Search Results for: label/office wear

Ask Allie: Age-Appropriate Office Wear

I’m about start a job as summer associate in a law firm, and I’m young (24) and plus sized. I don’t really know where or how to find work clothes that are flattering, don’t age me in an unwanted way, and yet appropriate for the work place. I own two suits; both make me look dowdy and age me. I don’t want to look too young obviously, but dowdy is never a good look either. I also don’t need to wear a suit all the time, so perhaps that might be a solution, but for times when I do need to wear a suit, I don’t have any good options. Do you have any advice?

Two women, same age and figure can purchase the same black pantsuit from Ann Taylor. On one, it looks smart and chic; on the other it looks dowdy and dated. What can you do to make a suit more youthful, stylish, and contemporary?

Get it Tailored
You can’t imagine how much a good tailoring can do to a suit. Just having the sleeves and legs the right length will make you look thinner, more stylish, and also more professional. Having a piece fit at the shoulders, nip in at the right place at the small of your back, and not gape at the waist or pull at the hips is an amazing and powerful piece in your wardrobe. Tailoring will also make a cheaper suit look more expensive. Tailoring of a suit isn’t cheap, but a quality suit should last you many years and a custom fit is worth the investment. If you’re between sizes, go up a size and have a tailor or seamstress fit it perfectly for you.

Be Choosy with your Shoes
While a sensible flat with a rounded toe will be comfortable and appropriate, it will up the frumpy factor in a heartbeat. Shoes are a way to remain professional but show your style and make a suit more age-appropriate. I personally like pointed-toe low pumps because they elongate my frame, look cute peeking out of trousers, also work with skirts, and look trendy yet also classic. While a black or tan pump is versatile, consider pushing the boundaries as far as your dress code will allow – snakeskin and croco embossed leather, leopard print, a pop of color, an interesting detail or embellishment.

In the office, it’s better to have fewer pairs of shoes that are quality and well cared for, than many cheap and overly trendy styles. Once you know a brand and style that fits well, check sites like 6pm.com or eBay for more in a different color or fabric. Take your shoes regularly to the cobbler to replace missing heel caps, resole each season, and to stretch snagged leather on heels. Polish your shoes – it’s quite easy and something you can do while watching TV one evening.

Incorporate Color
A colored blouse or shell can transform a simple pantsuit. Emerald green silk blouse, shell pink cashmere tee, coral cotton button-front, mint chiffon ruffled top. To look more youthful, consider blouses and shells in hot-now shades – yellow, mint, emerald, anything on the Pantone Color Report for the season. Some colors can age – dark red, deep teal, forest green – if not in a contemporary silhouette. Lighter and brighter will add fun yet still remain appropriate.

Accessorize
As with colors, certain accessories can age a young woman. In general, steer clear of classic pearls and scarves. However, trendy necklace styles and a skinny belt in a fun color or print can add a youthful touch to your work wear. Look at sites like Stella & Dot, BaubleBar, and JewelMint for jewelry trends, and J. Crew for ideas on how to incorporate accessories into careerwear.

Break Up Your Suits
Pair your black blazer with your ivory trousers, your pinstriped jacket with a solid-colored pencil skirt.  This way you still look as though you mean business, but the look isn’t quite as stuffy.

What to Wear When Not Wearing a Suit:

  • Shirtdresses – From crisp cotton to silk, such styles look great at the office with a simple pair of pumps. Make sure the hemline is close to the knee, the buttons don’t gape or pull at the bust, and steer clear of very casual fabrics like seersucker and chambray.
  • Wrap dresses – Created by Diane von Furstenburg just for the career woman, the wrap dress is figure-flattering, professional, and available at most any pricepoint. I am fond of matte jersey, which is a seasonless fabric, doesn’t cling, and can dress up and down with ease. With most figures, a strategically placed safety pin or a camisole in a more refined fabric will make the neckline more appropriate for the office.
  • Twinsets – One of the best inventions for offices, where it can be sweltering hot outside and freezing in an air-conditioned workplace. Having the shell and sweater of the same color and fabric is dressier and looks more luxe. Pair with pencil or gathered skirts, or with cropped or traditional trousers. The shell can be worn under a suit, the cardigan over dresses. Buy the highest quality you can, baby it (lingerie bags, drying flat, spot cleaning instead of laundering regularly) to keep it from getting faded, stretched, or pilled.  Add interest with a cluster of brooches or put a skinny belt over the shell (and under the cardigan).

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Ask Allie: How to Dress for a Wedding Without a Dress Code

I have a wedding to go, and ever since the wedding where I dressed fancier than the bride (I wore a simple velvet sheath!) I have a horror of wearing the wrong thing. The wedding is at 4, with cocktails, dinner, and reception to follow, all at the same venue, an “event center.” Essentially a ballroom. I did email the bride and she just said “We don’t really have a dress code. Not black tie but not sweats and a t-shirt. Well, there’s a LOT in between there. Jersey maxidress? Sparkly mini? My feet are likely to be swollen so I’m leaning toward something I can wear flat sandals with, but other than that I’m kind of at a loss what to wear.

Event planners and brides to be… please understand that a dress code isn’t snooty or pretentious, it’s a helpful guide for loved ones who want to ensure your event is great. A specified dress code will reduce stress on your guests and ensure you don’t end up with anyone in black tie or sweats and a tee shirt!

That being said, this is the type of event where I pull out my black crepe sheath dress. Sleeveless, simple neckline, skims the figure, hits the knees; it’s simple and easy to dress up or down. For a wedding that starts at 4pm you can accessorize a dress in a multitude of ways to make it look festive yet appropriate for a crowd in khakis or a dancefloor full of sequins.  Of course, the dress does not have to be black, but it’s a color you often already have in your closet.

You mentioned the desire to wear flat sandals, and for a wedding at an event center I’d keep flat sandals to a midi to maxi length dress or skirt. While traditional jersey maxi dresses would likely be too casual for a wedding at this hour, one in matte jersey or with a chiffon overlay would be perfect and just as easy to fit in with a more casual or more dressy crowd.  Again, black is not the only color; a bright or pastel hue would be quite festive and appropriate for an August wedding.

Both types of dresses are extremely versatile. A lined sheath in crepe, triacetate, silk, or a blend can be worn to work, dressed up for a cocktail party with strappy heels and sparkly jewelry, or made more casual with nude pumps and wood accessories (see my post on how to style a black sheath four ways). A matte jersey or chiffon maxi dress can also lead multiple lives; I wore a black matte jersey maxi as the matron of honor at a relatively formal wedding, then wore to a garden wedding with gold flat sandals and even wore to a bridal shower with brown sandals and wood and leather jewelry. Not only that, these fabrics are seasonless making a dress purchased in the summer wearable for holiday parties on your event calendar!

Ask Allie: What to Wear to a Summer Funeral

I know it’s a somber topic, but I live in a hot climate and I have a relative who is ill and in hospice. I realized today that I have no idea what is okay for a funeral in a VERY hot climate.

what to wear to a hot summer wedding

The most important thing to factor when dressing for a funeral, is dressing out of respect. First, consider the religion of the service, then dress in a way that shows you understand the formality of the situation and that you know you are not the subject of attention. A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t wear it to church or to an office where it’s Business Attire (not Business Casual), it’s not appropriate for a funeral.

These days, a sleeveless dress and bare legs is appropriate at most American funerals, especially when it’s a very hot climate. Consider a lightweight cardigan if there’s a service inside the house of worship and a hat to protect yourself from the sun at the grave site. If your shoulders are bared, your neckline should be very modest, the fit not too tight, and the hemline at the knee.

In your email, you mentioned a maxi dress and while it wouldn’t be inappropriate to wear a long skirt, many maxi dress styles these days are lightweight jersey and have low necklines. If you have one that is of a dressier fabric (cotton sateen, crepe jersey, linen, silk blend) and doesn’t show off your décolleté, it can work. Again, if you wouldn’t wear it to church or to work, I’d consider something else.

Pants are acceptable for less religious funerals, and can be far more comfortable in the heat. Linen trousers (not drawstring slouchy pants) with a silk or crepe shell is perfectly acceptable.

As for color, black is not necessary these days; as long as the color doesn’t scream “look at me!” it’s acceptable. Muted colors like navy, olive, plum, mauve, gray, taupe, and brown are acceptable. If you wear a print, it should be very subtle (watercolor prints, tone on tone). Again consider the religion before choosing the color; some only wear black, some wear white, and some encourage bright jewel tones.

As for fabric, as long as it’s not too casual (denim) or too formal (satin), it’s okay in such heat. Linen and cotton is acceptable if it’s in more formal of cuts and ironed before wearing.

Accessories set the tone for your outfit; keep the sparkly necklaces and statement shoes at home. A simple pair of leather shoes in a neutral, a delicate chain necklace or a strand of pearls, a leather bag free of adornments that complements the color of your outfit. If there is a grave site service, choose a wedge or flat shoe so your heels don’t sink into the grass. Though you may be seeing many people from your past, it’s not a high school reunion and not a time to show off your sartorial skills.

