Unstuffy Work Wear

I like dressing up, but my ability to dress up for work is hindered by three things:

1) I work in industrial supply,
2) in a small city,
3) on the west coast.

None of those factors allow for suits and pencil skirts and pumps.

Not my office.

I know I’m not alone – the blogosphere is full of women who work in casual settings, but do their best to stay stylish and somewhat dressy.  We don’t dress up because we’re stuffy snobs and want to look better than anyone else (usually); my main reason for dressing up for work is that work wear acts like a uniform and gets me into the right mindset.  I could go to work in jeans and sneakers, but then my focus would be off.  At the office, I prefer the authoritative click of heels to the shuffle of sneakers, and the primness of skirts to the sprawl of jeans.  I feel put-together physically and mentally.

For other women looking for ways to balance same-old and snobby in their work wardrobe, here are a couple ideas:

1) Colors. Take any piece and put it in color: colored blazers, colored button-ups, colored heels, colored tights.  Color is much less formal than black & white, but if you keep the classic professional silhouettes, you’ll still look office-appropriate.

Here, have a demonstration:

Shoes suggested.

2) Casual fabrics in upscale shapes.  Think knit blazers instead of wool and quality dark-wash jeans instead of slacks.  Avoid fine silky satiny fabrics or wool blends, unless you tone them down by wearing them with more casual pieces.  Summer at the office tends to be slightly more casual no matter where you are, so it shouldn’t be too hard to work in lightweight fabrics, fun textures, and trendier styles.

Casual Blazers

3) Same shape, just cropped.  I’m not a fan of cropped jackets, but they look great on lots of ladies.  The blazer shape is so classic that even a cropped, bolero, or short-sleeved version will look just fine at the office.  Since we’re heading into summer, cropped pants in nice fabrics will also work well.  It’s a good idea to avoid wearing 3/4-sleeve jackets with capris, otherwise it’ll look like your outfit got shrunk in the laundry.  (I’d say a short-sleeved jacket would be fine with cropped pants, though.  Any thoughts on that?)

Cropped & Short-Sleeved Blazers

Lengthening a silhouette instead of cropping would work, too.  Try a drape-front cardigan instead of a classic style, or wear a belted oversize buttoned blouse.  The goal is to get away from classic, and going longer or shorter will accomplish that easily.

4) Low heels or flats.  I really don’t like flats, but I’m also really out-of-place in heels at work.  Flats just make me feel frumpy, but when I wear high heels in my office, I feel a bit like Effie Trinket in District 12.  Now, when I’m shopping, I keep my eyes peeled for flats that will look good on my feet and snap them up when I find them.  Low heels, like wedges or kitten heels, give me a little bit of height without being overly formal.

I’ve also learned to splurge a little on flats.  I snagged a pair of Born flats (the bottom left style in gold, also pictured with my outfits above) at Nordstrom Rack for around $50, when Born shoes usually cost close to $100.  Born makes really nice, really comfortable shoes, so even when I’m in flats, my feet feel cozy and happy and not like they’re going to flatten out by the end of the day.

Comfy Flats

What would you add to the list?

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2 thoughts on “Unstuffy Work Wear

  1. Great list! I’m also doing an internship at a very casual office, and here are some things I wear to stay looking polished:

    -skirts! lots of skirts that are made of cotton, but still have some structure to them so they don’t have the “picnic in the park” feeling. Right now I’m wearing a mustard-y high-waisted paper bag skirt. Jersey pencil skirts are also great to wear with t-shirts.
    -shirt dresses – these can be easily dressed up or down with shoes and accessories.
    -costume jewellery that can dress up a t-shirt and a cardigan.
    -wedges – I’ve begun the commuter trick of leaving a pair of black wedges in my office, and I switch into them at work. They’re way more comfortable than heels (the low ones, not the high platform ones) but still feel a bit dressier than flats.

    I would also say that cropped jackets look really good with dresses – I usually try to avoid cropped jackets with pants altogether because I have a long torso (compared to the rest of my body – I’m super short overall) and the cropped jacket + pants combo only elongates it.

    • Nice additions! I’m trying to work in more skirts, but I don’t have much in between the stiffer, more professional-looking pencil skirts and floaty, A-line summer skirts. A paper bag skirt would be perfect! Good call on the wedges, too.

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