored Crepe Ankle Pants.  Not too tight in the leg and a fabric that looks more polished than traditional cotton is the  making them perfect for the workplace. Available in Misses and Petite sizes.  Another great option from Talbots is their Chatham Ankle Pant; available in Misses, Petite, Women and Women Petite sizes and eight different colors, the size-zip gives a clean front and is a great choice for women with curves.

When I worked in Baltimore a lifetime ago, there was a Brooks Brothers near my job. I always thought it was a place for men’s suiting but wandered in one day and ended up leaving with a bag full of adorable fashion for me! Since then I always look to Brooks Brothers for classic yet well-fitting work clothing. Their Lucia Fit trouser is perfect for the office yet has a clean stylish cut. Available in tropical-weight (multi-season) wool and cotton, this is an ankle pant that looks sophisticated and professional.

While J. Crew has started to veer from being a classic fashion destination to a place for the latest trends, it still is a good retailer for work pants. While many are labeled skinny which can be too tight for many workplaces, their Campbell Capri is an adorable pant that is full of style while still being well-made and work appropriate. Each season J. Crew offers this pant in a different variety of fabrics and colors.  Available in Regular, Petite, and tall lengths from 000 to 16.   The Paley Pant from J. Crew is another winner; don’t be afraid of “wool” in the title for spring or summer wear.  A very fine gauge, this will provide you with a high-quality refined trouser appropriate to be made into a suit (the 1035 Single-button jacket is a great choice).  The Paley is also available in the same broad range of sizes.

Vince Camuto makes a nice pant at a nice price, and their Skinny Ankle Pant is no different. While it’s called “skinny” it’s more of a slim fit that would look quite appropriate in Corporate America. Available in classic black and gray in regular and petite lengths (and a size-zip version for a clean line), a big selling point of these trousers for me is that they’re machine washable.

Halogen is a favorite Nordstrom brand of mine; great classic style and great prices for professional workwear.  Their ‘Taylor’ line is one I have in my closet, and the Taylor Skinny Ankle pant is made with the same clean professional lines and dressy work fabric and pairs nicely with the suiting jackets from the collection (my favorite is the Halogen One-Button Suiting Jacket).  Both the pants and the matching jacket are available in regular and petite sizes 0-16.

Shop the Styles Featured in this Post:

Ask Allie: Work Appropriate Sandals for Spring

Hi Allie, I’m in desperate need of stocking up on new work-appropriate sandals for summer and am not having luck. Any suggestions? My office is business casual/jeans on Fridays. Typical D.C. area gov’t office. I like my feet to be comfortable but don’t want to look too fuddy-duddy (I’m 31). Stylish and comfortable and work-appropriate?

Hi Meredith:

In the colder months, office workers can feel pretty safe with a pair of pumps, some ankle booties or loafers, and some tall leather boots. However once the weather begins to warm up, women seem to be at a loss as to where to find work-appropriate sandals – especially ones that are also comfy when walking to work or standing all day. I have seen women on the streets of DC wear everything from flip flops and Tevas to satin strappy stilettos with their summer career wear.  Here’s some great styles I have come across lately that will be kind to your feet as well as your personal style:

If you have followed this blog for a while, you know I am a major fan of Sofft for shoes – they really have been able to make stylish shoes that are also extremely comfortable. I wore Sofft throughout my pregnancy – when in my third trimester I found a pair of Sofft Mary Janes to be more comfortable for my swollen tootsies than even my sneakers!

This spring I am loving the look of a very modern, clean heel – sort of the summer version of the ankle bootie. The Sofft Pavia Sandal is an excellent choice to pair with crisp shift dresses, cropped trousers, and modern silhouettes. If you are fair like me, the Eggshell color may be the perfect nude shoe for you – a color close to your skintone will not only go with most any color in your wardrobe, but it will also elongate your leg.

Another great choice by Sofft is their Renata sandal. In Twine, you’ll find this shoe will look great with dresses, skirts, and also with a pair of jeans and a boho-inspired top for a rooftop barbecue. The white looks clean and modern, while the black gives an edgy rocker look. All three colors would really work with this summer’s colors and silhouettes.

