Search Results for: label/wedding attire

Ask Allie: Wedding Guest Attire

Hi Allie! I just bought this dress for an upcoming wedding reception (cocktail attire for women, black-tie welcomed for men). I would love to hear any ideas you have on how to accessorize it in order to glam it up. Thanks for any feedback! -Saundra

Dress via Ann Taylor

What a lovely dress, I love that icy lavender color! This is a great dress for such an event and very easy to glam up. A couple ideas:

- Silver Sparkle. Delicate silver strappy heels, delicate chandelier earrings of silver or white gold and diamonds (or CZs), a coordinating bracelet, be it a thin pave bangle or a chain of silver with crystals. Add a bit of subtle shimmer to your face with a highlighter on the brow bone, inner corners of the eyes, cheek bones, and the bow of your lips.

- Golden Glam. Some nude heels in a dressy fabric like silk – could be a strappy sandal, a D’Orsay heel or a platform peeptoe with a blingy shoe clip. Choose one accessory to make the statement – a large crystal-encrusted bangle or cuff, or a sparkly statement necklace; just have the metal be gold. Hair in a soft updo and a bit of shimmery golden tan hues used for the face.

- To-die-for Tonal. If you can find a great necklace with crystals or stones in the same pale lavender color, it can really glitz up this simple dress. Keep everything else very simple – nude dressy heels, simple hair, pretty makeup. If you really want another accessory, have it be your purse which could be a clutch in a metallic gray snakeskin or a subtle print that picks up the color of the dress.

This dress is of a formal fabric; if you have formal shoes and up the ante a bit with your makeup (darker lashes, bit of shimmer, etc.) you already are appropriate. Take a cue from celebs when they walk the runway – usually the dress makes the statement and the accessories only highlight. They usually only have one statement accessory, whether it’s a jeweled cuff or a pair of fantastic chandelier earrings.

Though it’s tempting, don’t try to match the color of the dress with your makeup – this lavender is so beautiful and so icy you can go with a bronze/gold subtle shimmer concept, a classic face with liquid liner, a simple fresh face with stronger lip.

Don’t be afraid to use a bag that doesn’t “go” – this is a look that can add some real personality to your look. I have a pale yellow snakeskin clutch that I use quite often even though I don’t own anything that color in my wardrobe. I find it is an unexpected pop of color that works so well, and the pale color makes it more dressy and versatile than typical black. A clutch in a texture (beading, embroidery) or print (snakeskin, a Pucci-inspired silk) can be far more versatile and stylish than a “basic” bag in black, silver, or gold.

Hi Allie:
I’ve been invited to two weddings this summer. Neither wedding is formal, but I would like to look nice. Do you have any suggestions for what would look appropriate, but fun?

I love being invited to casual weddings because it’s a great chance to wear fun fashion that doesn’t seem to have a proper place anywhere else in Real Life. As soon as I read your question I thought of maxi dresses.

Maxi dress via Mossimo for Target

Last summer I had a cotton maxi dress from Target that was a bright coral and white print. Being cotton, it was comfortable and also very versatile. I wore it to many an event with flat sandals and a long strand of turquoise beads; I even would wear it sans jewelry with a pair of flip flops for hanging out with friends. A plus to maxi dresses is that you keep your legs protected from the sun and from mosquitoes, and it’s easier to sit on the ground and not be exposed.

A maxi dress in a gauzy or cotton fabric would be festive choice for these weddings. To not try to overshadow the bride, keep accessories very simple and pair with flat sandals. Wearing your hair down and casual will make it feel more beachy and less bridesmaid.

Dear Allie,


I am a bridesmaid in a wedding this summer – it’s a destination wedding on the beach. We are allowed to wear anything we want as long as it’s black. Do you have any ideas on what would travel well, be comfortable in the heat, and would work with shoes that won’t sink into the sand? Thanks so much! – Dana

When I read your question I thought of what I wore to my friend’s wedding in November ’09. It was a spaghetti strap black maxi dress from Calvin Klein, and I paired it with big gold earrings, a pile of gold bangle bracelets, and wore flat gold sandals and my hair loose at my shoulders. When I put together the outfit, I thought about how great it would be for a tropical vacation.

Maxi dress via Ann Taylor LOFT

A maxi dress is a great choice for a beach wedding because you don’t have to worry about the breeze taking your skirt for a ride, and it makes it easier to sit in the sand or a low chair without feeling exposed. With a long skirt, you also don’t have to worry about a tall shoe to balance out the dress.

Matte jersey is a fabulous fabric for travel as that it doesn’t wrinkle, packs up small, and is easy to spot clean with a Tide to Go pen (or a little Ivory soap and then an overnight air dry). Matte jersey is also figure flattering – it has stretch but doesn’t cling to curves. It can be found at most any pricepoint and retailer – I have matte jersey dresses from Old Navy and Target, and found my black maxi dress at Macy’s on sale for less than $100.

If you pair with dressier sandals and jewelry, a dress of this fabric can easily go from casual to formal. However, keep the location in mind and don’t try to get too stuffy with heavy statement necklaces, formal updos, or lots of makeup. Embrace the beach and consider beaded chandelier earrings, stacks of bangles, or longer pendant necklaces and let the shore breeze have its way with your hair!

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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!

Wedding Weekend!

This past weekend my dear dear friend Shelly got married and I was her Matron of Honor! It was a fun-filled couple of days and Shelly was a gorgeous bride!

I took off work Thursday and Friday because I have been very tired and busy and wanted to be sure I could properly attend to my Matron of Honor duties AND have fun while doing it. Luckily those days were slow at work so Mr. Bossman was happy to let me take some PTO and get some R&R! Needless to say, no pictures from those days. I did exciting things like buy groceries, get my shoes for the wedding reheeled, get a brow wax and pedicure (OPI’s I’m Not Really a Waitress), watch Emerson log roll her way from the living room to the dining room (no crawling yet but she is quite mobile with her DIY movement!).

Friday was the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. I wore a red print matte jersey dress from Max Studio (originally $118 but I got for $24 from Marshall’s) with a stretchy belt with black patent buckle that is from Ann Taylor, and my black patent T-strap heels from Sofft (BTW saw these in red at Marshall’s when I visited this past week).

I knew I needed my hair slightly dirty for the next day to hold my Wedding Day ‘Do, so I washed and conditioned it, added some Bumble & Bumble Styling Crème and dried it upside down. Then I took big sections into my curling iron to create soft waves. I finished it with a small bit of Jonathan Silky Dirt.

Makeup was Philosophy The Present, Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage in SC-2, Estee Lauder Nutritious mineral foundation in Intensity 3.0, Revlon ColorStay shadow quad in Neutral Khakis (the ivory in inner corners and a tough of khaki on the lids), their ColorStay lipcolor in Rich Raisin (my go-to red color), Cover Girl LashBlast mascara in Rich Black and Maybelline UltraLiner in Black.

This was a great look if we didn’t have an outdoor rehearsal. Dag, it was HOT! On top of that, my husband was taking pictures at it and I was being assistant so I was dashing to and fro getting people organized while taking care of Emerson. Needless to say by the end of the rehearsal my hair was a sweaty, scraggly mess and my makeup was almost completely gone (except for that amazing Maybelline UltraLiner!). We headed to the restaurant for dinner, and I headed straight to the bathroom where I attempted to comb my hair with a tiny claw clip (forgot my Sephora detangling comb which is usually a purse staple) and I used Urban Decay De-Slick and a fresh swipe of lipcolor to fix my face. This picture is from the rehearsal dinner – the Bride and I sharing Malibus and Sprites – the drink we shared the night we first met.

Emerson was getting slightly fussy because it was her bedtime so we headed home a bit earlier than the rest of the crowd. However it was a nice party – the Groom’s Mom and Step Dad hosted a lovely meal and fun time!

