Worker V: 1.1 (+ My Office Wear Strategy)

After my Worker V: 1.0 post, I got a lot of interesting feedback about office wear (thanks everyone!).  One comment in particular struck a chord with me. Becca, of Free Honey, wrote:

I work in a more conservative environment, and I often feel frustrated by the restrictions put on me. I suppose it’s the wrong attitude to have—I should probably look at it as a challenge to bring my personality and my style A-game to the office while still staying in the dress code. But, that’s also easier said than done. I find myself easily becoming bored with my work clothes, there’s a lot more interesting remixes to be had! I’d love to hear some of your general guidelines and how-to tips when it comes to office dressing.

As fashion enthusiasts, I’m sure there are many of us who feel the same angst when it comes to being ourselves and being office appropriate. But it can be done. I definitely dress on the edge from time to time, and if I can still feel appropriate and true to myself in the office, anyone can. To Becca’s point…instead of dreading it, why not look at it as a challenge to werk while you work?

I promised Becca that I would share my tips for office dressing.  But first, another outfit I wore to work…

Notice something about this jacket. It’s really intended as evening wear, because of the material—a shredded chiffon-like synthetic. Because the jacket is black and the only detail is the shredding—there’s no beading or otherwise “evening” element—it’s the perfect little summer jacket. Short-sleeved and non-wool, and such a standout on its own that accessories must be minimal. But that does NOT mean boring. A single, large, tough-girl cuff and gleaming gold buckle are definitely “me” and definitely not typical office accessories.

Ann Taylor jacket and cami, Gucci belt, Classiques Entier trousers (from Nordstrom), Oh Deer pumps, Tory Burch cuff.

The G&G Office Wear Strategy

  1. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. This will always serve you well. Take the way you look seriously, because you are being judged on your appearance, like it or not. So what if your officemates skate with super-casual looks. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to dress as such. Study the people in your office, particularly management. For some, that might mean suits. Others, it could be exceedingly crisp, tailored business casual. If management isn’t doing casual Friday, you shouldn’t either. Watch and learn.
  2. Invest in quality accessories. Buy a large, quality handbag in a neutral color that can accommodate your essentials and day planner—you should never carry more than a laptop bag and a handbag. You’ll look like a pack mule. High-quality belts and shoes up the quality of everything else you have on, and last for years and years. They are totally worth the extra money.
  3. The devil is in the details. Busted shoes, wrinkled shirts or pants, stained clothing, and ill-fitting garments make you look sloppy. And consequently, your level of professionalism is diminished. It doesn’t matter how expensive or gorgeous your outfit is—if your shoes are dull, scratched or faded in places, or if the heels have more divots than a golf course, you negate the entire effect. Have tips replaced seasonally and have boots shined as well. Get to know your iron, or a good dry cleaner. Make sure trousers are cut for the height of your heels. They should fall about an inch from the ground. Nothing worse than pants that are too short, or too long, with hems that are filthy from dragging on the ground.
  4. Accessories are the best marker of your personality. A statement necklace or ring, or a vintage brooch or watch can completely alter the feeling of an outfit, and they are the best way let your true colors shine through. Even if you have to wear a dark, conservative suit, there is no reason why you can’t wear an amazing statement piece with it. Belts, rings, necklaces, watches, bracelets—even some earrings—are the easiest and most obvious way to put your mark on a look.
  5. Dress for the season and the environment. A straw bag has no place in the office. Cute for the weekends, but too casual for work. You do need to switch handbags on Monday. Same goes for linen, white, etc. If you live in south Florida, you can get away with summery fabrics a lot longer. White in winter is fine, if it’s wool and clearly not intended for 85-degree days. And please leave the backpacks at university. There is nothing more ridiculous than a young (or worse, an older) executive in a suit and a backpack. Not only is it juvenile, it will wrinkle the hell out of your outfit. There are plenty of great totes and messenger bags out there.
  6. Cardigans and jackets are your best friends. They transform even the skimpiest spaghetti-strapped tanks into office-appropriate tops. Pair with trousers or a pencil skirt and you look totally pulled together—without having to invest in a full suit. Tunic-length cardigans are especially nice to have because you can get away with a more fitted skirt if your bum is covered.
  7. Watch your skin-to-clothing ratio. If you can wear sleeveless tops in the office, balance with trousers or a below-the-knee skirt. Wearing a fitted skirt? Add a blousy top and closed-toe pumps. When you have a meeting with management, always wear closed shoes. They don’t have to be boring, either. There are plenty of gorgeous, closed-toe platform pumps available that are a nod to the fashionista in you, but are office appropriate. Aim for an 80/20 balance. 80% of your body should be covered in the office.
  8. Never ever wear these items in the office. Ever.
    • Flip-flops or anything even close.
    • Skirts shorter than three inches above the knee, or slit to mid-thigh.
    • Spaghetti straps, halter tops, or strapless tops without a jacket or cardigan over them.
    • Skinny jeans.
    • Cropped tops or anything with cutouts.
    • Huge, dangly earrings, or lots of clinking bracelets.
    • Sheer anything without a cami or full-coverage slip underneath.
    • Body-con dresses.
    • Shorts or capris.
  9. Grooming is as important as your clothing. It’s unfortunate that I even have to write this, but people do notice your unsightly chipped manicure or pedicure. They do notice when your hair has gone a day too long between washings. They do notice if your heels are crusty, if your perfume is overwhelming, or if you were pressed for time and skipped your makeup.
  10. Stand tall, stand proud. Horrible posture kills a look and diminishes your presence. Walk with your shoulders back and chin up. Wear the clothes, don’t let them wear you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Oh, I could never pull that off.” Well, you’re right, honey. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?