Finally, what you wear is not as important as your attendance. Few will even notice what you’re wearing; as long as you don’t dress to receive attention you will be just fine. My heart goes out to you and your family during this difficult time.

The Bandana is Back!

Some trends come on the scene that make me wonder what designers and street style icons were smoking or ingesting when they decided on them. And recently, a lot of trends were impossible to recreate on a budget. I’m loving how so many trends this spring and summer are honestly achievable on any budget; it’s less about the logo and more about the look.

Bottom Row, Left to Right: Louis Vuitton via GQ | Stockholm Street Style | Vanessa Jackman | The Blab

And one of those trends is the bandana. That white-pattered cotton scarf you can pick up at the dollar store or take from your college Halloween costume is now an on-trend accessory. I’ve always loved the classic bandana print and prefer a cotton scarf to a silk one, so I am thrilled about this trend. But how do you wear a bandana without looking like an extra from a John Wayne movie?

    • Create a Contradiction. A bandana with a chambray shirt is cliché, a bandana with a leather moto jacket or a silk blouse or a crisp blazer is unexpected.

 

  • Keep it Crisp and Classic. For now, keep your pink and purple bandanas in the drawer and stick to classics like navy, red, and black. These should also not be the weathered, worn, and torn bandanas you use to mop sweat when gardening or to hold back your hair on a camping trip. The classic color and the crisp finish makes the bandana purposeful and not a leftover from cleaning out the garage.

 

 

  • Simplicity is Key. Leandra Medine’s all-white outfit with the bandana tucked into the collar of her shirt is a fabulous example of how to wear a bandana this spring. Minimal color, no competing prints, use the bandana as you would a silk Hermes scarf and let it take center stage.

 

 

  • Get Creative. A bandana doesn’t have to be worn knotted in back and draped in front. Check out The Not Vanilla’s post and how she wore it knotted around her throat, and even as a purse and wrist accessory. I recently rolled a bandana , wrapped it twice around my neck and had it peek out of a white button-front shirt; I think it’s fun to spice up a monochromatic look with a bandana tied to a single belt loop at the front of a pair of trousers; don’t be afraid to use a bandana as a headband, kerchief, headwrap, or tied around your ponytail.

 

Last week when I shared my outfit featuring a bandana, I received a few styling questions from you folk:

    • When You Have Short Hair. If you’re draping the bandana in front and the “ears” are peeking out making you feel as though you’re wearing a bib, consider a bit of fashion tape to hold them down. I keep all those tiny safety pins that hold garment hang tags and find them great for a situation like this (I pin the “ears” to the underside so they don’t ruin the line of the scarf).

 

  • When the Bandana is Too Stiff. A brand new bandana can be as stiff as a piece of paper, and often have hard creases in it. Before trying anything, wash it and throw it in the dryer, preferably with bulky items that would make it bounce around a lot. This often does the trick. If it’s still too stiff for you, an overnight soak in fabric softener or vinegar will soften cotton without fading the fabric. Rinse and tumble dry.

 

 

  • When You Want a Bigger Bandana. I desired this very thing to have more variety (and to double-look around my big neck). On eBay I found “Texas Size” bandanas which are 27” (most are 22”). If you search for 27” bandana, you’ll find that many online stores like Amazon offer them, which will give you the length you desire.

 

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Ask Allie: Capsule Wardrobe for Cruise and Resort Evenings

I LOVE your wardrobe capsules. They are always amazing. I would love to see a simple mix and match capsule for evening. Specifically, I just returned from a 10-day cruise of the Caribbean. It was amazing, with one glitch. The evening dress code was smart casual; and on a cruise ship this is more dressy than I expected (I’m from California, where jeans are cocktail attire!). I was woefully underdressed with dowdy shoes. I usually travel with black and white clothing, but a color capsule would be awesome too!

While I haven’t been on a cruise for a few years, I have experienced the issue of “smart casual” and formal nights on cruise ships, and understand how hard it is to dress appropriately for the situation. Not only are you dealing with limited luggage space, but you have folks from all over the globe dressing in all sorts of different manners. I found it’s best to pack simple garments and statement-making accessories.

Three years ago, I was asked to be in my friend’s wedding and she let me pick any black dress I desired as my Matron of Honor gown. I got a black matte jersey maxi dress from Calvin Klein that had twisted straps that were thin but thick enough to cover my bra, a faux wrap skirt, and a self-tie belt. I wore that dress for the wedding with black heeled sandals and a statement necklace. A few months later I attended a destination wedding in Charleston, South Carolina and wore that same dress with flat gold sandals, gold dangly earrings, and an armful of gold bangles. I also wore that dress with beaded earrings and a weathered brown leather belt and brown leather thongs. My point is that such a dress is surprisingly versatile. Choosing a silky jersey (Rachel Pally dresses fit the bill, are a classic style and come in a broad range of sizes) or matte jersey (Calvin Klein continues to have great options season after season) maxi dress means you can dress it up or down with ease and it will travel well (few wrinkles, any you get can come out easily if in the room with a hot shower).

Here I took a simple black maxi dress and showed how a switch of accessories can completely transform it. I know you mentioned comfort shoes in a different part of your Ask Allie request, so I chose shoes that aren’t sky-high. The wedge can easily be lower or even flat – another perk of maxi dresses is that they look great with flat shoes and said shoes aren’t the focal point of the ensemble.

A black maxi dress is a great choice if you have a formal night, but many cruises and resorts just require “smart casual” or “festive” attire. This capsule wardrobe helps you pack light but with many options:

  1. Maxi skirt with sequined tank and black sandals
  2. Maxi skirt with orange top and gold sandals
  3. Maxi skirt with a simple neutral tank or tee in your luggage, gold belt and gold sandals
  4. Black jersey pants with sequined top and black sandals
  5. Black jersey pants with orange top and black sandals
  6. Black jersey pants with sheer top and black sandals
  7. White jeans with any of the three tops and gold sandals (add the hoops, bracelet, and belt for discothèque drama)
  8. Black jersey tee shirt dress with black sandals
  9. Black dress with gold belt and gold sandals
  10. Black skirt with any of the tops and either sandals

This can be dressed up with a different choice of shoe (a heel is always seen as more formal), switching the pants to a tuxedo or shantung cigarette pant, the skirt to something sparkly, the dress to something more form-fitting or dramatic in silhouette. However, I used this based upon my own experiences on cruises and at resorts, where some nights you will find folks in full-length gowns, the other nights in club attire or sundresses. Solid colors and fabrics like matte jersey and stretch silk look elegant while being travel-friendly and versatile. These pieces can also be worn during the day – the orange top would be adorable with olive chino shorts, either of the skirts with a simple tank top, the dress could even be a beach coverup.

Choosing a single concept for accessories lightens your luggage load – I chose gold jewelry because it’s easier to find decent-looking costume pieces and instantly adds glamour. I really believe in a long necklace of chain or sparkly beads like jet – it really changes the silhouette of any ensemble and can make the simplest dress look chic. The addition of a belt, be it a scarf cummerbund, a leather obi, or a gold chain can quickly change the shape of a dress, add definition to a monochromatic ensemble, or dress up a simple tank and maxi skirt. Using color sparingly and thoughtfully will give extra miles to neutral pieces – the skirt could easily be switched to a neutral or a bold hue, the orange top could be a print or another dressy fabric, all the black pieces could be gray or ivory. This just gives an example of how very simple pieces can create an elegant and festive evening wardrobe for a vacation.



 

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Ask Allie: Very Casual Office Attire

I was wondering if you could do a capsule collection for the casual workplace. My workplace is so casual that I have coworkers who walk around in cargo shorts and flip-flops all summer, pretty much everyone wears jeans always, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a coworker or two in actual pajamas. I like dresses and skirts, I love jewelry, but lately I’ve been defaulting to a uniform of jeans/sneakers/artsy tee/cardigan. I’d like to get out of that rut but still fit in.

I work in a very casual place people wear yoga pants and flip flops to work. I like to dress nicely but don’t want to stand out or look snooty any advice?

I work for myself but in a collaborative office setting; the dress code is casual but everyone is very visually inspired and aware of fashion. I’m a jeans and tee shirt sort of girl, any ideas on what I can wear to be comfortable, be me, but not be a clueless slob?

I once worked in a very casual office environment, and understand your issue. While on the surface a very relaxed dress code can seem like a treat, but when you really break it down it can be even more difficult and confusing than a conservative corporate environment. Even if you CAN wear yoga pants and dollar store flip flops, that doesn’t mean you should. You want to fit in, but also show your dedication to the company, be ready for the chance meeting with a customer, and also lead by example. This can be done without a single blazer or blouse!

With this sample capsule wardrobe, I took casual basics and stepped them up a slight notch so they look a bit more polished, but just as comfortable. With jeans, I chose a dark wash that looks more polished and is usually more versatile than distressed. A pair of jeans or twill pants in a neutral like olive adds variety to a wardrobe without being too memorable for versatility. For knits, break out of the basic tee-shirt rut by incorporating classic prints, unique fabrics like linen and silk, and interesting draping. Layers keep you comfortable in an overly air conditioned office and add mileage to your wardrobe basics. A denim shirt looks great on its own, tied over a dress, or worn open with a tank and skinny jeans. An open cardigan can be worn as-is or can be transformed with a wide belt. A short-sleeved sweater in a loose weave is comfortable in an office in the summer, but also layers nicely over longer-sleeved knits and shirts when the temperature drops. Tee-shirt dresses are easy one-piece dressing that can dress up with a scarf and wedges or get uber casual with sandals and a ponytail. A gathered knee-length skirt in a lightweight cotton dresses up simple tees and tanks without sacrificing comfort.