The next day I headed to the Bride’s hotel suite around 11am. We hung out, sipped champagne and got our ducks in a row until the hairdresser/makeup artist arrived. The bride and I had our hair and makeup done, she also styled the Flower Girl’s hair and helped apply lashes on the Mother of the Groom. I realized I forgot my necklace at home so my sister and husband arrived and brought it before heading to the ceremony. Whoops!

The Bride let me choose my own dress, and I found a lovely black matte jersey number from Calvin Klein at Macy’s. Unfortunately it seems this dress is no longer available anywhere for purchase; too bad because it’s such a cool style that can easily be dressed up and down (and it also came in blue). Also to be able to wear matte jersey is awesome – so comfy, great drape and easy to launder and alter! I had the straps shortened, the bodice tacked so I didn’t look like Pam Anderson on the Big Day, and a couple inches taken off the bottom.

I truly think I will be able to wear this dress again – I envision it with a bunch of gold bangle bracelets and some gladiator sandals. However for this day I only wore a necklace – my black Ann Taylor statement necklace. I had a few necklaces to choose from, including a current AT necklace that has pave and pearl baubles from a chain… but this necklace ended up giving the best effect (and didn’t make me look like Matronly of Honor). For shoes I wore my Banana Republic strappy kitten heels because it was an outdoor ceremony and I didn’t want spikes digging into the grass. Good thing also as that I had to walk down a long flight of stairs to get to the ceremony. Kick-step, kick-step kept me from tripping over my dress!

The lovely KC Felton did our hair and makeup – and yes, I got to wear individual lashes. I SUCK at applying false lashes myself so it was a very fun treat! All the makeup was MAC (except the mascara which was Cover Girl LashBlast!) and it did a great job at staying in place through the entire evening.
The wedding was AMAZING. My friend Shelly has magnificent taste and really planned a gorgeous affair. It was an outdoor ceremony in the most picturesque setting, and a reception in a wooden lodge with a large deck and stone fireplace. Her wedding was black and white with touches of spring green (hydrangeas, dendrobium orchids, etc.) which was a perfect accent to the natural setting. She looked amazing in a dress by Mikaella.

The bride and groom’s gift to me was a hotel room for the evening. Omigoodness, the first night with both parents away from Emerson! We had our great friends Jamie & Mike watch Emerson until my mom left the wedding – then she stayed at our house overnight with E. This meant we could party until the end of the affair and ALSO head out to the afterparty at a nearby bar! Here’s a picture of us parents getting wild and crazy and having more than one drink thanks to having a limo cart us around and drop us off at the hotel afterwards!

The wedding was amazing – everyone had so much fun and the couple was so cute. I adore my friend Shelly and she found a phenomenal man in Mike. They are great friends, a great couple, and I wish them a lifetime of happiness!

The next day we headed right home and missed the wedding brunch because we couldn’t stay away from Emerson any longer. She was awesome with her babysitters and when we arrived she was napping in her Pack and Play. Luckily she was feeling drowsy and snuggly that day so she happily napped with us while we recovered from the previous evening.

Sunday afternoon we went to our friend Gail’s house for her annual Labor Day Tiki Party. We took Emerson, and many other couples had their little ones. I don’t have any pictures from this day, but I wore a recently purchased dress from Ann Taylor Loft with black flip flops, a long silver bead necklace from H&M and my hair naturally curly/frizzy. Very simple makeup, sort of a casual/hippie/beachy look.

My husband was feeling like a party animal but after all the wedding hullabaloo and being sick the week prior, I headed home with E around 7pm. We took a bath, read a book or two and fell asleep within an hour. My husband was going to meet up with my sister and friends at the town fair, but it began to rain so he headed home. I got up to hang with him for a bit, but we both retreated to bed by 11pm.

Monday, my mom, her boyfriend and my sister started off early for the town’s Labor Day parade. Our town’s color is green so I wore a green short-sleeved sweater from Banana Republic with my Gap Essential jeans. Hair was second-day curly/frizzy/air-dry after the bath and the humid/rainy weather didn’t help things. This is a picture of me with Emerson at the parade.

Emerson was QUITE the hit at the parade, all the politicians wanted to hold her and get their picture with them! She loved the bagpipers best and was having a blast for almost the entire parade. She started to get a bit cranky/hungry toward the end so we headed back to my house where my husband had a big breakfast ready for us. The rest of Monday was spent at home – just me, Hubby and E.

All in all, quite a fantastic weekend!

Saturday Wedding

Wedding starting at 6pm. Catholic church ceremony, though no full mass. Reception at a country club, but a casual one. Knowing the couple and the crowd, I figured a cotton sundress was totally appropriate.

Black and white print sundress from Adriana Appell. It’s hard to see in the pictures, but the straps have two rings. My plan was to wear a clear strap or strapless bra so bra straps didn’t show through the rings. Got home and found that my strapless and clear strapped bras wer both too high-cut for the dress and they showed. I chose instead a black knit bra from Donna Karan that has very thin cotton black straps – looks like spaghetti straps, not at all lingerie-like. I am TOTALLY against the bra strap showing, but I was in a bit of a pinch and I din’t think it was too obvious. My hubby didn’t even notice and he is always the first to notice things like exposed bra straps and panty lines.

Anyway, back to the outfit. For coverup, I have a black knit cocoon-like shrug from Target. Enough to keep me decent in the church and ward off chill. On the feet were the well-worn black leather thong heels from Mossimo. Silver hoops and silver bangle.

Hair was allowed to air dry on the drive to the mall to buy this dress, then when home I curled the whole thing with hot rollers and then brushed out for a side-swept sexy wavy look with body.

Makeup was Bare Minerals foundation, concealer and Warmth. On eyes was The Body Shop’s shadow in Granite, touch of Soft Black in the crease and along the lash line and a thin line of Maybelline’s Ultra Liner in black ont he top lash line. On lips was Sally Hansen’s Diamond Lipcolor in Royal Romance.

Weekend Attire

Saturday Barbecue
Creased denim trousers from Ann Taylor. White ribbed Favorite Tank from J. Crew with a light aquamarine cashmere tank from The Gap layered over it. Turquoise chunky necklace from Target on my neck, silver cuff bracelet on my wrist. On feet are tan think heels from Target’s last summer collection.

Hair is beachy/curly. Hair is slightly damp, Marc Anthony Strictly Curls gel applied to it, dried with diffuser. Hair covered with layer of Marc Anthony Strictly Curls Humidity Spray, and occasional pieces are curled around a medium-barreled iron. Then a fine coating of Bio Silk is put on the hair for shine and ant-frizz.

Makeup is i.d. Bare Escentuals foundation and concealer, a touch of Nars Orgasm blush. Eyes have a touch of Clinique Snow in the inner corners, a touch of Body Shop’s Fawn Pearl in the crease, lashes curled and mucho MAC X mascara applied, and then a fine line of black Ultra Liner by Maybelline on the lop lash line. On the lips is a teeny coral lipgloss from Target that my mom put in my Christmas Stocking.

Sunday Jaunt to the Mall
Brown merino ¾ sleeve v-neck sweater from The Gap, same creased denim trousers. Same turquoise necklace and same tan leather sandals. Same hair too – second day curls restored with a bit of misted water and a few hits with the curling iron. Wow, déjà vu – the makeup is exactly the same too!

Oh, and of course, have to share what I purchased:
Navy twill blazer from Talbots – on sale for $44 and darn cute and hip looking! I was roaming looking for a dress and pants for my mom and came updon this cutie in the sale rack. Can’t wait to pair it with some cropped pants, a little tank and some wedge espadrilles!