Finally, the Sonoria sandal from Sofft is a more feminine summer shoe from this brand. The details are what make this shoe a winner – the wood stacked heel and the looped side straps keep the look fresh and also more expensive. I am partial to the Coral Patent – a hot color for this season and an unexpected neutral that will go with black, white, browns, navys, and all the chambray and denim that is on trend this spring.

And yes, I do like brands other than Sofft! The Carla sandal from MICHAEL Michael Kors is surprisingly comfortable – I know because I tried them on. If my feet weren’t so wide, they would currently be in my wardrobe in Taupe Leather. The height is deceiving – the heel isn’t really so high due to the platform. The bold, modern lines make it a versatile choice for spring with dresses, skirts, and with trousers. The taupe color will blend into many skintones (on me it was darker than my skin but still a great neutral) and become one of the most worn shoes in your wardrobe.

Clarks is known for comfort, and based on reviews at Zappos, their Fiddle Scroll Sandal doesn’t disappoint. I am a fan of wedge heels, which give the height to flatter the leg, but the support to be comfortable on your feet all day. In Beige or Ginger leather, this sandal would be extremely versatile and look great with most everything in your wardrobe. However, don’t ignore their more unusual color options – the Deep Red and Turquoise leather options would be a great pop of color to a more neutral wardrobe.

It’s hard to find a flat sandal that looks professional – they often end up looking like flip flops, don’t support and hold the foot, and can look weathered before we have even reached the 4th of July. The Frye Alessia Artisanal T Strap Sandal is a nice choice – the substantial straps and structured sole give the shoe structure and make them look more professional. I am partial to the Orange or Yellow leather, and think they would look great peeking out of white sailor trousers or paired with this season’s midi and maxi skirts.

What to Wear When Working From Home

Many readers write to me, stating that my staples and many of my posts do not work for them because they either work from home, or are stay at home mothers or wives. As someone who never did work from home, I would always respond back that there is life outside of your house and you should be prepared; anyway you will feel better and be more productive if you are well turned out.

I often got responses back that I didn’t know what I was talking about; to be in your home comfort is key, style is not important.

Well I am now working from home, on semi-bedrest no less. As I type this I am in my bedroom, my laptop on a tray table. I have been like this for a bit and will be until my baby arrives. Once she arrives I have six weeks of maternity leave at home and a couple of transition weeks – working from home, part time working at the office until I return back as a full-time office employee.

As I type this, I am in black ponte trousers, a gray silky jersey empire-waist top, black socks and diamond stud earrings. My hair has been blown out, I am wearing tinted moisturizer, rosy lipstick and mascara. There is a good chance I will see no one but my dog and husband all day, and that the only time I leave this bed is to use the rest room or refill my water bottle.

However when I started working from home, I relished in the idea of not having to worry about my attire. I often worked the day in a variation of what I slept in – knits, sweats, garments better made for my Saturday yoga classes. It was fun, decadent to not put on a bra, not “do” my hair, and just be comfortable.

My schedule was one day working from home, next day working from the office. I started noticing that the days I had to go to the office, I was dreading them. I wasn’t dreading the office or the work, but the need to pull myself together and look professional. I started having more difficulty pulling together a decent outfit from the clothing I already owned and knew so well. The days I worked form home seemed to drag on longer than necessary – often because I would get distracted with a non-work Web site or the desire to do housework instead of payroll work.

I decided that each morning that I felt well, I would try to pull myself together. Shower, an easy wash-and-wear hairstyle (for me is letting the hair air dry with a tiny bit of product and then come back later to smooth the bangs for 5 seconds with a round brush and dryer), small bit of makeup to make me look alive (amazing what a quick swipe of blush and mascara can do for the face). As for clothing, well I wasn’t going to endure bedrest in constricting denim, but I could do it with dresses and leggings, and pants made out of knits.