What are your office wear strategies? How do you dress for a dress code?





Comments

  1. says

    Completely need to bookmark this post for when I finally get a real job somewhere else. My current workplace is relatively laughable, the bosses wear slacks and shirts (no ties) and my direct supervisor (read: slavedriver) wears stained polos and ill-fitting jeans. It’s pretty awful. I can’t wait to work somewhere that does impose a proper dress code!
    Miss ED’s latest post: Write Me a Love LetterMy Profile

    • says

      Hey Miss ED, thanks for ringing in here. Ew…stained polos?! Gross. I don’t get that about people.

      Oh well, I’m sure in time you will land in the perfect place for you, and then you can show everyone a thing or two about style and office attire.

  2. says

    I’m with Miss ED – the relaxed dress code at work means that I feel restricted not because we have to wear suits, but because I always feel like I’m ‘too much’; when your bosses wear vests and leggings, wearing a pussybow blouse makes me feel like an upstart.
    Note to self: must keep an eye on my manicure…
    MrsBossa’s latest post: Asos Revive- a glimpse of stockingMy Profile

    • says

      You’re right Mrs B. Another key element to business wear is matching (to some degree) the level of formality within your environment. One does risk looking like they are trying too hard if they are dressed to the nines and no one else is. I’ve been in that situation before as well. I didn’t go over-the-top, but I was still consistently more “dressed” than everyone else. It just became part of my persona.

  3. says

    This is so spot on – what a great guide to print out and stick on the wardrobe door to refer to on Mondays – you should write a book! I worked in an super conservative environment for years where all I could wear was suits (in fact I would not have got away even with that lovely little jacket you are wearing) and so you do feel claustrophobic and like you left your personality at home – so love your tip on accessories.
    Veshoevius’s latest post: Friend Friday- Copying in the Fashion IndustryMy Profile

  4. says

    If you were in my office, I’d look like the office cleaner next to you !!! Lol Love your outfit and i think that the Gucci belt is amazing!

    I am totally with you on the accessorizing bit. I love getting my office pirate style via big rings and skull necklaces etc…Nothing too shocking (a little skull necklace for example) but I feel more like me.

    Workwise, I like to wear wide legged trousers, so I can still fill comfortable and cool fitted shirts with ruffles or some detail. Oh and some monster heels :) xx

    • says

      Lady Noix…I’m with you on sneaking in the skulls. I DO wear my knuckle dusters in the office on a regular day. And wide-leg trousers are a staple in my wardrobe. Jut love them.

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. says

    Brilliant post hun, you gotta submit it!
    You look fab as usual, the wide pants are awesome as is the entire outfit. I love the dress code of conduct rules!
    I wouldn’t be able to cope dressing for the coporate world…
    x.o.x.o
    A Brit Greek’s latest post: Friday Round UpMy Profile

    • says

      Hey babe, thank you! I forgot about submitting to IFB…it’s been a while. Done!

      Yeah, lucky you, working in the fashion industry must make dressing for work a thousand times more fun! One day.