White tonally striped suit from Tahari – it was on sale for $180 and it is magnificent. The pants fit like a dream (I heart Tahari suits) and would look great for work with a little sweater and heels. The jacket fits perfectly and would be so stylin’ with a pair of black trousers and a brightly colored shell. I also liked it with my denim trousers. Together with some rocking black heels and a shell, well I look like a celebrity. No fricking clue where I plan on wearing this white suit, but I adored it and so I bought it.

Dark coral crinkly gauze baby-doll tunic from Nordstrom. Crocheted lace on edges, and a great oclor with my skin tone.

Pale blue/aqua ribbed tank from Nordstrom.

Black stretch v-neck sweater from Banana Republic – I already have it in emerald green, and I am without a lightweight black sweater for Spring!

Putty colored cropped trousers from Banana Republic – sort of a chino fabric with a sateen finish. Flat front, and on sale! Amazing to find cropped trousers that are flattering on my petite/big calved frame. These are not even a petite cut!

Of course with all this, I didn’t find what I am needing/desiring for spring:
- Flat front wide leg stone colored chinos
- The olive rip-stop cotton drawstring skirt from J. Crew
- The bronze and straw wedge espadrilles from J. Crew
- A pair of dark cuffed cropped jeans (found almost perfect ones at The Gap but too low-slung)
- A dress that is not as low cut as my LBD but just as versatile
- A colorful jacket (olive, white, dark red, maybe coral) that would look cute with jeans
- A leather hip-sling belt that doesn’t look too trendy or too dorky (found an almost perfect one in Eddie Bauer of all places, but couldn’t stomach $50 right now for just a belt)

I have two dresses arriving in the mail from Nordstrom, hopefully one will be the spring/less low-cut version of my beloved LBD!

Throwback Thursday: Wedding Edition

I can’t believe that in June, Karl and I will have been married nine years. Nine years! Where does the time go? I’ve been thinking about our wedding a lot since the cicadas are set to return this summer and they were here for our wedding. I decided to take a walk down wedding dress memory lane for today’s Throwback Thursday.

Though I South Beached most of my engagement, I was still a size 10/12, which makes dress shopping hard. Most boutiques only carry sample sizes, which are in the single digits; no matter how many binder clips they use to attach that dress to your bra, you can’t get a good feeling for how it will actually look when the dress is several sizes smaller than you need. So my first stop in dress shopping was David’s Bridal, where I knew they would have all the popular silhouettes and also have many dresses in my size. I went, and thought I found THE ONE on the first visit. Came back a second time, took pictures and realized that while the dress did flatter, it wasn’t quite right. However, that trip to David’s helped me narrow down silhouettes and know what styles flattered my figure and fit my sense of style.

I ended up with a very similar gown I remember it was called the “Temara.” I tried on at a boutique in Baltimore, but found it for almost half the price online (thank you Bridal Bargains!). It had the a-line skirt and wrapped waist I found flattering on me, but was ivory silk shantung (always been a sucker for shantung) and Swarovski crystals along the top. Lace-up back so alterations were minimal (which was a good thing because I somehow LOST weight on my Bachelorette weekend of debauchery in Dewey Beach). I had my seamstress make my veil, the week before the wedding I decided I HAD to have a tiara and ordered one online. It was small yet sparkly and I must admit I still pull it out from time to time to wear around the house. My shoes were hot pink and found for almost nothing at the now-defunct department store Hecht’s. I went to a Chanel counter to have my makeup done; the artist was going to do my makeup that day but cancelled short notice so I did it myself.

My favorite color was and still is orange. We had orange invitations, orange flowers for the ceremony and centerpieces, the boutiques were predominately orange (with Kermit green flowers to represent my dad Kermit). Tables were named after places we had traveled to as a couple, written on shades of orange and pink paper; that same paper was used for the programs and cardstock in the same shades was used for placecards. We even had an orange signature drink – the Orange Crush that I had enjoyed many times with my friends during our Dewey Beach adventures. I wanted my bridesmaids to wear orange tea-length dresses but they vetoed me and wore a much wearable shade of bronze.

Our wedding was at an historical mansion that was just a few miles from where the two of us grew up. The plan was to have the ceremony outside on the terrace. The cicadas were in full force and we were considering all sorts of ways to deal with them (have catering sweep up the carcasses 10 minutes before people were to arrive, have the minister ask the audience to do a round of applause before we walked out to shush them long enough for the ceremony). Even though the farmer’s almanac said it would be fair weather, it rained all day and evening so the whole event was inside and cicada-free.

Looking back, I think the most dated parts of my look were the cosmetic ones – the shimmery silver shadow, the deep maroon lips, the very slicked-back updo. The dress still holds its own; in fact I went to the David’s Bridal site to look at their current dresses and found almost the same dress that I almost got (though the one I tried had a solid skirt and was a dark ivory/candlelight color). Like wrap dresses, pointed-toe pumps and dark straight jeans – some trends just don’t disappear because they are so figure flattering. I think my wedding dress could be rocked now, though I would likely replace the lace-up back with buttons, wear my hair down and cut down my makeup by a million. And the shoes? Oh I would still totally rock those shoes!

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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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Casual Holiday Attire…

Since I have been a few places over holiday where there were cameras, so I figured I would share what pictures I have…

Christmas Eve we had a lovely dinner at my sister’s house (blue cowlneck merino and black pencil skirt both from Ann Taylor sale rack, tall black boots).  I don’t have a picture of me, but I do of Emerson in her lovely red holiday dress:

As you can see she was QUITE the life of the party! :)

Here I am with Emerson on Christmas Day.  Christmas Day is pretty casual for my family.  We go to my mom’s house for breakfast and to open presents, and then have a late lunch/dinner with friends.  I am wearing a pair of Seven jeans I picked up at Filene’s Basement for $39, a black pima cotton tank from Banana Republic, and a chunky beige cardigan from Ann Taylor (pricey but got an email for 40% off one item and I decided to use it on the cardigan).  I believe I was wearing my black city boots.  As you can see Emerson is more casul – this is the Santa’s Elf outfit – green and white striped long-sleeved tee, red pants (both from Old Navy) and a “Baby’s First Christmas” bib that was from a friend.

The Sunday after Christmas we celebrated the holiday with my husband’s family.  We were to get together the Sunday prior, but there was quite the snowstorm in the DC area and no one wanted to go out in that mess.  No picture of me (wore my Seven jeans, my burgundy dolman-sleeved sweater tunic from Ann Taylor Loft and some hammered brass jewelry) but here is Emerson playing with her new presents:

The dress and tights were a gift from her Aunt Debbie.  Baltic amber teething necklace (totally swear by it – kiddo has acquired four teeth in the past month and not a bit of fussing!) from PBi.

Yesterday we went to my cousin’s house to see her recent renovation and to celebrate the holidays.  This isn’t a great picture, but it shows me and my outfit:

This is a new sweater from Banana Republic – teal merino shawl-neck and only $27.99 (they had a kazillion of them at Columbia Mall on New Year’s Day – red, green, black, two-tone…)!  With it I wore my New York & Company trousers, a black pima tank from Banana Republic and my black city boots.  Silver and blue and green stone cuff and matching earrings from Anne Koplik Jewlery
Emerson is again rocking the red pants from Old Navy (their sales on kids’ clothes are SO good and then they have 30% off promotions and free shipping… 99% of her wardrobe is Gap and Old Navy) and a sweater also from Old Navy that she received as a Christmas gift. 
Emerson is not yet walking but is darn close – lots of cruising, pulling herself up, standing.  It is really hard to find soft-soled shoes for her at this size – they all seem too small or too large (too bad because she got some cute Robeez for Christmas!).  These are the same Mary Janes she wore the Sunday after Christmas (Gap) because they are the only ones that properly fit her.  When she’s home we let her pad around in grippy-bottom socks or footie sleepers but since we were going out we wanted additional warmth and protection.  She’s just like Dorothy rocking her ruby slippers…
So what did I get for Christmas?  I got some gorgeous purple cashmere-lined leather gloves from Nordstrom, a pair of fleece slippers from Lands End, some yummy body wash and my husband, sister and I bought ourselves gifts – we are returning to Bonnaroo this summer together!
My husband I decided to spend New Years at home as a family.  They often say you should spend New Years Eve doing what you would like to do the rest of the year – well we would like nothing better than have a quiet, lovely time together in our house with our baby.
Emerson will be a year old this Friday and we are having a party for her Sunday – nothing huge, just family and our very closest friends.  We have asked for no gifts.  Family and friends were so generous this Christmas, and we jsut bought new “Big Girl” car seats for my husband’s and my mom’s car.  So really… nothing is needed and wanted except love and fun for her big day!
I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season.  I am back to work tomorrow after having off since before Christmas so it will be hard to be away from Emerson and my husband all day (hope she remembers how to drink from a bottle!).  However I am looking forward to a new year at work – we have a larger team, some great contracts we are working on and a lot of opportunity for growth and development!