My morning routine is less than ten minutes because for me, showering at night works better with my schedule. Those ten minutes each morning make me a more productive at-home employee, have less concern with having to leave the house last minute or sign for a package when the UPS driver comes to the door. With my exterior organized, my interior seems to be more organized as well. I feel less tired, less sluggish, and more receptive to visitors.

The easiest way to be polished at home, is to start with the purchases. Be careful with every purchase you make – can it handle time on the floor, in bed, and to be accidently tossed in the dryer by your spouse? Keep away from that which will fade, requires ironing or special washing instructions. Also keep away from that which resembles gym attire, sleepwear, or something that your husband would wear. It’s better to have less that is quality than more that is junk. As you find great durable and flattering pieces, donate those which aren’t up to snuff.

A few pieces I have found to be great while being at home:

Old Navy’s Stretch Ponte Mid-Rise Wide-Leg Trousers – I love love love these trousers. They look elegant, but they are made of fabric that is as comfy as sweats. The fabric is heavy enough to hide lumps and bumps and look work-worthy. They have a classic waistband and zipper, but they don’t dig into your tummy, even when sitting or reclining. They are machine washable – I usually hang them to dry, but they have also gone in the dryer when I have been in a rush and they haven’t pilled, shrunk or faded.

I usually despise slash pockets, but these lie pretty nicely. Best of all – they come in petite and tall lengths! $34.50, currently only available in black. Get yourself two pairs so you have some ready while the other pair is in the wash.

J. Crew Merino Sweaters – Their turtlenecks are cozy while looking elegant, the crewnecks are a stylish alternative to a sweatshirt, and the v-necks add femininity to your simple outfit. Unlike cotton, merino usually keeps it shape and color through many wears and washes. Unlike cashmere, it’s usually at a reasonable price point. The tight weave glides over curves, isn’t itchy like shetland and looks polished. Come winter, I often layer with a tencel, silk or fine jersey tee or camisole underneath (a silk undershirt is incredibly warm without bulk). Black and gray are always chic, but bright colors are always nice to see and wear. Consider a jewel tone that pleases your eye – it will go with black, gray, camel, denim and other neutrals just as nicely as a more subtle or predictable color. Though the sweaters usually say Dry Clean Only, I have always washed my merinos on the gentle cycle in the machine with Woolie or a gentle landry wash, and either hung them up on a padded hanger or lay them on a towel on top of the dryer to dry. This specific merino turtleneck has select colors on sale for $39.99 – not too shabby!

Wrap Sweaters – This one is from Target. Wrap sweaters are great because they offer the layer you want, but flatter your feminine shape far better than a sweater coat or hoodie. This could work over a nursing tank, a cami, a tee, a turtleneck all with ease and look elegant and feminine. Sweaters and tops that wrap to the side give the illusion of a smaller waist; lightweight sweaters add warmth without bulk to your frame, and again this is a great way to add a pop of color to your basic neutrals. This specific sweater is under $25; I have found great wrap sweaters at Gap, Ann Taylor, Nordstrom, Macy’s, and more usually under $50. Another ting – if the sweater is layered over a cami or tank, you don’t have to wash it as often. Have a Tide to Go pen at the ready, and you can get more miles between washes!

Mossimo Ultra Soft Long-Sleeved V-Neck Sweaters – I learned about this sweater from another blogger and agree that they are fab! They are super cozy and soft like cashmere, but far less in cost. They come in a good range of colors and seem to flatter a variety of shapes of women.

Very nice with trousers, jeans or even with a simple pencil skirt for church or dinner out. Layer with a cami or tee, dress up with a strand of pearls or a scarf tucked into the neckline. You very well may find that a sweater like this will get more wear and bring far more joy than your most snuggly fleece pullover!

Lands End Fine Gauge Twinsets – Lands End is awesome – they have the best selection of colors, most of their pieces are made of great quality and are easy to wash, their pieces run a bit big, they have an amazing return policy and their styles are classic without being dowdy.