Accessories are a way to add personality and jazz up simple knits and denim. For this collection of soft neutrals, I added a wood necklace and a floral printed gauze scarf; neither are too glitzy or shiny for a casual office. As for shoes, a pair of ankle boots with a flat heel look great with dresses, skirts, and pants; a pair of leather sandals are smart with dresses but also pair nicely with denim for a bit of a boho look. As previously mentioned, a wide belt (smart to have in the same color/material as your shoes) can transform not just an open cardigan, but dresses and tunics.

Stick to casual fabrics – linen, cotton, jersey, denim, chambray. This will keep the casual vibe even if it’s a more formal silhouette. While staying in these fabrics, choose saturated colors. Faded, distressed, and weathered fabrics are hot this summer but can easily look messy and too casual for an office.

And finally, flip flops should be kept for the pool and yoga pants for yoga. These days there are so many comfortable shoes and pants available, there’s no need to wear workout clothes to the office. Consider stretch denim, jersey, and ponte knit for pants and a pair of espadrilles or flat sandals in place of the flops.

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Ask Allie: Capsule Wardrobe for Business Travel

I loved your SAHM capsule – any chance of you doing something similar for the Road Warrior? I have worked with the concept but still am missing a few pieces that I can’t for the life of me figure out what they are.

I got a new job in November that will have me traveling quite a bit this spring. I will visit client sites, and will be away from home for up to three weeks at a time. I haven’t had to travel for work before more than a couple days or a conference and have no clue how to do this. My coworker is a man and he says he keeps his suitcase always packed and ready to go, how does a woman make three weeks of professional clothing fit in one carry on suitcase? HELP!

In my past career lives, I did travel for business. While I was never away for more than a week, I often saw the same clients multiple times in a month, and often only had a week between trips before I was again on the road. It may seem daunting to look professional and pack smart, but it is possible. These days professional attire is found with Lycra, spandex, and fabric blends that make it comfortable and travel-friendly. Matte jersey, stretch wool, ponte knit, crepe, and gabardine can be your friend when you are a road warrior. I made a sample capsule wardrobe based upon my experiences with business travel. Only the suit in this capsule is high-maintenance fabric; pack wrapped in dry cleaning bags to prevent wrinkles, hang up as soon as you arrive and it should be okay for the big presentation. The rest are work-appropriate separates that all have some sort of stretch to keep them looking great right off the plane or train or out of the suitcase.

Over 30 outfits with only 14 garments (details):

 

Lots of ponte separates. I’m a ponte addict, I can’t deny it. Heavyweight knit that works year-round, doesn’t wrinkle, and can be machine washed. Pretty spectacular. On top of that, it looks refined enough for the workplace. In this capsule I have black ponte pants, an ivory ponte blazer, black ponte dress, black ponte top, and gray ponte skirt. Since they are the same fabric, they mix and match with ease and the combinations looks more like ensembles. Ponte is also great when you have to fly or take the train and immediately head to a business meeting – you won’t be full of wrinkles and will be comfortable sitting for long spans of time.

Strategic pops of color. While it seems smart to pack an entire suitcase of neutrals, that can look pretty boring pretty quickly. Choosing suit shells and soft jackets or cardigans in colors will stretch your neutral capsule further. Mix two for a bold look, or just have one piece to give a neutral you already wore a new life. The choice of color is dependant on your personal style and profession. For more conservative fields, consider softer or more traditional hues; if you’re in a creative field you can amp up the color and even add more to the capsule.

Stick to solids. While prints can break up a wardrobe monotony, they are also so incredibly memorable that you can’t easily wear the same print twice with a client. If you are in a more casual or creative field, you can consider a print like leopard for some accessories, but having solids for your Road Warrior wardrobe means you can likely wear the same garment twice in a week without a client being the wiser.

Choose pieces that can dress up and down. While you may be meeting with clients and needing a professional wardrobe, not every moment of your day is suit-worthy. Maybe you’re meeting colleagues for happy hour, or your client is taking you to a baseball game. Be ready without having to stuff a suitcase with a casual wardrobe. A striped tee with a flattering neckline and fabric can be dressed up under a suit jacket, or paired with jeans and flats for a barbecue or sporting event. Pair the jeans with the cardigan for a casual meal, or with the ivory blazer (maybe tuck a band tee shirt or simple tank into your suitcase) or just a sweater shell with pashmina or statement necklace for drinks at a neighborhood bar.

As for dressing up, a ponte or crepe dress can work for the office or for a cocktail party. The black dress I featured could work with a blazer or cardigan by day and with red lips and mascara will make it perfect for an evening affair. Use the pashmina as an evening wrap.

Pack smart accessories. While I am all for having a large accessory collection for changing the look of wardrobe staples, when you’re a Road Warrior you need to keep your wardrobe to a minimum and keep it super easy. A statement necklace that isn’t too sparkly or too arts and crafty can jazz up a classic suit, or dress up a work dress to look cocktail appropriate. A pashmina can be your travel blanket on the plane, add interest to a simple dress or ensemble, be your evening wrap for a cocktail party, and ward off chill in overly air-conditioned office buildings. If you know you will be there longer, consider wearing tall boots on the trip for they will give a completely different look to skirts, dresses, jeans and narrow pants. Finally, choose a structured and polished bag to be your purse, your carryon bag, as well as your work tote. Find one that can hold both your laptop as well as a bottle of water and copy of InStyle for the flight.

Pack repair and care supplies. Stitch Witchery, a small sewing kit, bar of Ivory soap or a small bottle of laundry detergent, Shout Wipes or Tide-to-Go pen, safety pins, a black Sharpie (covers snags in tights and fabric, tears in leather, etc.), lint remover. When I used to travel on business, I had my toiletries kit already packed and ready to go with mini versions of all my beauty products, and I also had an emergency outfit kit in a small bag with these essentials. Both stayed in my suitcase when I was home, only removed to replace that which ran out. This way, I never forgot them and was already ready for any situation (or any stain). Most hotels have a shine cloth for shoes and an iron to get out wrinkles and fuse Stitch Witchery.

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Ask Allie: Career Wear on a Budget

I am a young professional without a “mentor” or any experience in the professional world other than the two years at my current job. I am getting a new boss in January and she is beautiful, powerful, and extremely sharp. I am the girl with the hot pink iPhone case, the ubiquitous plastic venti coffee cup, wearing Teva sandals with my work outfits, trying to pass black jeans as “dress pants,” and still wearing the same bangle bracelets that I had in high school. I desperately need an upgrade in… everything… but I’m broke.

Are there any suggestions that you can make about taking my college student wardrobe and upping my game while still being able to feed my family?

You are not alone. It’s hard to be new and rise the corporate ladder without going into debt. You come into the workforce already with student loans and then have to shell out a lot just to look as though you want the job you fought hard to get. Jobs are hard to get, so you want to show that you care and have the drive but you don’t have the money to build a professional wardrobe from scratch. A few tips:

Thrift It. I know from your email that you’re already hitting Goodwill, but it can be frustrating to weed though racks and racks of faded knit tees in hopes of finding one decent pencil skirt or blazer. Make it a weekly date – find out when they stock the floors and visit that day. Befriend the folks working there – it may just get you a new friend, or it may get you friends who will see pieces and hold them for you or give you a heads up when they are stocking the floor.

While there, consider going up a size or two. A thrifted pair of pants can easily be altered by the nearby dry cleaner, and the price for both is still going to be cheaper than a new pair of pants on the sale rack.

Join Freecycle. My local Freecycle often has people giving away large bags of clothing in a certain size. People who have lost or gained weight, passed away, retired. While a good portion of the bag’s contents may be wrong for you, you could end up with a real gem in the process. And that which doesn’t work, re-Freecycle or donate. Once you have established yourself on your local Freecycle as a person who gives as well as takes (great way to clean out the house of old toys, knick knacks, and that dusty treadmill in your basement), you can request certain things. I did this once and was amazed with the generous people who replied with items or suggestions on how to get what I needed for less or free.

Find Local Swaps and Consignments. Twice a year, my community has a swap where people bring old baby clothing and equipment and trade for that which they need. It has grown to where this swap often has adult clothing. Local fashion blogging communities will often host or know of swaps where for a small price or a bag of clothes to donate, you can attend and pick up some amazing scores. Consignment sales are another place to find thrift-store priced clothing but a more carefully curated collection. At such events, you can also network with other frugal shoppers.

Nothing in your community? Set one up! It can be anything from a happy hour at your home with a few friends and neighbors, or you can set something up at a local community center.

A sample capsule wardrobe of simple pieces: how you can create over 20 different business casual outfits from just eight pieces of clothing.  Every outfit works with black pumps or flats.