What to Wear to a Spring or Summer Wedding

The colder months are easy for most any affair – whip out your little black dress and heels and you’re good to go. However once the weather gets warmer, an LBD can sometimes seem too harsh or somber, especially for happy events like weddings.

That being said, with the extensive array of dress styles and cuts available, it can be hard to know what is appropriate for a wedding, and what is not. While different cultures and religions have specific beliefs on colors and how much skin to show (I always recommend contacting a member of the wedding party of extended family if you are unsure about the couple’s traditions and sartorial expectations), below are some ideas that can be worn to most weddings and be seen as stylish yet appropriate.

The Daytime Wedding
I used to advise women that for a daytime wedding, wear what you would wear to your house of worship for services. That doesn’t seem to be appropriate anymore as many houses of worship are making their dress codes more casual to make the experience more welcoming to all folks. Even I grew up attending church services in jeans and sneakers. So I recommend wearing a dress, suit, or pantsuit that is festive yet has a conservative touch. Skirts that end around the knee, no plunging necklines, steer clear of backless or cutouts. Fitted is fine, skin-tight is not. Consider fabric – sequins and satin are better for evening and more formal of affairs. This is a happy occasion so go ahead and wear cheery colors and prints.

This green dress is from Muse Apparel; I own it and think it’s even more lovely in person. The jade color is cheery without being overwhelming, the ponte fabric has a slight sheen making it more dressy, and the fun flower appliqué of plastic and gems catches the light without having you resemble a disco ball. Pair with nude heels for an elegant yet fun look. The tan floral dress is from Eliza J, a brand that I find flattering and budget-friendly. While the main color is subdued, the coral bow at the waist and the flirty high-low hem makes the dress festive and fun. Pair with some strappy heels and a great bracelet to finish the look.
Daytime weddings is when you can carry off a bold print – this poppy print dress from Bespoke is cheeky without being too extreme; make it more subtle with nude pumps or amp up the fun with some retro-inspired heels. A daytime wedding is a great time to try a trend, be it a Pantone-approved color of the year, lace, or peplum. This dress from Donna Morgan incorporates all three trends into one chic yet festive frock. With a demure hem length and full back, the dress doesn’t veer into Fashion Victimville; keep it subtle with neutral shoes or add an extra punch with pumps in a contrast color.

The Evening Wedding
Evening weddings can be tricky – are you dressed up enough? Too much? A safe bet is to dress in cocktail attire – a daytime wedding sort dress but made of a dressier fabric like lace, silk, or beading. While a little black dress is a perfect choice, feel free to wear a dressy suit or a frock in a cheerful color. Current trends make hemlines anywhere from just above the knee to the ground appropriate, but unless the invitation specifies Black Tie, don’t make your maxi a formal gown, sequined, beaded or otherwise overly dressy.

The blue dress from Kiyonna is a great way to show a little skin while still being tasteful. Pair with nude or metallic dressy heels to amp up the evening look; a sparkly accessory will be perfect for an after-hours affair. The pink gown from Donna Morgan is surprisingly versatile – with flat metallic sandals it could be worn to a destination wedding; with silk heels and a sparkly bracelet it’s perfect for an evening affair and the bright color keeps it from looking too Black Tie. The peach flapper-inspired dress from Simply Be is the type that could be worn for a wedding with nude or metallic shoes, pair with more casual shoes for a night out, or even be worn with a black blazer and tights come winter. With the beading on the dress, keep the rest of your accessories to a minimum and consider a more dramatic eye to add a formal flair. The magenta dress from Kate Spade is a feminine and classic silhouette yet the fabric makes it evening-appropriate. The accessories is what can take this dress from day to evening to even a more formal wedding.

The Destination/Beachside Wedding
Such weddings are usually far more casual because of the sand and wind factor. It’s hard to walk down to the shore in a satin pencil skirt and 3” heels. However, the casual environment doesn’t give one permission to show up in a Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts. A dress of matte jersey, silk, or a refined cotton or knit is a great choice because it will be flexible and comfortable in the heat. I specifically featured longer dresses for such a wedding because of the tropical breezes during such an event; no one wants to be worrying about doing a Marilyn in the middle of the vows, and a longer dress also provides modesty if you end up sitting on the sand or on blankets in a field. Longer dresses can seem more formal, so look for styles that do not graze the ground, are of more relaxed fabrics, and have a celebratory color or print.

I love this dress from French Connection; while I am not a big fan of strapless for weddings I think this one works because the color and fabric is more demure and the bodice quite structured. This is also a dress you could wear again – pair with tan sandals and tie a Western-inspired denim shirt over it for a party or barbecue back home. The colorblocked chiffon maxi from Calvin Klein is cheery, modern, and easy to personalize. Pair with gold sandals and accessories, or switch out the belt for a brown leather one and have an armful of wood and beaded bangles. Come cooler months, pair with a denim jacket for a cool outfit for a night out on the town. The turquoise dress from Eileen Fisher is simple elegance; Eileen Fisher is expert at draping and bias cuts and this dress is no exception. I’d style in a similar manner with a beaded necklace and flat-bottomed sandals, or it can be glammed up with a bold silver necklace and gladiators. The watercolor-inspired dress from Ivy & Blu for Maggy Boutique is romantic, tropical, and very on trend with the unique hemline. With such a pattern, you can keep accessories to a minimum. If you want to switch up the look, consider replacing the self belt with a metallic one or a skinny patent belt in a color that’s part of the print.

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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

Nordstrom
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
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
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
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.

Overstock
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: 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:

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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: What to Wear as a Wedding Coordinator?

I am starting with great excitement and a bit of fear a new career of being a Day of Wedding Coordinator. I have a figure like yours, but am taller (5’8″) and I have serious foot problems- heels are a no go. I have been wearing a uniform of either [work uniform] or all black for years and I have very little colour in my current closet. Got any advice or help for how to look professional, polished and glam in my new role?

What a fun and exciting change for you! When I was planning my wedding, I befriended a few women who were getting married at the same venue and we did day-of coordination services for one another. After our weddings, one of these women started her own coordination business and I assisted her for many events. Since then, I attend several weddings a year as an assistant to my photographer husband, usually falling back into that day-of coordinator role steaming trains, collecting family for cake cutting, and fixing hair. Sometimes we even sell me as a separate day-of coordinator for weddings he shoots.  I have learned how to create a uniform that is professional yet comfortable.

