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Ask Allie: Looking Professional When You Feel Like Crap

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Dear Allie, don’t yell at me but sometimes I don’t want to get dressed up, but I work in a corporate environment (no jeans, no sneakers, no logo tee shirts). It’s usually after a night out or that week before Aunt Flo but sometimes I just feel like it. What can a gal do to look professional when she doesn’t really care what she looks like?

I am not going to yell at you because I too am human and I too have MANY of those days where I just don’t CARE. Those clothes are thrown on so I don’t get arrested, not so I can look arresting. And it is possible to still look put together even if your heart is in sweatpants and your soul is wearing an oversized tee shirt.

Many fashion experts would say this is the perfect time to whip out a dress – one piece dressing, no thought! Slip on with your favorite heels, pull your hair into a topknot, swipe a bold red lipstick on your pout and skip across the street with a baguette in your leather tote. Oh how jolly… and how unrealistic. For most of us, a dress means proper underpinnings – slips and control garments and only that one bra that doesn’t show and hose and uncomfortable shoes. And few women look good with dark circles, redness under the nose and a bold red pout. Let’s get real – when you’re feeling crampy or tired or under the weather, you don’t want to even look at Spanx.

Easy Work Fashion Tips

shop this look: floral shell | pink pants | slingback kitten heels | red and white top | black pants | black wedges | orange top | tan pants | ankle strap shoes | blue top | ivory trousers | nude pumps

I’ve found the best choice is pants and a printed top. While I usually suggest purchasing solids because they are more versatile, a print is a great way to look pulled together even if you’re falling apart. A printed top can usually work with any bra in your drawer, hides spots, and gives the effect of a complete outfit even if it’s not accessorized.


A printed top with some sort of interesting detail is even better. My go-to top for such days is the Sophie Blouse from Dobbin Clothing. Each season they offer different prints; I have a leopard-print one with gold buttons that looks great tucked in or left out. I’ve paired with ivory trousers, dark skinny jeans, black ankle pants, and black suiting trousers. I’ve worn under jackets or on its own. My Boden printed silk tee is great because it has a print so unique and fun people notice it instead of the fact that I didn’t do my hair. The pleating keeps it from being too ho-hum. Mixed media (a combination of fabrics), ruffles, pleats, silk or a textured fabric, collars, lace trim, sparkly buttons… such details make accessories less necessary.


For the pants, find a pair that flatters and is comfortable for long spans of time and stock up. I have the LOFT Custom Stretch trousers in navy, black, and ivory. On clearance I have found the same cut of pants at LOFT in a heavy textured cream fabric and black with tonal tux-inspired stripes down the sides. These pants are machine washable, have Lycra for stretch and to prevent wrinkles, and are in a fabric that works year-round. There is nothing wrong with having multiple pairs of the same pant, even in the same color if it truly fits and flatters.


As for shoes, it may be tempting to slip on your beat up ballet flats or those black walking shoes that from far away look work appropriate but shoes are what makes or breaks such an outfit. I recommend finding a pair of shoes that have a pointed toe and at least a slight wedge or heel. The pointed toes of old are no longer in style; the current ones have an extended toebox so there’s plenty of room for your piggies to wiggle. I put a Foot Petal in the front to keep my foot from slipping forward, and when I find a great pair of such shoes in black, I buy two pairs – one for every day, and one to keep for the special occasions (and yes, outfit posts).

Beauty Tips to Look Presentable When You Feel Like Crap:

  • Dry Shampoo and a Hair Dryer – Dry shampoo often leaves white residue in dark hair, and colored versions often leave hair sticky. I’ve found that if I put in dry shampoo and then blowdry my already dry hair with a round brush, the dry shampoo gets better worked in and looks more natural. Since your hair is already dry, this only takes a hot minute (didja see what I did there? Har har…).
  • BB Cream, Mascara, and Laura Mercier’s Spiced Rose – This is my go-to face when I’m in a hurry. I can rub BB Cream on without even looking at a mirror, I use this pinky-nude lipstick on my lips and rub a bit on my cheeks while they’re still dewey from the BB Cream application, and then a quick coat of mascara. If Laura Mercier’s Spiced Rose isn’t right for you, look for a color that is your lips, only more enhanced, and a formula that lasts and has a subtle creamy shine. This trio can be applied in one minute, and it will save you from people asking you all day if you feel okay.
  • Statement Glasses – Do you wear glasses? Contacts? Sites like Coastal.com and Zenni Optical offer prescription lenses for uber cheap. Sure they may not be as elegant or lightweight as your designer frames from the optician, but people will be noticing your glasses instead of your dark circles.
  • Take the Shower – You’re running late, you feel like crap, you don’t want to hear your boss yell at you for missing that 8am conference call and you justify no shower. And then you spend as much time as a quickie shower messing with barrettes, dry shampoo, and deodorant. Not only that, the rest of the day you look like a greasy half-asleep mess. Screw shaving, don’t even worry about body wash. Take soap to the important regions, get a little shampoo in at the roots and call it a day. You’ll feel better, I promise.
A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I’m the opposite — I can’t face “office pants” unless I’m feeling perfect. I don’t own the “bodycon” style of dresses that require Spanx, so my go-to is inevitably a dress and jacket or cardigan.

  2. Glad to hear that I’m not the only one without energy to wear a dress on these kinds of days. I always feel more comfortable in pants. I do default to flats though – I will look for a pointy-toed wedge to level up.

    Those printed tops are so pretty! I need to find more. I have one cute fish print polyester top that I adore.

    By the way, I think you left out “wrong” in “There is nothing with having multiple pairs of the same pant”

  3. Allie,

    Sorry for posting the same message twice. I have been having a little trouble with your website. I think I have it figured out now.


  4. Fabulous advice! I’m new to a corporate environment and these days are hard when you have a dress code! Thank you for this!

  5. Allie,

    Thanks for this. It’s very useful.

    Question about the Sophie blouse from Dobbin: The Dobbin website describes the blouse as 2 shades of green. On my monitor, it is most definitely 2 shades of blue. What is it really, green or blue?


  6. Ooh, between horrific PMS and late nights at the theatre, I have alot of these days. Fortunately I live in Minnesota which is far more casual than DC, but I still have to look decent most days. My tips (which may or may not work for other people)

    1. Invest in some really, really comfy sport bras that are styled like normal bras. I’m currently in love with the Champion 6209. Get solid colors that go with your wardrobe (I have them in white, black, and nude). These are not your running bras, these are your boobs hurt and you still have to wear a bra bras. ( these are lined with fuzzy stuff and they feel awesome.) The beauty of a sports bra like this is it eliminates the need for a cami under a v-neck top or dress. (I also am in love with Olga’s lace Cami Bras for this purpose, but when my boobs hurt I want the sports bra)

    2. Wash your hair at night. One less thing to deal with in the morning. If your hair is long, braid it or put it in a topknot to sleep in and you’ll have waves in the morning.

    3. My go-to outfits in the winter are sweaterdresses/tunics + leggings + boots, but summer is trickier. I have a few dresses that aren’t the shapliest things in the world, but don’t need special undies and are soft stretchy fabrics. I highly recommend investing in a few dresses like these, that you can wear 3 seasons with ballet flats, boots, or sandals and you feel presentable in even on awful days. (in fact, I recommend shopping on a bloated day specifically for this purpose). More power to you if you prefer pants- I can’t stand a waistband on those days. Oh, and I second maxi dresses/maxi skirts. Your feet won’t be as visible and hirsuite-ness doesn’t matter.