  6. says

    Totally posting your post on my linkedin profile – really good advice! I no longer work in an office, but when I go into client meetings what to wear is always a big question. I’m a designer so I have to look chic, professional and like I know something about fashion. But this is LA so I can’t be too dressed up, otherwise I’ll make the people I’m presenting to look like they’re underdressed. Plus it’s often hot in meeting rooms. Lots to think about when I pick out my outfits for the day.
    Heather Fonseca’s latest post: New Shoes!My Profile

    • says

      Thank you Heather! MrsBossa above commented similarly. It IS important to look professional, but not make your audience feel underdressed or disconnected. I suppose what I’d do is take their typical look and just jazz it up a bit. If they’re in skinny jeans and a tank top, then you could do skinny jeans with a lightweight jacket and heels. The most important thing is to be cognizant of your environment and audience, then adjust as necessary.

  7. says

    these are amazing tips V. truly truly amazing. i wish i had read these when i was fresh out of college and working in big, scary new york for the first time. i had to learn the hard way that thigh high boots and a pleated mini skirt are not office-appropriate clothing. (i was trying to impress a cute boy and my brains were no where to be found that day). sigh… glorious foibles to look back on and laugh. =P
    kristy’s latest post: A Moving Picture Tour of IstanbulMy Profile

  8. says

    OH and i completely forgot to mention that i’m in love with this outfit for the office of yours. it’s chic and cute and stylish, totally shows that you have excellent taste, and does not look boring at all, while still being entirely office-appropriate.

    • says

      OMG, are you serious?! Glad to know I motivated you. Thank you Kristin!

      I had a cracker of a workout and a heart-pumping 40-minute walk along a local greenway yesterday. Beautiful weather here.

  9. says

    I love the jacket and that cuff!

    One of the reasons that I rarely paint my nails right now is because I know I don’t have time to attend to my manicure often enough at this point in the school year. I’d rather have my nails plain and trimmed then colorful but chipped. I agree with almost all of these tips, especially for the corporate world.
    La Historiadora de Moda’s latest post: HairographyMy Profile

    • says

      LHdM…thank you so much!

      I agree…better to go unpainted than chipped. I went that route for a really long time until I finally found some nail products with staying power.

  10. Alyssa says

    I go to a private high school, so I am required to wear a polo with logo and khakis every day…it does get boring sometimes, but I am glad I don’t have to worry about coordinating a different outfit for every single day of the week. It saves me money and time! Thanks, Vahni, for another great post! This will apply to me in a few more years :)

    • says

      Uniforms are indeed a blessing and a curse. But I’m glad to know that younger readers like you are paying attention…you can learn from our mistakes!

      Thanks for your comment, Alyssa!

    • says

      Wendy, I agree. I had no idea how much I’d love a short-sleeved jacket until I got this one. I’m definitely keeping my eyes peeled for them next spring.

  11. says

    AMAZING post!!! I work in a creative environment so everyone is in jeans. Literally. The only people who wear a suit is the owner and his son but only because of religious reasons. I tend to dress up in comparison, always paring my jeans with dressed up blouses and heels and dresses or skirts (below the knee) with fancy ballet flats. And I agree accessories are a big statement. I tend to buy a lot of wear now clothes that possibly only lasts a few washes b/c I am a very trend driven dresser. So forever 21 and H&M is were a shop mostly. But I splurge on staple items and accessories, shoes, and bags because it can totally make an outfit!! thanks or the tips doll.
    xo M
    Monique’s latest post: SERIOUSLY!!!My Profile

    • says

      Monique, thanks for sharing your perspective. I totally get wanting to have the latest and greatest, and that’s what H&M and F21 are for. I agree…splurging on the accessories is totally worth it.

      Mwah!

  12. says

    I feel like I have the opposite problem of most people (although it looks like a common theme here in the comments!). My office is *very* casual. People wear workout clothes and it’s totally fine. I’ve seen pajamas. The president wears jorts, baggy t-shirts, crew socks, and tennis shoes. And that’s all fine and good for all of them, except that I feel a constant need to “dress down” my outfits to fit in, and I really flounder because I don’t feel like “dressing down” is very *me*. I constantly feel awkward because I’m trying to hard to balance my style against the super-casualness of it all. I’ve learned the hard way that dressing up doesn’t necessarily translate into good things around here. I’ve overheard some insulting remarks made about my “dressing up” (which, if you look at my blog, isn’t very dressed up at all) – I think people see it as me being snobby, full of myself, or ass-kissing (although whose ass I don’t know, since my bosses definitely don’t care what I wear). I still “dress up” more than most people, and that’s fine, but 90% of the time I have a great outfit idea in my head, then I put it on and deem it too fancy for my office, and then (not so successfully) try to dress it down with flip flops, jeans, etc.