When I do day of coordination, I really like wearing pantsuits. I find that I can take off the jacket and scramble around in the pants and shell, and then put on the jacket and look pulled together. Also there’s the benefit of many pockets. Though black is a somber color, as you know from your job it’s really great for hiding stains and it always looks professional. I find when coordinating weddings I get pretty dirty – I crawl under tables to plug in lights, pull chairs out of dirty cob-webbed storage sheds, even climb on roofs to secure bunting and wreaths. Black also hides sweat, and sweat is something I do quite a lot when coordinating. To keep a suit from being too somber or too much like the catering staff, I choose a shell that is more interesting and festive, be it a surplice tank in a cheery hue, a ruffled chiffon blouse, or a sequined or beaded tank.  The style of the shell can make the suit look appropriate for a more casual day affair or a swanky Black Tie evening event.

When I don’t do suits, I really like wearing shirt dresses with a fuller skirt. I find as a coordinator or photographer’s assistant, I can’t be running around everywhere with my bag of necessities. I usually tuck my emergency bag (stain removal, safety pins, Tylenol, batteries, sewing kit, that sort of thing) in a hidden corner, but pack my pockets with what I may need immediately. A shirt dress is charming, in cotton it will be comfortable in the heat, in silk or a dressy fabric can look retro-adorable for a more formal affair. Best of all, shirt dresses look cute with flat shoes. With dresses, you can be more creative with the color, but still don’t wear a shockingly bright color or print that draws attention to you. Choose a style that hits middle of the knee or longer so you have coverage when you need to crawl under a table or up a ladder. I like wearing such a dress so much for coordinating, I have considered hiring a seamstress to recreate my favorite full-skirt shirtdress in different fabrics and colors and even a full-length version for more formal weddings.

When it comes to shoes for such a profession, flat or almost flat shoes are a must, even if you don’t have bad feet. You’ll rarely get a chance to sit, and you will be walking on soft wet grass, cobblestone, gravel driveways, and slick dance floors. I have a couple pairs of shoes that are dedicated just to working weddings. One is a very low thick heel T-strap with a retro vibe that looks great with shirtdresses but I can wear for 12 hours without pain. Another is a leather sandal with thick soft straps that never dig and a very low wedge with a grippy rubber bottom that is great for garden weddings. For pantsuits, I have a pair of black flats that have arch support, and a pair of black ankle boots with a very slight wedge and nice grippy sole. The only non-black shoes are my T-straps, and they are patent leather so it’s easy to clean them off after a rainy day. Because I do wear a lot of black, my black shoes sort of disappear with the outfit, don’t show when they are splashed with mud, and can easily be polished and cleaned at home with a tin of Kiwi and a rag. I highly recommend getting shoes comfortably worn in before wedding to an event. Keep in mind your feet will swell with time and standing, so choose shoes that can handle that. While any color can do, it’s important to look professional and successful and to me, that means well-cared for shoes over trendy shoes. And if you wear open toes, you have to have a pedicure to have the whole look complete.

Speaking of beauty products, this is a way for you to look glam, festive, and polished. I choose long-wearing formulas of makeup and waterproof mascara so it stays in place when I don’t have time for touchups, and doesn’t run when I tear up during the vows or on a sweltering hot day. In your supply bag, tuck in powder or blotting sheets for when you can freshen up; I usually choose a tinted balm, gloss, or chubby stick for my lips that I can put on without looking in a mirror. I’ll stick my lip product in my pocket for quick refreshes on the go.

As for hair, I usually start with my hair up because I know it will end up in that manner after a few hours. By starting off that way, I can control how it looks. I often do a purposeful messy updo and hold with plenty of barrettes and humidity-proof hairspray, or else a topknot with sideswept bangs bobby-pinned in place. I then will myself to not fiddle with it so it remains polished throughout the day. Just in case, I usually tuck one of those elastic headbands and an extra hair elastic in my supply bag so if, hypothetically speaking, I have to reattach bunting to a rose-covered trellis and my hair gets caught in the thorns and looks as though I stuck my finger in an electric socket (oh no, this never happened to me, completely hypothetical), I can dash in the bathroom and pull the hair into a ponytail or bun and use the elastic to hold back wisps and bangs.

Though I know you are tired of having a work uniform, you may find having a new version of a uniform may make your days easier. Once you decide what sort of ensemble is perfect for you, consider a variety of that. I used to have three pairs of the same black suiting trousers because they had perfect drape, didn’t cling, and had pockets that could be filled without making me look lumpy. I had the same blazer in black, cream, and gray-blue because it fit perfectly, took well to Tide-to-Go pens, and again had pockets that could hold a lot without making me look lumpy. I’d love to have a wardrobe of shirt dresses with a wide belt (great for holding walkie-talkies), deep pockets, and in a variety of sorbet shades in silk, shantung, and cotton (and a couple black ones too!).

The overall goal is to look like someone who has taste, knows style and current trends, knows how to have a good time but still gets the job done. You don’t want to be a delicate flower who is afraid to get her hands dirty – I have gotten many new jobs from wedding guests who saw I was willing to go the extra mile to ensure perfection and an easy day for the couple. Control, confidence, class (and comfortable shoes!).

Best wishes on your new job!

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Ask Allie: Ensuring Proper Dress Code at a Wedding

I am getting married in October in the early afternoon. Where I am from is a very casual place–people routinely wear jeans to church and a nice outfit for a woman often includes khaki pants. How do I kindly tell people that I expect them to dress up? I’m not talking black tie–just dresses for ladies and collared shirts/ties for gentlemen. Is this totally bridezilla of me?

My own wedding started at 7pm and took place at an historic mansion. I made the assumption that folks would understand it was a nice affair and dress the part. However, I had some show in jeans and casual pants. At the time I freaked out, I was short on food and high on champagne and the idea of having a gentleman in a NASCAR jacket and Levi’s in my pictures made me think my wedding was positively ruined. Luckily a loved one gave me some food for my belly as well as some perspective. When I came back from my honeymoon and looked at my pictures, I saw these people in these casual outfits, but I also saw the love on their faces as we walked the recessional, officially husband and wife.

Recently, we attended a wedding that had a specific dress code. I had never heard of the specific term and Googled it to know what to wear. We ended up as some of the most dressed up people at the event and felt a bit awkward, even when a fellow dressed-up guest whispered to me that we were some of the only couples who adhered to the dress code.

What’s the point of my anecdotes? Two things – one, your wedding will not be ruined by guests in jeans and sneakers, and two – even when you request a certain dress code, people won’t necessarily adhere to or understand it.

Mention Dress Code on the Invitation
Etiquette states that you may mention the dress code for your wedding in small letters in the lower right-hand corner of your invitation. When doing so, choose a description that is standard and familiar to most. For a daytime wedding, semi-formal is considered a dressy afternoon dress or pantsuit for women; dark suit or dark blazer and trousers for men.

Mention Dress Code on a Wedding Website
Another way to encourage dress code in a subtle manner is to have a wedding website. Here, you can go into more detail, even with a FAQ page about parking, local hotels, favorite tourist attractions in the area, and dress code for the wedding. I found this line from a post on Offbeat Bride regarding dress code adherence and found it firm yet friendly, “Semi-formal attire is requested. You know us – we’re not uptight. We only ask that you keep it classy for the Ceremony.” This way you’re letting your loved ones know their presence is what is most important, but to dress in a semi-formal manner is showing class and respect for the actual purpose of the Big Day.  A wedding website is often free with registry or wedding message board sites; a simple free WordPress or Blogger blog can also accomplish this and be customized to fit the style of your wedding.

In Closing…
My final suggestions? For every glass of champagne have an hors d’oeurve on your wedding day, and for every freak out (for there will be freak outs on things far worse than dress code), look around at all those lovely faces of people who are so happy for you two and love you so much. No matter what you do, someone will dress inappropriately and something will go wrong, but focusing on the fun and love will keep you balanced (and so will the hors d’oeurves!).

P.S. Long after the wedding, I found out that that guy in the Levi’s and NASCAR jacket wore that outfit because Karl gave him that jacket as a present. Karl won it at work and wasn’t into NASCAR but knew this gentleman was a fan. What I initially saw as clueless was one of the most respectful and sweet outfits worn at the entire affair. 