Buy Simple. Simple blue oxford, gray pencil skirt, black blazer, plum cardigan, black pants… pieces like these can be mixed and matched a hundred ways to create completely different ensembles. Don’t buy difficult silhouettes that only go with one piece – create a bit of a uniform with few silhouettes so they are more versatile and less memorable.

Prints and bold colors are memorable; stick to neutrals and soft hues until you can afford a larger wardrobe.

Make a Priority List. What holes are in your wardrobe? Focus on those first. Don’t worry that this season is about oxblood or that a pair of leopard shoes would update your look. Get those basics you need to not be naked or in inappropriate fashion at the office. While I usually encourage buying accessories to switch up basics, at this point I’d say save your money. It’s better to go without any accessories at all than to try to make do with cheap pieces or spend your budget on a bracelet.

Unless you find one for an incredible price and it’s gorgeous, focus more on separates than dresses. Separates can mix and match for more outfits, and can better be tailored to fit (or made to look tailored with belts, Stitch Witchery, and strategically placed safety pins).

When you buy, stop and think what in your wardrobe can it work with. If you can’t imagine three outfits, don’t buy it. Even if it’s only $3 or only $5, that’s $3 or $5 you could save for the right wardrobe addition.

Know No One is Keeping Track. It’s okay to wear the same black pants two or three times in a week as long as they are clean. It’s okay to wear the same shoes every day until you can afford more. You can even carry off the same shirt multiple times in one week – one day on its own tucked in to a skirt, another day untucked under a sweater with pants. As long as the pieces are clean, in good condition, and properly pressed no one is going to care. The effect is far more important than the individual pieces.

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Friday: Office Pajamas

Top: JANA c/o Gwynnie Bee | Leggings: Rubbish | Boots: Ros Hommerson | Necklace: eBay | Bracelets: Nordstrom (similar) | Earrings: Nordstrom | Lipstick: Revlon Moon Drops in “Orange Flip”

Some days don’t you just wish you could go to work in your pajamas? I can’t believe it, but I’m adopting a trend I wore back in high school – tunic sweaters with leggings. I know, leggings aren’t pants, but this top is long enough to justify it, and loose enough that it would just look dumpy with regular trousers. Thanks goodness for Gwynnie Bee, my latest box arrived when I was past due for laundry day. I love the bright colors, the fun shape, and yes, that this top is as comfy as pajamas!  As a reminder, if you’re interested in Gwynnie Bee, click this link and mention Wardrobe Oxygen for a trial month!

Still learning how to style this hair. I know it’s not drastically different from previous cuts, but I think it’s the difference between having your hair cut by any person and being cut by someone who knows your hair, your lifestyle, your personality. This morning my goal was to let the hair be wavy/curly with a bit straighter bangs. It just looked like a frizzy, messy hot mess, as though I just washed and went. So I brought out the flat iron. Since I had product for waves already in it, it created this messy piecey look which I like since I always like to pretend I am a rock star. A mistake gone good, and a new way to style this ‘do!

I do get a commission on each person who signs up for Gwynnie Bee and mentions me, but I have chosen to partner with this brand because they totally rock, offer a great service, and honestly care about their customers.

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Office Attire Essentials

Whether you work in finance or fashion, physics or a philanthropy, there are some basic needs for a corporate wardrobe. Maybe you will speak at a conference, possibly you will be interviewing for a new position, possibly you are traveling on business. Below are the top six things I have learned over the years in different fields, to be the items necessary for a completely polished, professional wardrobe. These items are the pieces I see women most often NOT own and by not owning it usually diminishes their professional appearance.

1. A Suit. Seriously, you should own a suit. While a crisp shirt and trousers or a simple dress will work for most work events, there is always that situation where you wished you had a suit. Possibly you’re being interviewed on TV, or maybe you’re speaking at a conference. Maybe you’re chosen to give clients a tour of the facility, or you’re having your headshot taken for the company website. Murphy’s Law, if you don’t own a suit a situation will arise where one is necessary.

Skirt suits are no longer a necessity, and they leave you wondering about appropriate footwear, if hosiery is necessary, and the proper length or need for a slip. I deal with conservative government clients and find none of them blink at a woman in a pantsuit. If you choose black, it’s extremely versatile, slimming, seasonless, and less likely to look dated in a couple of years. Buy quality – a cheap suit looks cheap from a mile away. No need for designer, you can find sale suiting quite easily at chain retailers like Ann Taylor, Lord & Taylor, and J. Crew.

2. A Simple Leather Tote Bag. This item is the inspiration for this post. The other morning I was walking past the Mayflower Hotel and I saw a woman leading a group of individuals, most likely from the hotel to a place for breakfast. It was all men in gray and navy suits looking confused, and this woman, on a cell phone, looking extremely competent and in control. Sleek bob, a black skirt suit with cobalt blouse, expensive black pumps… and a canvas and lemon yellow patent leather tote bag with a stain on it.

In 2001 when I changed jobs, I treated myself to a black leather tote from J. Crew. It was on sale for $99 and I questioned the idea behind spending so much for something I didn’t necessarily need. In the past decade, I have used this tote on numerous occasions – for interviews, to carry my laptop to business meetings and conferences, as my carry-on for day flights to client sites. It’s sleek, structured, free of logos and embellishments, and some of the best money I have spent.

It’s better to buy a lesser-known brand free of a logo than a big fancy It Bag with logoed fabric or a big brass plaque on the front. Visible logos are never professional, and interest in certain designers change from year to year. Have it structured so it can hold your laptop in a sleeve, keep your resume from getting creased, and sit on its own on a table or the floor. Have at least once zippered compartment for small essentials and keep it clean and conditioned so it looks great now and five years from now.

3. Black Pumps. No more than a 3” heel, slightly pointed or almond toe, no visible decorations, no platforms or peeptoes or wedge heels. Smooth leather, no fancy finishes. Have them comfortable, classic, sleek. Polish them regularly and take them to the cobbler each season to be reheeled, resoled, and to have nicks on the heels covered. Wear with everything from cocktail dresses to trousers with twinsets. Buy wisely, and be willing to spend more than $50. If you care for them, these shoes will last you for many years of stylish professional wear.

4. Black Commuter Flats. there’s nothing worse than seeing a professional woman in a fabulously-tailored power suit, dashing across K Street in a pair of dirty TOMS or puffy sneakers. Not only that, there will be times when you will need to leave your office and walk to another location, give a tour of the campus, hoof it from one end of an airport to the other to catch your connecting flight. Be prepared with comfortable, broken-in but not beaten-down commuter shoes that have a closed toe and can be tucked in your tote and slipped on in a second. As with the pumps, polish them often and keep them looking clean and fresh.

5. A Simple Phone Cover/iPad Case/Laptop Skin. So you’ve been given a big break at work, the woman upstairs has asked you to lead the presentation. You head to the boardroom in your sleek black suit and power pumps, set your black structured tote on the table and whip out your hot pink laptop with band stickers all over it. Or maybe you attend a conference and end up at a table with some power players in your field, you go to tweet the event on your iPhone with a Swarvoski crystal-encrusted cover. The point is, having a fun or fancy cover for your technology destroys any credibility.

I love my iPhone and I take it everywhere. I love me some leopard print and was tempted to get a cover of that print. But then I realized that while I use my iPhone to Instagram my outfits and friends at events, I also use it to handle business for my day job. So I use a matte black cover from Incipio that protects, doesn’t slide off tables, and is subtle and professional.

Go ahead and have the Hello Kitty iPad case, but have a simple one on standby for those times when it’s important to look polished and professional.

6. A Nice Pen. It doesn’t have to be a Montblanc, but it looks impressive to whip out a nice-quality pen when you have to jot something down or loan one to a colleague. Luckily my company has really nice hematite ones with the logo etched into the side; at my old job I had a Cross which I carried in my work tote. You wouldn’t believe how many times people commented on the pen in a positive way.

***

The rest? It can vary from profession to profession. Some offices are more conservative, some more laid-back. Needs depend on your industry, your location on this planet, and your position with the company. However these six simple things can take your good work look and make it great. Having such pieces in your wardrobe already means less stress and scrambling when you get that opportunity to lead, impress, or represent your company.

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Ask Allie: Office Beauty

I am about to start my first internship in D.C. this fall and can’t wait. I was wondering if you have any recommendations for subtle office-appropriate lipstick? Preferably something by Revlon or an inexpensive brand. I love wearing red lipstick but don’t want to look too crazy in the office. Thank you!

Red lipstick doesn’t necessarily look crazy if you do it right. I love Revlon ColorBurst Lip Butters for they provide sheer color that you can layer for strong pigment – one swipe of Cherry Tart is cheery without stopping traffic; add a few more layers for drinks after work. I also like matte reds for the office – they may have the pop of color but don’t have the added shine to really call attention to your face – Revlon Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stains are a great budget-friendly option that can let you wear color without the color wearing you.