    I also recommend assembling a few of these outfits and setting them aside, especially if they require an accessory like a scarf to tie it all together. That way on the morning you feel awful and have no time to hunt around for missing pieces you have everything ready to go on a hanger, and all you have to do is put them on. This might mean buying an extra pair of leggings or whatever so you don’t raid your emergency outfit- you want this outfit ready to go at all times because you never know when you’re going to wake up feeling like cat vomit. (also, store this outfit where the cat can’t vomit on it)

    4. Try getting up early enough for a hot, hot, hot bath. It makes everything better. (early morning exercise followed by shower is even better, but let’s be real here). A hot bath + 4 advil + caffeine + ice pack = coherent me. Epsom salts and essential oils don’t hurt either. (whatever you do, do NOT put tea tree or peppermint oil directly in your bathwater. trust me on this one.)

    5. BB cream, especially a slightly shimmery one, is a lifesaver. I also swear by Burt’s Bees in Rhubarb (a berry that flatters literally everyone) and navy, not black, mascara.

    6. Sunglasses. Because sunglasses.

  7. I’m totally having one of those days today. A super late night, overslept this morning and a teething baby meant that I really wanted to stay in my pajamas. Instead, I pulled on a pair of navy straight leg trousers and a boat-neck striped blouse. I look presentable but feel comfortable. And since I am blessed with curly hair, a quick spritz and scrunch left me with office appropriate locks.

  8. This is so helpful. Thank you very much.

    I have a question about the Sophie Blouse from Dobbin. The description says it is 2 shades of green. On my monitor the blouse is definitely 2 shades of blue. What is it really, blue or green?

    1. It looks greenish-grayish-blue to me but I knew my friend Bridgette Raes has the blouse; she features it on her blog and it looks more blue on her: http://bridgetteraes.com/2015/02/04/bridgette-raes-chats-with-dobbin/ and I did a little digging and a few other bloggers I adore also have the top and feature it in natural light. Mrs American Made: http://www.mrsamericanmade.com/post/101933006945/on-or-off-madeinusa-outfit-details-sophie-silk and WorkChic: http://workchic.com/blog/2014/11/13/fall-office-outfit-blouse-pencil-skirt-pairing/

  9. One word – maxi either dress or skirt. When I feel puffy I don’t like wearing slacks so I do a maxi skirt. Even if I haven’t shaved, only an inch or 2 of my legs show so I don’t think anyone notices. Plus if you’re wearing a print top, scarf or chunky jewelry they aren’t looking at your legs.

  10. did this today! Was going to wear a dress and realized I skipped shaving my legs so a printed blouse and pants was it!

  11. Yes yes yes, patterned tops. I find if I have a stress breakout, then wearing a plain top draws attention to my bad complexion. A plain black top is the WORST. But a patterned top means that there’s so much to look at, my face is smoothed out in comparison.

    Also, Allie, I’m late saying this but I have appreciated your style posts for years & love what you do. I bought the Dobbin leopard print silk top and it’s fantastic for when I need to be very professional when I’m tired.

  12. Allie what fit pants to you opt for in Loft? I haven’t had need until now for nicer work pants but now that I do, there’s a hole in my wardrobe where I need cream (or light neutral) pants. We are similar size and shape and I’d love to have some direction. My go-to has been the very stretchy Pixie from J. crew, (because the rise is higher than the Minnie, so weirdly the tighter pant is more flattering…for my belly shape, the higher the rise the better) but I think light colored pants better not be so stretchy?

    1. I’m a big fan of the custom stretch trousers – they have a couple different fits. I believe the Marissa is the one that I prefer for my body, but know I have also bought the Julie and they too are okay. There’s three cuts in total and different lengths and best of all? Machine washable!

  13. I use keratin dry shampoo powder. It is life changing! It comes in brown and you put it on with a brush. It is a little pricey, but a little goes a long way.

  14. I’d like to know all the tops you’re showing – you have the link to the orange one, but what about the others? I like that red/black one and the blue one in particular. Thanks!