P.P.S. You are not being bridezilla, you are being a normal bride who wants her wedding to be fabulous! I hope my tips can help, and I hope you have the wedding you desire. Best wishes!

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Office Maven by Weekday, Wedding Coordinator by Weekend

While wedding planning, I met a lot of women on The Knot. I frequented the message boards for my city, asking for opinions on caterers and bridal salons. Through this I met the women on a message board I used to be a part of and I even created a messag ebaord exclusively for planning and past brides of the site I got married at.

One of the women on the latter of the two boards became a professional wedding coordinator and on occassion needs assistance at weddings. She hires me out. Today I had one at the mansion both she and I were married at.

This wedding today was a day wedding. I wanted to wear a pair of full leg winter white trousers with some beige silk heeled sandals and my cute beaded top, but the coordiantor said that she usually has her team dress in all black and suits.

Um. it was 95 degrees today and 100% humidity. A suit??? But what the boss lady wants, she gets.

I dress in my black Triacetate suit from Ann Taylor. It’s a full leg trouser and a tailored jacket. Under, I wear a bacl matte jersey shell I bought at The Limited back in oh… possibly 1999. It has a slight drape neck and boat neck. So flattering, and has held up so beautifully washing after washing. I wore a strad of black pearls that my sister gave me for Christmas this past year, and the black leather thing heels fromt he night before (these are MAGIC SHOES! I can wear them all day without any foot pain!).

Makeup was subtle – dewy face, mild gloss, nude shadow, hint of liner and lots of mascara. Hair was curly (showered but didn’t wash the hair for a fun beachy curl look that maintains even when sweating).

The jacket was never worn. I hung it in the mansion’s coat closet. It was a million degrees outside, a thousand inside. Running around lighting votives, cleaning up spills, getting the mother of the bride coffee can really make you hot and sweaty! Those that think wedding coordiantion is glamorous should try it. Ha! I get filthy. I sweat my ass off. My feet hurt. My clothes are scuffed (someone has to lie on the patio and drop the gardenias just so in the fountain!), my makeup smeared, my hair eitther limp and damp or a rat’s nest. I am having people snap their fingers for my attention, bitch to me about things out of my control, ask impossible requests and get pissed when I cannot deliver. Mothers freak out, fathers get power hungry and wallet protective. Brides get amnesia, grooms get drunk to squelch their nervousness. Bridesmaids get pissy, groomsmen disappear somewhere to smoke a cigarette. All of this happens right before something like posed photos, cake cutting or the first dance.

This wedding wasn’t bad. She was a women from the message board I created. Sort of bridezilla in planning, but come the day of her wedding, she was calm, understanding and looked beautiful. Her family and wedding party were so nice and cooperative. The guests were pleasant. Almost all her vendors were professional and easy to manage (let’s jsut forget about the DJ). And hey, I left with a nice check from the head coordinator and it was only 4pm! Time to party!

Ask Allie: Budget Friendly Interview Attire

I have decided to get a new job and find a healthier work environment. Thing is I don’t own a suit and I can’t spend more than $150 on interview clothes. Any suggestions on where to get a suit?

While you may luck out on the clearance rack of Ann Taylor or Banana Republic (and it can happen, I have a great matching blazer, pencil skirt and trousers from AT that cost under $200 thanks to coupons and clearance), you can’t guarantee that you’ll have success in time for your first interview. Some may recommend thrifting or consignment, but for an interview you need to put your best foot forward and again you can’t guarantee finding the right size and style in pristine quality in time.

I conduct interviews quite regularly at my job, for positions of all levels, and I have to say not wearing a suit is preferable to some cobbled together attempt at a jacket and trousers or skirt. It’s also preferable to wearing an obviously cheap suit. I’ve interviewed individuals with hems obviously stapled to the correct length, women in shiny tight Girls Night Out pants with a gabardine blazer, casual twill blazers with suiting trousers, tight thin knit skirts with a too-big power blazer clearly borrowed from Mom, and the cheap shiny hot pink pantsuit with beaded lapels and rhinestone buttons. Though these individuals strived to create a professional appearance, they focused too much on the need to create a suit than the need to create a polished, professional appearance.

So what do you do when you have limited time and funds but want to put your best foot forward for job interviews? Here’s some suggestions on how to create a professional look with few resources:

You Have Great Trousers (or a Great Skirt) but No Matching Suit Jacket

Great trousers means they fit – they don’t bag, they don’t hug your rear and thighs, they are the appropriate length (no ankle bone showing, no dragging on the ground). They are of a professional fabric (not shiny, not cotton twill, not stretchy), and likely lined to provide better drape and fit. These trousers are in a classic color – black, gray, brown, taupe, navy, possibly a dark muted green or wine.

A great skirt is a straight or pencil skirt that fits well, doesn’t ride up, doesn’t hug the rear, doesn’t wrinkle during a car or bus ride, hits the knees, and lets you walk a comfortable confident stride. It should be of a professional fabric and lined, free of embellishment and trendy details.

budget friendly interview outfit pants skirt
Pair with:

A crisp white shirt, necklace, and pumps. Purchase a wrinkle-resistant shirt that’s opaque and fits properly (no bulging buttons, not oversized, correct sleeve length), wear tucked into the trousers, and add a classic necklace that adds some shine. A pair of leather pumps in the same color as the trousers or skirt with an almond or pointed toe will look elegant, professional, and be a useful purchase after the interview.

A suiting blazer of the same fabric but different color and a blouse the same color as one or the other. Take your trousers shopping, or note the fabric composition on the tag and look for a jacket that is the same or extremely similar. However, don’t try to match grays or blacks because 99% of the time it won’t work and you’ll look sloppy. To get the most mileage of this jacket, choose one free of patterns and details, one that is a classic cut (no double breasted buttons, no cropped or perma-rolled sleeves, no creative collars), and in another neutral (black, gray, navy, taupe, ivory, cream).

By having your blouse (and with a mix like this I encourage a blouse, not a crisp shirt or a knit shell) either the same color as the jacket or the bottom, it creates cohesiveness and a purposeful look. Add interest with a necklace, belt (if applicable), and a confident smile.

If You Have a Great Jacket but No Trousers or Skirt

A great jacket means it fits GREAT, and to fit great it likely has been to the tailor. Sleeves the right length, shoulders in the right place, able to button without straining, not too tight but not oversized. The jacket is of a professional fabric (no twill, knit, denim, or anything with a shine), lined, and a classic cut. In this situation, a color is acceptable but it shouldn’t be too bold of a hue (bright yellow, lime green, orange, hot pink), or have trendy details (statement buttons, creative lapels, cut-outs, colorblocking or a print).

what to wear to an interview no suit
Pair with:

A suiting skirt or trousers and a blouse of the same color. Take the same advice above, and create a polished and cohesive look with a neutral blouse and trousers and a classic pair of pumps.

A professional tailored dress. This is not your pink floral rayon fit and flare frock, it’s not your striped ponte tee shirt dress, and it is never anything with spaghetti straps, cutouts (even if hidden under the jacket), or anything that is above the knee. Best choice is a sheath dress with a classic neckline (V, not too low scoop, crew or jewel neck), lined, and a fabric that coordinates with the jacket. Second choice is a dress that has a defined waist (self belt or banded waistband) and hits mid-knee to top of calf in a coordinating fabric. It’s important for this dress to have a tailored fit; a blazer over a loose dress will look sloppy and encourage creases.

Coordinating fabric means both of the same composition (see above), or fabrics that flatter one another (silk with crepe, wool with tweed, that sort of thing). If you’re not sure about coordinating fabrics I say to NOT go with this direction. It can be confusing, and too easy to go the wrong way.