For at least the first week though, I would steer clear of a bold lip. Get a feel for your office culture. Choosing a brownish pink is a wise choice – something similar to your natural lip color yet a bit darker or more intense. A shade that has mauve, dusty, or natural in it is a good choice. CoverGirl Continuous Lipcolor is a great budget-friendly lipstick that will last through your morning cup of coffee without drying out your lips; Iced Mauve and It’s Your Mauve are great choices for women with fair to medium complexions that are neutral to cool in tone.

Finally, I am a big fan of Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balms and now own four different colors. Rose is a sheer red that is playful yet office-appropriate, Red Dahlia is more of a sheer wine, Hibiscus is a sheer candy pink, Tiger Lily is a warm neutral that looks fantastic with a hint of a tan.

You often wear very bold makeup at work. I can’t imagine smokey eye or magenta lips in my office yet you do it and from what I assume you have a managerial position at your company. Is such makeup now acceptable in the workplace?

Each office environment is different. I work in a very relaxed environment where people are free to show their personal style as long as it is within the dress code guidelines. I also work in a position where I don’t meet with clients every day and only interact with my teammates.

Before you decide whether to wear a smoky eye or bold lip in your office, take a look around. Are there any colleagues who wear bold fashion? How are they perceived by upper management? Do they get the respect they deserve?

While I may wear a smoky eye once in a while and this winter did rock quite a few bright lipstick colors, I keep most of my “fun” makeup for after hours. No sparkle or shimmer, no intense or bold eye colors, no false lashes, nothing overly trendy. While my workplace may not blink at hot pink lip gloss, a peer company with a similar clientele may freak out over navy eyeliner. Respect your office, your position with the company and the position you desire to have in the future before going bold with your office beauty.

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Dressing for Respect in the Office

At my job, we share our bathroom with all the other companies on our floor. Today I stepped in and was surrounded by what looked to be several interns or new hires. How did I know this? Purely by how they were dressed or their beauty choices. I know I wrote about this recently, but I’d like to address this in a different manner – I’d like to talk about how to dress to gain respect or a sense of authority when you’re a newbie.

Maybe you’re fresh out of college or an intern, maybe you’re a seasoned vet in your field but changed companies. Possibly you have recently been promoted and work with and manage a whole new team of virtual strangers. Whatever it is, do realize how you look at the office will affect how you will be perceived. It is possible to look professional, credible, and still stylish no matter your age, budget, or position in the office.

Clothing:

  • Cover your Lingerie. Wear a skin-colored bra under light colored tops, wear high enough necklines that your bra won’t show when you bend over to plug in your laptop, wear a thong or seamless underwear so you don’t have visible panty lines, watch the rise of pants and the width of necklines to ensure you don’t flash a bra strap or whale tail.
  • Stand in front of a window. Check to see the transparency of clothing when in natural light. Often, we get dressed in semi-darkness early in the morning and once we get to the office, we find our skirt leaves nothing to the imagination or a coworker can see the bow detail on the center of the bra. Check the opacity of all clothing by standing in front of natural light and checking out your reflection.
  • Sit in your outfit. Before you leave your home, sit in your outfit. Do your shirt buttons gape open flashing your bra or belly button? Does your skirt crease after only 30 seconds in a chair? Does your shirt ride up, exposing your lower back? Know these things before you leave the house and potentially embarrass yourself at the office.
  • Buy quality, not quantity. That $15 Forever21 pencil skirt LOOKS like a $15 Forever21 pencil skirt, especially when in a sea of suiting from department stores and higher-end retailers. It’s better to have one black skirt than a dozen cheap polyester-blend ones from bargain shops. Same goes for cheap versions of work tops that pull at the shoulders, are made of obviously low-quality fabric, are ill-fitting or too trendy of a style.
  • A suit doesn’t equal authority. Many people feel that to look like an authority, they should wear a suit. The opposite is often true for if you aren’t comfortable in a suit, it will show. Also, a suit is harder to wear at a lower pricepoint. If your dress code allows, consider instead wearing a sheath with a cardigan or a button-front shirt with a straight skirt or trousers for an equally polished ensemble that will make you more comfortable.

Accessories:

  • Wear comfortable and well-maintained shoes. They say a man’s style is judged by his shoes, well women’s style is as well! Nothing ruins a look more than scuffed shoes with the heels worn down and Band-Aids all over your ankles to deal with cuts and blisters. Break them in before you go to work, and take them to the cobbler regularly to keep them in the best condition.
  • Buy a simple bag. You’re wearing a classic gray suit from J. Crew, a pair of simple black Cole Haan pumps, and then you are carrying a turquoise crackle leather knock-off version of a Balenciaga. A cheap or overly trendy bag will destroy any credibility. No need to spend a ton, a simple bag with minimal details in black, gray, brown, or tan will get the job done and can be found at most any pricepoint. Look for structure instead of hobo, and a bag that is large enough to carry a notepad or file folders; a bag that can also carry your laptop can do double-duty for offsite meetings and business trips.
  • Buy quality, not quantity. Again, Forever21 is rarely the place to purchase office jewelry. Those fishing-line necklaces with strategically-placed plastic beads look as cheap as they cost at Target, and youthful accessories like rope or jelly bracelets, neon faux jewels, and feather earrings destroy any workplace credibility. This also holds true for shoes – it’s better to wear the same two pairs of simple shoes each day than have a closet full of cheap brands that cause you to hobble down the hallway or make you look as though you’re hitting the club after work.

Beauty:

  • Cut your hair. I’m not saying you can’t have long hair, but waist-length beachy waves that get scraggly at the ends is not professional. When I entered the bathroom this morning, this was the first cue that these women were new – they all had long manes of tangled waves that look great on the beach but not in the office. While I too would love a lush head of hair, I know it’s not a good look for Corporate America. Keeping it around your shoulder blades or higher, and having layers or bangs to give it an actual style will make you look more professional. If you wish to keep the length, consider topknots, ponytails, and twists that can manage the hair without you looking like Lady Godiva.
  • Color your hair. If you color your hair, get it touched up on a regular basis. If you can’t afford the time or money to maintain your highlights, get a single-process color that matches your natural shade. When you let your haircolor lapse, it makes you look disorganized and as though you don’t have attention to detail – not good traits for an office worker.
  • Have a polished face. I am not saying all need to wear makeup, but if you don’t wear makeup you need to make a concerted effort to have your skin look fresh and well-taken care of. Exfoliate, hydrate, consider a product like Vitamin C that will even and brighten the skin. Wear sunscreen to keep your skin looking young and elastic. If you are okay with the idea of makeup, a little tinted moisturizer, concealer, and mascara can go a long way.
  • Tone down the trends. I discussed this in this other post but it bears repeating. When you’re trying to create an aura of authority, a neon lip or colored mascara isn’t a wise choice.
  • Just tone all of it down. This isn’t a Miss America pageant, it is an office. Heavy makeup looks even more garish under fluorescent lights, and it won’t help you look experienced or credible. Dark colors, intense blush, heavy foundation – none of these give a professional look in the office.

General Tips:

  • It’s better to buy too large and have it altered for a custom fit than to purchase too small and have it pull at the hips or shoulders.
  • QUALITY NOT QUANTITY! No one is keeping score and tracking how often you wear your black pants or tan pumps. It’s better to have fewer pieces of quality, well-fitting garments than a multitude of cheap pieces that make you look as though you don’t care about your appearance.
  • Watch your length – too short skirts and pants dragging on the ground make you look unprofessional. A dry cleaner can do a simple pant or skirt hem for a few dollars.
  • Safety pins are your friends – you can pin shirts together between buttons, pin shirts to the inside of your pants or skirt to keep them from sliding out of the waistband each time you sit, and are great to have in your bag or desk in case of a fallen hem or busted seam.
  • Your iron is your friend. No matter the price or fit, a shirt that looks as though it was yanked off the floor of your bedroom will kill your credibility. If you don’t like to iron, take your shirts to the cleaners or just choose another type of garment for the office. Throwing a shirt in the dryer for a few minutes is NOT a replacement for the iron, and even though your shirt may get creased en route to the office, it will never look as bad as a shirt that was never originally ironed.
  • Solids are less memorable and usually look more expensive than a print. If you’re low on funds, stick to solids for more versatility and the ability to make a simple dress or blouse look classic and sophisticated.

For more tips on workplace attire please visit:

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What to Wear for Family Portraits

We’re planning a family reunion to surprise my grandma for her 80th birthday. The big event planned is a professional family photo. We have agreed on jewel tones and solid blacks or grey, but I am not quite sure what photographs well, is stylish and won’t have me cringing 20 years from now. I am a size 14, busty and my style tends to trend a bit rocker chic. The color of the items is less important, but what do you think I should lean towards in regards to shape, material and style?

what to wear for a family portrait

You lucked out with the color scheme! Not only is this easy to find at any pricepoint, size, and personal style, but it’s also going to look less dated in a decade or two.

Some colors just don’t photograph well, and one of those is red. Luckily, there’s a ton of other jewel tones available that are far more flattering. I recommend going with a true jewel tone instead of a primary – emerald or teal in place of Kelly green, berry or violet instead of purple, garnet or merlot over red. The color should be one that you like, as your relatives will likely be wearing all different shades.