    1. The red/black one somehow got disconnected from the carousel below; it is from Boden: http://bit.ly/1Epww5G the blue one I could not find online. My collages are for example; often I can’t find images for things I see online or I can find images that are perfect but the item is no longer available. I saw similar tops to the blue on at various locations, it’s called a peasant top. Check Anthropologie, JC Penney, and Nordstrom who all often carry printed tops of that style. 🙂

      1. Thanks for the Boden info. I don’t know if I should type this – I am really a big fan, I really am. And I know you’re struggling with criticisms. But I want to offer a gentle suggestion – I know that you like your collages to look very clean, just the piece itself. And I know the collages are meant as inspiration. But sometimes, the pieces you show in the collage might be the one thing a reader really, truly likes. It’s obviously not the end of the world and lord knows I don’t need to buy anything. But, in this case, I really like that blue/white pattern. It’s simply a tad off putting to see things that aren’t actually things that are available. I think it’s one thing if it’s an outfit post and it’s something from a few years ago. But as presented, a reader -or at least this reader – likes to be able to see where things are from. (or even identify where they are from, even if it’s no longer available – as you know there are ways to find things online even if they are sold out at the original store. Simply searching for blue peasant top isn’t going to help – the things I like about it are the shape, the pattern, the sleeve placement, etc. It’s a peasant top with only a hint of a boho vibe. Maybe that designer has something similarly cut, or offers related pieces, even if this is no longer available. Anyway, that’s my two cents of opinion, again not meant as a criticism but merely a suggestion from a fan.

        1. Oh I get it, the problem is I’ve found even if I share something exact that I found, by time the post goes live (sometimes even if I wrote it within 24 hours!) the piece is no longer available. And then on top of it, it’s only available in plus, or regular, or it costs $300, and then there’s those who find my capsules a year later and are upset because they can’t find any of the items in stores. I can’t find a solution to work, so I go with these very clean capsules because they end up being more timeless. But thank you for providing the feedback, I’ll do better with at least saying where each item came from even if it’s no longer in stock. That makes complete sense! The blue top was originally H&M 🙂

          1. Wow, thanks. I KNEW i had seen it before, which was also bugging me. I like the more fitted shoulders, which isn’t always easy to find in a peasant style. Thank you for accepting my comments graciously, which is how they were intended. 🙂 Another style blogger I read will reference the brand and say in parentheses something like old, or no longer available). It’s nice to just have the reference also partially to recognize which stores/designers are popping up on your radar screen – “hm, that’s the third thing this week I’ve seen from LOFT that I like” kind of thing. Anyway, i really do want to say that I am a big fan of the blog, and I think you are right, there are very few (relatively) older mothers who are cusp-sized and who have style blogs, and I so appreciate that you do. BTW, we have a real life friend in common – the blogger Thrift Store Mama is a real life friend of mine.

  15. Printed tops are less likely to show spots or stains, just in case you’re faced with getting dressed and not having a lot of clean laundry.

  16. Oh, I also meant to add that I don’t think most people here would ever yell at you for just not feeling up to it some days. We’re all only human, and we all know that being yelled at certainly doesn’t make anyone feel any better.

  17. I find this is one of those times to use being a woman to our advantage. If your legs are at a comfortable level of hirstuteness, then I still say dress. Even one in a thicker fabric will hold it all together. If not, that’s when I totally cheat and reach for my Work it pants, a jersey tunic blouse and ballet flats. This is as comfy as I can get without being sent home for breaking dress code.

  18. Aaaaaaaand pinned. I have so many of these days. On the top image, what brand is the crossover detail shirt, the third from the left? Where could I find that?

      1. Those Pleione blouses have saved the day more often then I care to admit, I have two. I love the low back to hide the tush. I have noticed that they changed the cut on them slightly from the first release blouses (they took out some volume which I miss).

        Wrap front print blouse, stretchy ankle pants, pointy toe mid heel, and messy ponytail is my “I feel like crap” uniform. Dresses take work.

      2. Do you think this top from Eddie Bauer would work similarly? I’m afraid the faux-wrap would just make me look like I’m pregnant (since I, uh, don’t exactly have a flat stomach to begin with). I know it’s not printed, but I lean more towards solid bright colors and it’s kind of the faux-wrap style I’m interested in.


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