If You Have Nothing and Need to Start From Scratch

Buy a Dress. Seriously, forgo the suit and get a professional dress in a solid color or subdued pattern. Pair with leather pumps in a neutral, wear a simple necklace, have polished hair and makeup and a nice bag and you will look far more competent and serious than in a hodgepodge of so-called professional attire.

No sheer portions or cutouts, no cleavage, no twee prints, trendy details, or overly vintage silhouettes. A sleeve is a very good idea, and the length should hit the knees. The style should skim the figure (more professional than a shift or sack dress), and be of a substantial fabric and/or lined. A few options under $150:

Do you have any suggestions for this reader?

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: Interview Attire to Cover a Tattoo

I’m graduating college in the next couple months, and I realized I don’t have any work appropriate clothes! My field of study was Graphic Design, so the creative arts is where I’m headed for sure….only problem is, I’m not sure if my new employers are all gung-ho about me having a tattoo on my arm. What would be a few outfits that would be decent for career hunting in the creative field, that would hide my forearm tattoo? I don’t want to look like a stuffy person with just suit jackets galore.

How exciting, what a crazy time for you! I wish you the best in your last semester and much luck on the job hunting process! I’m glad you are considering this; while tattoos have become quite common in all sorts of fields, there are still many who don’t fully understand or appreciate them. A first interview is time to dress to sell your skills, not your sense of personal style.

As soon as I read your submission, I thought wrap dresses! From Target to the creator of this style of dress, Diane von Furstenberg, a wrap dress is chic and office appropriate. Be it a bracelet-length sleeve that covers the tattoo but lets the wrists show, or a long sleeve, such a dress would be great for a creative interview and works all year round. An alternative is the shirtdress; if not too casual of a silhouette (keep the chambray and shirttails for once you have the job and look for something more tailored and polished) it can look sophisticated and stylish for your interview.

An alternative dress is the sheath or shift dress. A sheath has a more fitted silhouette, a shift can vary from a bit of tailoring to being more sack-like. If choosing a shift, I’d stick with one with a bit of tailoring for a cleaner and more professional feel. Either style of dress with bracelet or long sleeves is elegant and on trend. It can be left simple, or personalized with a great necklace or scarf.

Not all jackets are stuffy and suit-like. One of the best ways to relax a blazer is to break it from its matching skirt or pants. A white or ivory jacket with black pants can look modern and hip, a black jacket over a printed dress loses its boardroom feel.

But don’t feel you have to stick to classic suiting blazers. A cropped swing jacket, trench-inspired jacket, or a moto jacket can be a fantastic alternative, especially when interviewing in the creative arts field. I once interviewed a woman for my non-creative arts company who wore a gray knit moto jacket over a black sheath dress. Paired with tall black boots and a modern silver necklace, the look was stylish, unique, but still appropriate at my more conservative office.


For details on the specific pieces seen in the graphics, visit my Polyvore account.

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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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Ask Allie: Fashionable Conservative Office Attire

Dear Alison,
I love reading your blog because you are a working woman in DC like me but you must work in a very relaxed office. My job is very conservative, the woman all wear skirts to their knees, closed toe shoes, hose, and dark colors. I don’t know how to fit in but still look good and have style. Everywhere I look in DC women look like this with frumpy suits and boring colors but how do you look fashionable when working in a conservative field? Help!

It’s true, I work at a pretty relaxed company – while we do have a dress code, it is more relaxed than most other offices in the city. I have worked in more conservative fields and see the women you mention all over the streets of DC. The thing is, it is possible to be stylish, even fashionable while looking appropriate for your conservative workplace. A few tips:

Focus on Fit First. The reason so many women in DC look frumpy is because they purchase suiting off the rack and don’t get it tailored. Men see alterations to a suit a given – their stores usually have a tailor on site to ensure the pant and sleeve lengths are correct and everything lines up on the body nicely. However women purchase regular, tall, or petite and make do, even if their hands are hidden by hemlines and their ankle bones are exposed.

If in doubt, size up, and then find yourself a qualified seamstress or tailor to give you a custom fit. While dry cleaners can do a quick hemming of pants and dresses, take your suits to one who specializes in alterations and can ensure linings are the right length and won’t botch up the cut of the garments. Check out Yelp or your local community listserv, or ask a coworker who always seems put together – the best tailors are usually found via word of mouth, and aren’t big enough to be able to afford fancy signage or advertising.

Suits from Ann Taylor, J. Crew, Banana Republic and Tahari 

Get Out of the Department Store. While you can find a perfectly nice navy crepe suit at Lord & Taylor, it’s likely to be a very standard and boxy silhouette and not necessarily out of the most contemporary fabric. This doesn’t mean you can’t find great suits at a department store, but you have to weed through quite a lot of misses to find a single hit.

Retailers like Banana Republic, J. Crew, and Ann Taylor sell conservative suits with a trendy touch. Current silhouettes, fabrics that are seen on the runway, and tiny details that won’t freak out your conservative coworkers but will add a bit of fashion to your ensemble. I find that the prices are usually equal, especially if you stalk sale racks and get on their mailing lists so you’re notified about sales and special events.

Put Your best Foot Forward. Yesterday I was on the Metro surrounded by five young women who worked together. They all were in shades of navy, black, gray, and taupe – loose suits, a pair of trousers with a cardigan, a shirtdress. While their clothes were nondescript yet office appropriate, what stood out was all of them were in ballet flats.

Now those shoes could be their commuter shoes, but based upon the nice new condition of all of them, I doubt it. The thing is, while a ballet flat is a closed-toe leather shoe, it’s not appropriate office footwear, and it will frump up any conservative ensemble you are wearing. Ballet flats make a foot look very small and round, which is the worst with a boxy suit. A heel really does a great job of balancing out a suit or blazer on top – it elongates the legs, changes your posture, and makes a suit automatically look more chic. If you find a pair of pumps uncomfortable, even a slight wedge or wide heel will better balance the figure and make your look more cohesive.

Since your ensemble is pretty nondescript, it’s very important to put thought into your shoes. Office footwear should be regularly polished, heel caps replaced as soon as they wear down, leather scuffs repaired, soles replaced once they start wearing or peeling. It’s also important to purchase quality footwear – no shiny pleather sandals from Payless or clunky microfiber pumps from a decade prior.

A simple pump with an almond or pointed toe is classic an elegant – black is a safe bet with everything (including navy) but colors like gray, taupe, sand, burgundy, and camel can still look conservative while adding a bit of interest to your ensemble. Cap toes and spectators are back en vogue and a trend that can look quite work-appropriate and conservative. A shoe with a tassel, leather fringe, or bow detail is still classic and conservative without being boring. A finish like croco or snakeskin can also add a level of interest without being over the top.

It’s In the Details. It’s amazing how a very small detail or accessory can completely transform an ensemble. Switching out monochromatic buttons for horn or metal, having the jacket lapel in a different fabric, adding a skinny belt over your jacket or at the waist of your skirt, a monochromatic tuxedo stripe in a contrast fabric down the side of your skirt or trouser… these subtle details can have major impact.

While statement necklaces and arm parties may not be acceptable in your workplace, that doesn’t mean you can’t accessorize. A brooch on your lapel, a scarf tucked into your collar, a pop of color with a skinny belt, a brushed gold or tortoise shell chain, a tank watch… such pieces won’t attract a ton of attention but will add your personality to your look.

Small Touches of Color. A blush patent skinny belt with an ivory blouse and gray pantsuit, an orchid silk shell with an olive jacket, Dark green croco-embossed pumps peeking out from under tweed trousers, a French blue button-front shirt under a navy skirt suit… such pops of color aren’t shocking but will break up the sea of neutrals.