I’d recommend a knit top in a saturated color – ponte knit, merino wool, silk knit, and silk jersey all hold color really nicely, drape well over curves, and will look better in a photo than a traditional jersey knit. When it comes to the top, neckline makes all the difference. The photographer will likely have some of you standing, others sitting, so the body will end up blending into a sea of jewel tones and black. Choosing an interesting neckline will flatter your face, elongate your neck, and possibly slim the look of your figure. Scoop, surplice (faux wrap), and v-necklines are usually the most flattering, but depending on your personal style you may prefer a square or boatneck.

For the bottom, I recommend black over gray. I bet most of your relatives will also wear black, so you will blend in. Not only that, choosing black pants or black skirt and opaque tights with black shoes makes current trends for hemlines, shoes, and cuts not as obvious when admiring the photo in the future. Keep accessories to a minimum for that is what dates a look the most. Maybe a small necklace or a small pair of earrings, but no statement pieces. A photograph like this is about your family, not your personal style. However, if you have a favorite piece of jewelry that was a gift from your grandma or a family heirloom, it would be a lovely touch to wear it for the shoot.

As for hair and makeup, no matter how classic you try to make it, it will still look dated in 25 years. I love watching historical dramas from the ‘70s and ‘80s and how they thought feathered hair or rust-colored streaks under the cheekbones looked historically accurate. Just be yourself, but the most polished version of yourself. This post on how to prepare for a professional headshot offers suggestions on how to do your hair and makeup for any photo shoot.

Finally, SMILE! Your grandma and your family for years to come will far more enjoy a genuine grin than a sophisticated pout or wan smile. They’ve seen your teeth, your gums, your cheekbones, your chin at Thanksgiving and your cousin’s wedding, this is not the time to be self-conscious or do weird faces in an attempt to look younger, thinner, or different. This is your family, they deserve the real and happy you. For there is nothing more attractive than a genuinely happy person!

Ask Allie: Office-appropriate Jeans

Hi Allie, I am not sure what jeans I can wear to work. Dress code is business casual and jeans are acceptable but no specifics. Do you have a primer on jeans for work?

I will use my current and previous places of work as a guide – they all had business casual dress codes, but did offer details on what was acceptable and what was not:

I feel that if regular pants (chinos, trousers) were in the same condition, would they be work appropriate.  I’d hope you wouldn’t wear skin-tight, shiny, paint-splattered, torn, or frayed pants to the office and such denim is also not appropriate in most office settings.  Though distressed denim has come back in fashion, that doesn’t make them suddenly work-appropriate.  Office dress codes aren’t dictated by what is on the pages of your glossy fashion magazine. 

Each workplace is different, but if you’re contacting me it is because you are unsure.  I always feel it is better to dress up too much than too little.  When it comes to denim, you can’t dress up too much.  Crisp, saturated color, straight lines, silhouettes that don’t cling – good rule of thumb for office denim and any office trousers.

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Ask Allie: Summer Office Attire

Do you already have an article on work clothes for suffocating summers? Am already dreading summer in the South.

I wrote about office-appropriate sandals here, and casual polished summer clothes here, but I have never addressed how to dress in a professional manner come summer. Not only is the heat difficult, but you also have to deal with frigid overly air-conditioned offices. Here’s what I do to beat the heat while still looking appropriate at the office:

Click image for item details

 
Dresses
Seems so simple… because it is! No need to tuck in a shirt, no lined trousers, and a silhouette that doesn’t cling to the majority of your body. A dress can let you go sans sleeves on your trip to the office, then easily cover up (if necessary due to dress code or air conditioning) with a cardigan you had tucked in your bag.

Not all dresses are created equal – some can be of heavy synthetic fabric lined with more synthetic fabric, and others can end up looking like a crumpled paper bag by noon. Even others would be perfect at a backyard barbeque, but are completely inappropriate in the workplace.


Cotton Dresses. Cotton is a natural choice – it’s breathable, it doesn’t cling, and will catch a refreshing breeze on a hot summer day. However, cotton can be sheer, can wrinkle and can easily look casual. A stiffer cotton – sateen, twill, cotton with a hint of Lycra, or a high quality version will hold up better throughout the day. When it comes to cotton, I usually look for a non-fitted silhouette – a swing or a-line style, or one with a seamed bodice and fuller skirt will hold up better in the heat and humidity and won’t stick to your legs. A lining can also help with cotton looking fresh, but it will make the dress hotter. A fuller style will offset the lack of breeze to keep you cool.

Shift Dresses. Be they short sleeved or sleeveless, a shift dress is a great summer piece. While it is usually tailored to a female shape, it is looser and straighter of a cut than a sheath. A shift dress in cotton, gabardine, Ponte de Roma (ponte), or even tropical weight wool can look professional, stylish, and help you beat the heat by letting there be air between you and your clothing.

Matte Jersey Dresses. Oh matte jersey, how I love you! Matte jersey won’t cling even if you’re drenched in sweat, it doesn’t show sweat, is thick enough to not need a lining, and it dries quickly. While it is a synthetic, it doesn’t seem to be as suffocating as a traditional poly/lycra blend. A matte jersey wrap dress can look quite sophisticated even on the hottest of summer days – I had a ¾ sleeve one for years that I would wear all four seasons – it was a faux wrap that wouldn’t flip up on windy days, was black so it worked with black pumps or boots in winter or nude sandals come summer, and literally no one could see me sweat.

Be wary of jersey knit dresses – they can cling to your body, leaving little to the imagination by time you hike it in the heat from parking lot or bus stop to the office. Even if you think you look professional in your home, a bit of heat and humidity can make a simple jersey dress quite scandalous.

Maxi dresses are hard to make work in many office environments – I have only done it a handful of times and each time I felt a bit too casual or flamboyant. Such dresses are best kept to those who work in a creative field.

Just because you pair a sundress with a cardigan or put a tank top or tee shirt underneath, it doesn’t mean it’s work appropriate. This means tissue-weight flippy floral cotton styles from Forever 21 and Old Navy, dresses with spaghetti or halter straps, strapless frocks, bodycon dresses, or anything that would look best with sand between your toes and a Pina Colada in your hand.

Pants
Pants are a given no matter the time of year or occasion, however many office-appropriate pants are downright torture on a hot summer day. Lining plus pockets plus heavy fabrics can mean feeling like a suffocated soggy mess by time you reach your office. There are some styles that will look professional yet still help you beat the heat.

Cropped Pants. These aren’t the cropped pants of a few years ago – this season’s cropped pants are stylish, sleek, and office appropriate. Crisp fabrics, straight lines, chic with pumps or delicate sandals, cropped pants can replace your heavy suiting trousers once the temperature rises. I have these cropped pants from Halogen that are a cotton twill that hold their shape through sitting and humidity, and come in rich colors that will give your wardrobe staples have a new life. They aren’t lined, which helps with the heat, but they still look crisp and professional. Wear pants like these with a sleeveless top and slingback peeptoes, slip on a cardigan or blazer once you enter the office.

Wide-legged Pants. An office-appropriate version of a maxi skirt, the full-legged pant has made a return to the stores, and just in time for summer.

A sailor-inspired trouser in stretch cotton twill or refined denim looks great with a boatneck sweater and statement necklace; pair with a short-sleeved blazer or a twinset for a classic look.

Fluid wide-leg, or palazzo pants have returned but this time they are sleek and more sophisticated. The leg is tailored so you don’t look like a clown, and they can easily be paired with a sleeveless silky blouse and skinny belt for a professional ensemble. While white or ivory may seem like a natural choice, such colors usually need lining and can show sweat stains. A darker color will let you breathe with just one layer; prints have also returned and a subtle Ikat or textured print can look corporate with a simple blouse or shell.

Skirts
Skirts are like dresses – not every skirt will be comfortable or appropriate for the office come summertime. While I love pencil skirts in the colder months, I find such a silhouette suffocating come spring and summer. It’s also uncomfortable to have a blouse tucked into a lined skirt in the heat – three layers across your midsection can get creased, sweaty, and icky pretty fast.

Come summer, I like my skirts how I like my pants – either crisp cotton, or fluid. This season has a bunch of micro-pleated skirts – be they chiffon or jersey, such a style can look professional while still feeling breezy. Pair such a skirt with a lightweight short-sleeved sweater or cotton blazer for a work-appropriate ensemble. A-line skirts are great come summer – they don’t cling to the skin and can handle a slightly heavier fabric without feeling too hot. A crisp cotton or twill a-line skirt looks office-ready with a cotton voile blouse or a lightweight sweater set.

Blouses
I don’t know why everyone wears knit tees in the summer – they cling in the heat and can make you feel pretty uncomfortable. The best bet is to choose fabrics that will float away from the body without adding bulk to your frame. A blouse in tissue-weight cotton, lightweight linen, silk, or chiffon will let your body breathe while still looking professional. Such fabrics can be transparent – instead of adding layers, consider getting an underwire camisole in black, navy, or nude to wear under such blouses. Also if you choose a darker color or a print, your underpinnings are less likely to show. Many find silk to be difficult in summer because it shows sweat – tissue-weight cotton or voile is a good alternative that can still float and breathe.