    Anyway – those trousers were *made* for you. And I totally agree about the pack mule thing. In some magazines lately they were advocating some “trend” of carrying a laptop bag, briefcase, *and* a purse (or something to that effect) and I just couldn’t believe anyone thought that was a good idea. It looks so cluttered!
    Kelly’s latest post: grand plansMy Profile

    • says

      Kelly, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I agree (and it’s unfortunate) that sometimes even if dressing up is your usual M.O., people are jealous and like to call you an ass-kisser or whatever. They do that because your appearance makes them feel bad about their own. You are right that in some instances, it can work against you. But that’s why I wrote that one must study their environment. I was always the “dressed up” girl at work—but only slightly so—and eventually people just came to view it as part of my personality, not the manifestation of some ulterior motive. Ultimately, we all have to work within the guidelines we are dealt, right?

  13. says

    Amen for this!! Its amazing some of things I have seen fashion wise from my years working in an office! I agree with everything, especially the accessories. That’s where I have my fashion fun when it comes to work. Also getting classic pieces in fun (but not loud) colors is cool too. For example, I bought some camis in royal blue, coral, and purple to layer under my crisp white shirts and black trousers.
    MJ’s latest post: Friend Friday- Copying in the Fashion IndustryMy Profile

  14. says

    Great post! first of all, the outfit is gorgeous. Totally profession, but totally YOU with the fabulous jacket.

    On the professional wardrobe tips…these are really great. I happen to work in a creative work environment where everyone wheres jeans and flip flops, CEO and president included. I pay attention to our president, who is a woman and I take my queue from her. She totally wears jeans, cropped, boyfriend, distressed, whatever BUT she always wears a nice top..not necessarily a professional top, but also NOT a raggedy t-shirt. She might wear a nice embellished tank, or halter, or a fun tunic… she also wears embellished flop flops and sandals…but the point is you can tell that she puts EFFORT into appearance. Just because our office environment is casual does NOT mean it is appropriate to roll out of bed and throw on the nearest pair of jeans and a wrinkly t-shirt. Nor is it okay to wear my Saturday night night club gear to work. The benefits of working in a casual and creative work environment is that I am always free to express my personal style, and this is celebrated and encouraged… the downside is that people tend to get lazy in office environments like mine. It is a very fine line!
    Eboni Ife”s latest post: H&ampM Leopard Print BlouseMy Profile

    • says

      Eboni, thank you for your comment. You’re right…there is a very fine line between casual and sloppy, and some people don’t seem to be able to tell the difference. And you are lucky to work in a casual AND creative environment!

  15. says

    First – I adore that outfit. The jacket and accessories add the perfect amount of edge and sophistication to it. I love it when you showcase your work wardrobe – maybe you could think about doing one of these a week? I love how you take staple pieces and breathe new life into them by adding a few choice items. Show us more!

    Second – thank you for the tips. My place of employment (non-profit cultural institution) is somewhere in the middle. There are days when I have to go totally professional, but there are others where I can go a bit more casual (especially in the summer). That is part of the reason I love Fall so much – I feel like I can start dressing up a bit more again. I tend to take my cues from our Executive Director, because that is what i want to be one day!
    Beautifully Invisible’s latest post: Whatever Wednesday- Versatile Blogger Award- 5 Things Project- Lanvin and more!My Profile

    • says

      BI, thank you doll. I would love to be able to promise you a Worker V post at least once a week, but at the moment, things are a little hectic, and as you all can see from my sudden decrease in WVW posts, I’ve gone a little camera shy. I am hoping to get back to my usual posting very soon!

      Thank you for your comment…glad to know that so many appreciated these tips. I’m the same with fall fashion…I also love it because it forces people to abandon their bloody flip-flops for some REAL shoes!

      I think you are spot-on in your own sartorial approach. I’m sure you WILL be the Executive Director one day. Keep your eye on the prize!