Consider the Non-suit Suit. While some workplaces want only suits, many others desire business professional, which means more than just blazers and matching skirts. As I mentioned in this article, look to television for inspiration. Newscasters and morning news show hosts were business attire with a fashionable twist. A blouse with a bow neckline is more interesting yet just as classic as a button-front shirt, and can jazz up a pair of trousers or a pencil skirt. The cardigan has become the blazer alternative, either on its own, as part of a twinset, or belted a la Michelle Obama. A blazer in a color different from your skirt or pants can make big impact – a black blazer with gray pants and a pastel shell is chic while still conservative, a cream blazer with tweed trousers and a brown blouse Is unexpected yet office appropriate. A blazer can also make a dress work-appropriate – a blazer with a belted sheath is figure-flattering and classic, a jacket can also toughen up an otherwise soft frock. However before attempting any of these non-suit suits, check with HR or your company’s dress code.

Do you work in a conservative office environment? How to you stick to dress code while maintaining style?

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Ask Allie: Stylish Casual Summer and Spring Attire

Hi Allie:

I need some advice about my spring and summer wardrobe. I am a curvy, petite 41-year-old and look best in tailored clothes. For work, I tend to wear classic pieces with a vintage twist and black is my neutral. Casual has always been harder for me, and therein lies my problem: while I am able to come up with a small summer work wardrobe with light weight versions of what I normally wear, I am lost when it comes to casual. I don’t like the boho styles that tend to dominate summer, I don’t look good in florals, white near my face is awful, I HATE pastels, and I am constantly disappointed by the quality of lightweight T-shirts, which aren’t that flattering on me to begin with. I don’t wear tank tops and capri pants make my legs look chopped off. I need some direction! Can you help?

I know by looking at stores’ summer collections you would feel like the minority, but you wouldn’t believe how many similar emails to this I receive. Not only that, I hear this same rant from my mom, who has a classic, clean personal style and isn’t one to wear boho styes, flowers, or pastels. Here’s some suggestions:

City or Bermuda Shorts. Just a few years ago, it was mid-thigh shorts or capris with nothing in between. Then around 2008 the City Short became a popular piece, often creating a summer short version of a suit. Not only that, Bermudas and City Shorts started coming not only in slightly varying lengths, but also leg widths. This meant if you had thick thighs you didn’t end up looking as though you were wearing bike shorts, and if you’re not a true petite or tall, you could find a flattering length without requiring alterations.

A pair of white shorts in a heavyweight cotton twill is amazingly versatile and surprisingly flattering. Paired with black and a pair of heeled sandals, such shorts are perfect for an evening barbecue or summer party. Wear with a brightly-colored tee and tan sandals for trips to the market or mall, and wear with a silk blouse and metallic sandals for an ensemble appropriate for a bridal shower or a creative office environment.

Other neutrals like black, khaki, ivory and olive can also be fabulous, but can look a bit extreme if you are petite, curvy, or pale. Be very aware of fabrics, length, and width to find a style that will fit and flatter your frame and personal style.

Midi Skirts. A softly gathered or pleated skirt in a lightweight cotton or gauze is a fabulous summer wardrobe addition. Pair with a fitted tee and flat sandals and wear anywhere from the mall to the farmers market to happy hour and even Casual Friday. Make it work with your personal style by adding accessories. Take a simple white scoop tee and black skirt – with a neon skinny belt and wristful of colorful bangles it is a trendy ensemble; with a brown wide woven belt and wooden bead necklace it’s boho; with a fitted colorful knit blazer it’s a great workplace look; with big silver hoops, a wrist of silver bangles and a gauzy oblong scarf at the neck it’s artistic.

Midi skirts give you the freedom to sit in the grass, hop on a bike, chase after your toddler without having anything exposed, but has the airflow missing from maxi skirts. In a lightweight fabric it’s comfortable on the most humid of summer days and gives a vintage feel without being too twee. By pairing with a simple fitted tee it’s not too dressy for weekend activities.

Maxi Dresses. I’m sort, I’m curvy, and a lot of fabric makes me look even more short and curvy. However, I do love me some maxi dresses come summer! Anywhere from below the knee to the ankle bone, I am a fan. The way I make them work is by choosing lightweight fabrics, and have them pretty small on top. I know you don’t like tanks and I can relate. However, I find a halter or spaghetti strap to be more flattering than tanks. Last summer thanks to a professional bra fitting, I found a strapless bra as comfortable and supportive as a regular bra and it opened up my casual summer fashion options. I also love the look of a big floppy-brimmed sunhat with a maxi dress – the hat really balances out the fabric of the dress and it distracts from the upper body.

Tee Shirts
A quality tee shirt in fun colors is hard to find. Many brands I found to be tee shirt Meccas have changed their fabric and cuts (hello Old Navy and J. Crew). However, these brands have proven time and time again to have a great choice of colors and styles made from quality knit.

  • Talbots – Talbots does a fantastic job of creating tees and knits that are classic, yet never boring. Strategically placed ruching and pleats, unusual necklines, multiple lengths and cuts of sleeves, petite and plus sizing means there is a tee shirt for most anyone.
  • Ann Taylor – I know I know, I am always preaching Ann Taylor. One wouldn’t think of Ann Taylor for basic tees, but they know how to do them well. In 2008 I was heading to a Washington Nationals game and wearing the opposing team’s color. I hopped into Ann Taylor hoping to find anything in red, navy, white or even black to show my team spirit. I picked up a red crewneck tee… and that tee became a favorite until it became too big. Because it became too BIG, not because it faded, shrank, stretched, or got icky over time. I washed and dried and wore that tee shirt for two years and it still looked great when I donated it. Since then, I look to Ann Taylor each spring and summer for standard tees. While they have creative styles with fun necklines and details, they also do a great classic v-neck, scoop, or crewneck tee in fantastic on-trend colors that are anything but boring (and there are very few pastels in the bunch).
  • Lands’ End – Lands’ End consistently makes high-quality knits in flattering styles. Each year they update their silhouettes and color choices. I wrote about many current styles here, but they have even more options online and in their catalogs. Also check out Lands’ End Canvas, a more youthful and trendy version of Lands’ End with the same quality and customer service.

Non-Tee Shirt Shirts
While tee shirts are an easy casual choice for summer fashion, there is more to life than short-sleeved knits. Here’s a few of my favorite summer styles of shirts:

  • Thin Cotton Tunics. Made of linen, thin cotton, or gauze, a tunic with sleeves can be even more comfortable in the heat then a jersey tank. They breathe, they catch any breeze, and they are usually pretty easy care (and actually look good with a few wrinkles and creases). While many can look pretty boho, there are many that can be quite classic and polished. This linen tie-front top from J. Jill has clean lines that would look great with dark jeans and flat sandals, with crisp Bermudas and a low wedge, or even tucked into or belted over a skirt. This roll-sleeve tunic from Gap has a great self-belt that hits at the smallest part of a woman’s torso, slimming and elongating the frame. I like the detail on this embroidered linen/cotton tunic from Eddie Bauer, and think the Vintage Blue or Sable would look smashing with white jeans and metallic sandals for evening, or a pair of faded denim or white shorts for daytime.
  • Striped Tops. If you’ve taken even a quick glance at my outfit posts, you know I adore stripes. While many think stripes widen a figure, I find them to distract the eye, and they are a cheap and fun way to add a current trend and a bit of pattern into the wardrobe. Stripes can give a preppy or nautical touch, a French Chic feel, or even a rocker vibe to your wardrobe. This pieced stripe tee from LOFT is a change from the typical knit top, and the color story would look amazing with black, denim, khaki, or an unexpected bright like orange or green. The short sleeve Breton top from Boden comes in a variety of fun colors, and has a wonderful feminine cut to it that makes it look anything but ordinary.

And now I ask you brilliant readers – what are your favorite wardrobe go-to pieces come summer? How do you stay cool and chic in the heat?

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