A very easy way to look polished is by wearing a twinset – the shortsleeved crewneck and matching cardigan from Lands End is a great choice. I was mine in the wash on the gentle cycle and hang it up to dry overnight. The colors never fade, the shape maintains, and it dresses up or down nicely. Pair the set with capris in spring, wool blend trousers in winter, a pencil or a-line skirt for brunch, toss the cardigan over a sundress on breezy summer evenings, wear the crewneck alone with trousers and pearls for a simple Business Casual look. Again, consider a cheery color that will bring sunshine to a dreary winter day. Lands End carries most styles in petite, plus, and other extended sizes. The cardigan is $39.50 and I think worth every penny. Keep up with the site, Lands End often adds pieces to this line of fabric so you can get things like sleeveless shells or 3/4 sleeve cardigans come summer and turtlenecks come winter.

Merona Black Leggings – Okay, the leggings under the dress look is gone and done. It was hip for a season and now it looks pretty dated and desperate on most. The thing is, the look is pretty awesome when you are at home. Suddenly you can get on the floor with the kids, chill in bed, hang out at the playground and more without worrying about a breeze. A dress in knit or matte jersey with black leggings and ballet flats is still more chic than a velour jumpsuit or your husband’s favorite hoodie. If paired with a solid color dress that has a simple silhouette, the look can be artsy and elegant. I love wearing my black leggings with a dove gray dress and a long scarf at the neck; my friend’s weekend look is a black jersey dress with bell sleeves, black leggings, red ballet flats and a long silver necklace with red pendant. She looks polished, but is jsut as comfortable as she would be in her pajamas.

These leggings are less than $10 and get the job done. They aren’t miracle workers, but they will last you through a season quite nicely.

What to Avoid:
Memorable Prints – It’s hard to wear the same things week after week if they are so unique. Find creativity in your going out pieces, or your accessories. Choose great colors, flattering neutrals, and then detail piecves to add personality.

Bedazzlement – Just because a tee shirt has fake gems at the neckline does not mean it’s fun or cool. In all honesty, most embellishment (embroidery, jewels, grommets, patches, accent fabrics, ribbons) makes the garment look cheap, not more stylish. Again, find your style with actual accessories to have versatility, style and polish.

Logos – A woman of style NEVER advertises what brand she is wearing. Style comes from the garment itself, NOT the designer.

Anything that Sheds, Pills, Fades or Creases – This means most khakis, cotton button-downs, angora blends, low percentage of cashmere blends, some silk blends, and cheap knits. If the black jersey already has a slight tint of gray or green, you can be sure that it will head further int hat direction after a few washes. Knits with at least 5% of lycra or a synthetic are less likely to shrink thank 100% cotton.

Be honest with yourself. If you don’t have time to blow dry your hair after a shower, will you have time to properly iron that oxford shirt? If the answer is no, then don’t buy it in the first place. It won’t smooth out from wearing or if you pull it down and press it between you and the car seat. Stay with knits and synthetics if your lifestyle doesn’t give you the time for ironing.

Polo Shirts – Unless you have a very slight frame or a slightly athletic build, these shirts are NOT flattering on women. Yes, they make feminine cut ones, but they still are not as flattering as a basic knit. The collar shortens the neck, the sleeve rounds shoulders and draws attention to larger arms, the neckline makes a large bust look matronly and a small bust look more obvious. The cut is usually too boxy or too tight at the belly, and the length is more often than not at the worst part of a woman’s body (somewhere around the middle of her bum or right at the love handles). Want to get away from the tee with a creative knit? Try a wrap style, one with puffed sleeves and a scoop neck, one with lantern sleeves or a notched neck.

Cropped Cargo Chinos – These do not flatter a woman’s frame in any way; the shortened length makes calves look bigger and legs look longer. The extra pockets add bulk (and usually end up wrinkled after the first wash). Want the cargo pockets for day tripping at the park or in the woods? Go with a jacket or a full-length pant or even a small backpack or sling. Want the cropped look? Consider a heavy jersey, a ponte fabric or a synthetic in the same fabric as a jacket or cardigan for something just as comfortable but far more flattering.