I am not much of a fan of the classic sleeveless cotton button-front shirt. Rarely do shirts of this style look good on a woman’s figure – they are too stiff in the body or else cling to the frame, they rarely flatter the arm, and the neckline usually seems too severe without sleeves. There are always exceptions, but a standard sleeveless button-front shirt can quickly look like Dowdy Soccer Mom or Parks and Planning Department Employee if not the right fabric, cut, and color.

An alternative to a blouse is the shell. A shell is like a half-shift, with a similar silhouette but ending between your waistband and mid-hip. While most any sleeveless top in a store may be called a shell, such a piece is usually of a straighter cut so that you have air between you and your garment. This year, I am seeing more shells in crisp cotton or linen – just to or just past the waistband, they look great with gathered skirts, wide-leg trousers, and crisp cropped trousers. Add a scarf or bold necklace to pull the look together.

Peasant tops are a popular choice come summer since they float away from the body and are of lightweight fabrics; problem is they rarely look professional. Even out of silk, such blouses have smocking, laces, and often have embroidery or beading which can make it look costume-y in the workplace. Keep such blouses for the weekend, or at least Casual Friday.

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Ask Allie – Fighting That Office Chill

Allie:
Do you have any suggestions about working in a freezing office and looking professional? Right now I’m wearing a heavy hoodie on top of a cardigan…and unless I have to go to a meeting, that’s how it will be all day. I was thinking about a long sweater, but they vary widely…are they ever ok?

Before I got pregnant and now LIKE having the office as an ice box, I was so feeling your pain. Offices seem to always be too cold or too warm and you always need to have some layers handy so you don’t get hypothermia while sitting in front of your computer.

I have a pashmina at the office just for this purpose. I love it because it is lightweight, but since it is cashmere it keeps me just as warm as a heavier item. Being a shawl I can adjust where I need it – around the neck if I am wearing a v-neck top, over the shoulders, or even over the lap and legs when wearing a skirt. It also is small enough to tuck into my laptop bag if I am going to a client site that may be just as frigid.

Sweater coats can be quite nice and professional looking. I have one I bought years ago at The Limited that is calf-length, a sturdy black cotton knit, mandarin collar and buttons just to the waistband. My old job used to call me Trinity when I wore it for it had a bit of a “Matrix” look to it. It is a thick enough knit to look smooth over lightweight knits and sweaters, and the refined knit and modern silhouette makes it even appropriate when I leave my office and venture down a hall to greet a client.

The key to sweater coats is the weight (not super thin and not a chunky lumpy cable), and the silhouette (more like a jacket than a bathrobe).

A lightweight sweater will look lumpy and strained over your other layers, a heavy cable or textured weave will look more like grandpa’s favorite than a stylish and professional garment. Wrap styles with a self-belt seem the easiest, but often times are the least flattering to a woman’s frame. They add the majority of bulk at the torso and hide the curves of a feminine frame. Many wrap styles also hit near the bottom of the rear end, making the back view look bigger than it really is. Your best bet is to find a cardigan that hits at the hips, or mid-thigh so it is long enough to show your shape.

Black front-tie cardigan from Old Navy, maroon high-collar sweater coat from Lands End, red ribbed shawl cardigan from Banana Republic, charcoal marled cardigan from Calvin Klein Jeans.

Spring has Sprung in my Closet

Spring has sprung here in DC! Hooray for bare legs, packing up the hats and mittens, and being able to expose elbows and toes! With each change of season, there’s usually a change of wardrobe. I’ve found that closet organization has been good physical therapy for me; the pinching of clips to hang skirts, holding the weight of a full hanger, folding scarves and jeans. With my arm, this process has been extremely slow, but that time is great for really thinking about what is in my closet, what I really need, and what I really need to remove from my collection.

The trends this spring and summer are so refreshing; after seasons of bright and bold, fitted and funky there’s a move to subtleness, quality, detail, and drape. I saw it on the runways, I see it in the stores, and I feel it in my heart. I started gravitating toward simpler pieces and colors in 2013, but desire it even more in 2014, especially after my broken arm. After six weeks predominately in loungewear, I crave dressing, but simple, easy, yet elegant dressing. Here’s a peek into my Spring/Summer mindset:

For clothing, it’s not terribly different from the past, but now it feels more cohesive. I’m liking (1) midi-length skirts, but somehow they look more right on me when part of a dress. I have pretty much this same dress; last summer’s LOFT collection, and know it will get a ton more wear this year. (2) White feels really right this year, even before Memorial Day. I’ve been wearing white jeans, boyfriend jeans, and pants quite a lot already (if you’re new to white outside of summer, start simple by pairing it with black). Each season I end up having a signature color without even thinking about it and based upon my closet, this season it’s (3) orange-red.  I type this while wearing a linen sweatshirt of this color, and desire a shift dress like the one pictured.  I’m really digging classic trousers this spring, paired with everything, from blouses to sweaters to tee shirts; I’m on the hunt for the perfect pair in (4) navy.  I’m loving how there’s a trend towards draping and purposeful slouchiness this season and have been gobbling up things that are (5) off the shoulder; I’d pair a top like this with slim white jeans.  I also like the trend of purposeful draping, a top like this (6) can be worn with jeans for a night out, or slipped under a suit for the workweek.  I’m always happy when weathered, worn, and distressed denim (7) are on trend; they please my inner Lita Ford and love the contrast with more classic pieces.  And it wouldn’t be my wardrobe if it doesn’t have a few striped shirts (8) in it!

For accessories, I’m craving fewer pieces, fewer necklaces, and again am drawn to orange-red accents.  Thinking about my faves, I saw they are sort of lumped into three categories:

  • Vacation Inspired: I love white Panama hats and fedoras, I know they’ve been in style for a while and may be less trendy but I think they’re quite classic and these days I’m doing all I can to protect myself from the sun.  I love them with jeans and striped tees, I love them with sundresses, and I love that they hide bad hair days!  I’m also loving my new Converse Shorelines, which make Chucks finally comfortable for me.  With the elasticized back and lower profile, they’re comfy and easy to slip on and off.  Aviators are always my favorite, as are scarves.  Now that bandanas are back in style, I’ve been pulling out my collection of them and square scarves and using them to jazz up simple knits.
  • Bold Silver:  This is nothing new, silver is my signature metal and I’ve been wearing my big sterling cuff for 17 years.  Now I’ve added a pair of silver Birkenstocks to my wardrobe, increasing my silver.  I love mixing shiny silver with a more relaxed material; the bracelets from Lifetherapy are a fave of mine.  I have several of them and love looping one of their wrap bracelets (especially in this season’s signature color of orange!) over the cuff to switch it up. 
  • Classic Gold: When my arm was in a cast, I relied on a watch since pulling out my phone was more difficult.  I’ve come to really like the convenience and style, and adore my Citizen Ciena Eco-Drive.  I recently got this cuff from Rebecca Minkoff which is smaller than what I’ve been known to wear and I like it.  Again, been wearing a lot of square scarves, be they around my throat, tied in my hair, or hanging off my purse.  I got a pair of Nine West “Flax” pumps in Natural and they’re a great nude pump, a comfortable height and go with almost my entire wardrobe.

My makeup has also been influenced by my time with a cast; it’s hard to have precision with your non-dominant hand. While I spent much of the winter with bold lips and liquid liner, lately I’m more into a subtle smoky eye, bronzer over blush, and glossy lips in a more natural hue. Miracle Skin Transformer has become my go-to while dealing with a broken arm since it’s so easy and so many beauty products in one.  I’m a mascara junkie and I love Too Faced’s Better Than False Lashes enough to buy a second time. It’s not a product to use when you’re short on time, but they do make my lashes look lusher than any other brand.  I got the Urban Decay lipliner in Naked as a freebie with a Beauty.com order and I use it almost daily with a natural colored gloss (adoring NARS Viva).  And then the original Naked palette from Urban Decay is still a fave for a no-makeup makeup look, a soft smoky eye, or to even replace liner.


Has spring sprung in your closet?  What are you loving this season in regard to trends or new to you classics?

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Ask Allie: Dressy Track Pants for the Office?

I bought a pair of silky track pants. I wore them out with a camisole and heels but I’m wondering how I can wear them work for work, I work in a business casual office.

Someone recently commented (sorry could NOT find, if you’re the one who did it let me know so I can give you credit and link appropriately) that if a garment uses an outdoor or athletic term for its description, it’s not appropriate for the office. In general, I agree with this rule. No yoga pants, no hoodies; such garments are fab but not for the workplace. However, track pants have received quite a makeover the past few seasons and are now available at most any retailer in luxe fabrics, cool prints, and are expected to be styled in a dressy and luxe manner.

I love a silky or crepe track pant with heeled sandals and a camisole or drapey tank for cocktails with girl friends. Add a blazer and switch the sandals for heeled booties for a cooler temperature version. Dress them down with gladiator sandals and a ribbed cotton tank or leather booties and a biker jacket come fall. It’s wonderful that current pant trends are comfortable after years of skinny jeans and leggings, and how they can dress up and be a comfortable alternative to skirts. It’s also a great way to break away from black trousers and bring some color or print to a wardrobe.