  16. says

    V-
    Agreed, great outfit and great article. I forwarded it to some work people.
    But let’s talk about me. I am great at jewelry (Stella & Dot has definitely helped me broaden the collection) but for some reason I suck at belts. I cannot find belts that I like and fit me. Where do you find yours at a decent price? A lot of leather ones i buy never being the quality I am happy with. I am also guilty of occasionally running out the door without switching my purse (Tisk tisk!) and wearing shoes that might need to be retired (double Tisk Tisk!). Thanks for the chastizing. I needed it. Break out the horse crop! ;)
    Maybe you should have mentioned something about hair (the forgotten permanent accessory)?
    XOXO
    Victoria Stone

    • says

      Well, hello again Victoria!

      Thank you for your comment and for sharing this with others. I appreciate that!

      I adore belts and wear them very regularly. I’ve gotten them from all over the place, but since I know you and the stores available to you, here are my suggestions:

      For affordable (between $50 and $200) low-slung belts for jeans and low-waist pants, try Tory Burch, Banana Republic, and Nordstrom. For dressier trouser belts, or sophisticated waist-cinchers, check Ann Taylor or J.Crew. For wide, edgy waist-cinchers and studded, statement-makers, check out BCBG.

      For high-end designer belts, toddle by Neiman Marcus, Burberry, or Ralph Lauren.

  17. says

    I could requote most everything you’ve written as spot-on! I am working my way through blog posts I’d not gotten to read these past few weeks. And I’m glad I did! This one is really really REALLY great because of how true it all is. Especially in a corporate environment. Impeccable advice, luv.

    Oh, and that last part of your post, “I’ve heard “Oh, I could never pull that off.” Well, you’re right, honey. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?” …SHEER BRILLIANCE! Soooooo true, gurlie!

  18. KellyBean says

    I’m late to the party, but I just want to say that this post is genius. I want to print it out and hand out copies on streetcorners.

    • says

      DM, thank you…I appreciate that! Pants with words on their arse…gah. Those blasted things students roll out of bed and into class in. I have even more respect for those of you in academia now. I’ve forgotten how sloppy college students are. Your eyeballs must be in pain daily from having to witness it all.

      What a brilliant idea…let’s mass produce this post and sneak into university offices at night and add them to the diploma stacks!

  19. says

    I adore how you’ve turned some Ann Taylor pieces into a completely professional yet somehow rock-and-roll look. I do like Ann Taylor’s new aesthetic (since Fall 2009, I think it was?), and I aspire to give their pieces a somewhat darker edge like this. It’s possible now that they’re not about office lady little polyester geometric prints anymore!

    I do agree that the details of shoe care, fabric crispness, and grooming matter — but I’ve had a long sneaking suspicion that they matter only to the percentage of people who care, themselves. Say you have ten colleagues. Two get weekly manicures. Two tidy their nails fairly regularly at home. The other six people have ragged dirty nails. The manicure people will notice and approve of each other, acknowledge the home-tidiers’ efforts, and be revolted by the people who don’t care. The home-tidiers will admire the pro manicure-getters, appreciate the care and cleanliness of each other, and be mildly put off by the people who don’t care. And the majority, the people who don’t care…they won’t notice better nails or awful nails at all. (I’m a home-tidier. :-)

    Similar for shoe-lookers. I’ve only started noticing others’ shoes occasionally since I started caring myself. Most people around here probably don’t look or care. I’d feel embarassed to walk into a very expensive menswear establishment or to try to make friends with a woman wearing immaculate Louboutins, because I know these people care about shoes and status and are looking at my slightly scuffed Naturalizers. But…here, there are no expensive menswear establishments or Louboutin wearers, so I can relax a bit.
    Cloud of Secrets’s latest post: Purple DazeMy Profile

    • says

      Cloud, thank you for your thoughtful comment. You are probably right about who really cares and who doesn’t. But I still believe that you have a better chance of being more successful if you are pulled together, through whatever method available to you.

      I’m my own manicurist as well, but since I do a pretty good job, that’s all that matters. The thing about details like that is people come to respect that you are always polished (pun intended)…sometimes, even the people who aren’t that into it themselves offer compliments. So while the immaculately dressed of the world can be intimidating, I do think it’s important that we not reverse-judge the Louboutin wearers and such. I’ve had a lot of people make negative assumptions about me based on my appearance…that I am stuck up, or condescending…when the truth is I’m not. I always find this out after I’ve gotten to know someone.

      Again, thank you for your comment!

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