Does this mean I think everyone should incorporate track pants into their workweek wardrobe? Nope. They are still a very relaxed style that may look chic from the front, but the whole effect (especially the back view) isn’t terribly professional. However, if you work in a creative field or casual office track pants may be completely acceptable and no one will bat an eye at your pajama bum or athletic-inspired pants.

Track Pants Style for Office Work Dress Code
shop similar: pants | vest | camisole | necklace | shoes

With this look, you can keep your cool during the sweltering summer without looking half undressed. A sleeveless blazer or vest is a popular trend this summer, and its length covers much of the rear reducing the track pant look. Having a continuous color from blouse to shoe adds a level of professionalism; a simple pendant necklace adds a needed touch of personality and shine to keep it from looking too uniform.

Track Pants Style for Office Work Dress Code
shop similar: pants | shirt | necklace | watch | shoes

This look takes advantage of the silk fabric of the dressed-up track pants to create an ensemble that relaxed luxe. Half-tuck a silk shirt in a traditional cut to downplay the track pant look but give an effortlessly cool vibe. Bold gold accessories and pointed toe nude heels add polish and make it clear these are not your pajamas.

Track Pants Style for Office Work Dress Code
shop similar: pants | jacket | tank | necklace | shoes

Pairing drapey trousers with an equally drapey jacket makes the pants look more purposeful and the look cohesive. A silk tank in a bold color or print adds personality, a tough metal necklace and bold leather booties give a rocker vibe but are still creative office appropriate.

When considering slouchy or track pants for the office, it’s important to consider fabric. Jersey and gauze fabrics are far too casual; check fabrics in bright light to ensure opacity. A crepe or silky material is your best choice. Also note details; track pants with knit ribbed ankles and waistband cancel out any formality of the main fabric. A track pant with a standard, non-elasticized ankle will look more office appropriate, as will one without a drawstring. Though these pants are called track pants, if they look too much like their athletic sibling, they shouldn’t be considered for the 9-5.

Ask Allie: Denim-based Office Capsule Wardrobe

I really like the capsule wardrobe posts that you have been doing. Would you consider doing one for a jeans work environment? Our company recently switched policies to allow casual dress everyday, as long as the jeans are dressier.

My last three places of employment have allowed jeans as long as they were dressed up. This post I wrote about work-appropriate denim is a great start in figuring out which jeans are considered business casual, and which are best left for weekends and evenings. For a denim-based capsule wardrobe, I recommend at least three different silhouettes and washes. For this capsule, I chose a dark wash of a traditional cut (straight, bootcut, etc.), a denim trouser which is a bit more refined and usually has a wider leg, and then a novelty piece. Depending on your personal style, it could be a subtle brocade print, corduroy, velour, or even a dark color like oxblood, black, or olive green. With all your work jeans, narrow and slim is acceptable with longer tops but skin tight is never appropriate.

Twenty Possible Combinations:


The best way to make jeans versatile is to have a variety of footwear. Narrow jeans look drastically different with flats than they do tucked into tall boots. Since you wrote in your email that you recently had a baby, I chose shoes that are more comfortable – a low-heeled boot, flat with arch support (I actually own these very flats from Ecco and find them extremely comfortable and cute), a wedge which is easier to wear than a standard heel.

Accessories can really transform an outfit – a tunic sweater is slouchy cool alone, streamlined when cinched with a wide belt. Thinking of my own wardrobe, I added a patterned skinny belt and a statement-making wide belt because I find these two types of belts to be the most versatile and best at transforming wardrobe staples. Scarves give denim a chic vibe – a patterned silk scarf with anything from a tank and cardigan to a striped tee makes a look instantly sophisticated, a lightweight pashmina adds interest and is a makeshift shawl in drafty offices.

Also since you said you recently had a baby, I chose fabrics and silhouettes that have stretch, are comfortable, and can look polished without being super fitted and structured. These pieces will also work if you lose any weight in the next couple of months – you can tuck in, belt, and adjust as your body changes. I stuck with solid colors because they are more versatile and less memorable. I used a lot of neutrals with pops of extreme brights, which always look so great next to denim.

When wearing jeans, it’s more important to think about what is on top. While one could carry off a simple knit top with pants or a skirt, with jeans such a top could easily veer into cleaning-out-the-garage territory. Soft-structured jackets, sweater coats, and cardigans help make jeans look polished as well as making more narrow silhouettes office-appropriate. All of these pieces would easily work with pants and skirts as well if there are days where you need to dress up for a visit from corporate or clients.

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Ask Allie: Summer Office Attire with Sleeves

I just wish that more dresses came with sleeves, any kind of sleeves. It’s annoying trying to find the perfect cardigan or jacket to wear on top. And fully bare arms are a no-no in my workplace.

I hate my arms and it seems every summer dress is sleeveless. I need ideas for work dresses with sleeves.

My job’s dress code says sleeves are mandatory, even if it’s 100 degrees outside. I keep a black cardigan on my chair year-round but would love some suggestions on how to make outfits for summer that have sleeves. Thanks Allie!

Do short sleeved blazers exist? I am in sales and wish I had suits for the summer. I travel a lot and it’s not comfortable being in and out of cars and planes and trains in a heavy suit, but don’t want to interact with my clients in just the tank under my suit jacket.

While at my office I can get away with sleeveless dresses and tops for summer, that doesn’t mean I want to all the time, especially when I am meeting with clients. While at first glance it may seem that all summer apparel is sleeveless and bare, there are some really great options out there that are professional yet stylish and far more comfortable for the warmer months.

Short-sleeved Blazers
They DO exist, and they can be quite stylish and on-trend.

The safari look always seems to be en vogue and each season I have been able to find short-sleeved safari and cargo jackets. This belted safari jacket from The Limited would look with either trousers or a pencil skirt for the office, but could also be dressed down with jeans or white Bermudas for the weekend. This elbow-sleeve linen jacket from White House Black Market is lightweight and would look polished with a skirt or pair of wider-leg trousers.

As for classically-styled blazers, they do come in shorter sleeves. Again, The Limited is a place to go for budget-summer blazers – this gray short-sleeve blazer makes a matched suit with their coordinating pants or skirt yet would be equally chic with white or even brightly-colored trousers; their Shawl Collar Jacket can also be made a suit with coordinating pants or skirts, and would look lovely with a softly pleated skirt or pair of cropped trousers in a cheerful hue. Heads up – right now The Limited is having a sale on many of their suiting separates!

Short-sleeved matched suits are often available this time of year, and a great way to get more bang for your buck while stressing less on coordinating separates. When I think of stylish yet wallet-friendly suiting, Tahari immediately comes to mind. This belted skirt suit from Tahari via Bluefly is professional without being dowdy; the jacket would also be quite smart with white or black pants or even a red skirt or pair of cropped trousers. This gray Tahari suit via Dillard’s is more conservative but doesn’t lack feminine detailing.

Short-Sleeved Dresses
These are also available, though they may not be the piece featured on the front page of the retailer’s website or the mannequin in the front window. Retailers think people want sleeveless for hot weather, and will feature such pieces in front, but will have sleeves for the corporate customers and the many who do not wish to show off their arms all summer long.

Short-sleeved shift dresses are classic, chic, and don’t cling in humidity. This colorblock shift from Joan Vass is elegant and professional – wear as –is with navy or nude pumps for a more conservative look, or get bold with a third color in statement necklace and pumps. This simple pink shift by Hugo is a classic style in an unexpected hue – wear with solid pumps for a classic look, or bring current trends into your ensemble with printed platform pumps or a statement necklace in a popular summer shade like neon yellow. This loose shift dress from Goat would look classic with simple pumps and a strand of pearls, or can look on-trend with wedge peeptoes and a bold necklace in tortoiseshell or even mint green.

Shirtdresses are a great way to look professional yet keep your cool on the most muggy of summer days. This stretch silk Ikat-printed shirtdress from Classiques Entier is stylish yet professional – pair with simple black pumps, or pump up the fashion by wearing nude heels and switching out the belt for a skinny patent one in a neon hue. While this chambray shirtdress from Lands’ End may be too conservative for some workplaces, pairing it with a wide black leather belt and black pumps will make it a great choice for business casual settings. This hot pink silk number from Calvin Klein looks great on its own or can be jazzed up with a belt in a neutral or a contrasting color.

Wrap dresses will forever be one of my favorite wardrobe pieces – versatile and oh so figure flattering! This modal wrap dress from Lands’ End is simple, elegant, and comfortable on hot summer days. This cobalt silk blend wrap dress from Milly is elegant and professional, will make a statement on its own or can be paired with a bold necklace for more impact. I love the bold print on this matte jersey dress from Issa – no need for fancy accessories, the print is its own accessory!

These are just a few options I found when perusing my favorite online retailers, but really there are a ton of options out there if you get past the front-door displays.  For details on the outfits and dresses in the photos, please click on the photo to go to the Polyvore set.  Happy shopping!

Note: There is nothing wrong with putting a cardigan over a dress, and this can be a very stylish option.  However, I believe all of you can do that, this post is to give you some ideas on short-sleeved work clothing that goes beyond the cardigan.

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