I’m becoming a grown-up. I’m entering a world of dry clean-only blazers and collared blouses and power footwear and… pantsuits.
No. Please. Anything but the pantsuits.
Some people seem to have emerged from the womb looking professional. I didn’t. I love flouncy dresses, leggings, oversized shirts, bulky knit sweaters, wool socks, and lace. I hate collared shirts. Until very recently, I even hated pants!
I’m in my last year of university, standing at the doorstep of the ‘real world’ and feeling like a rat in a maze. I’ve been talking to some friends my age, and we’re reluctantly realizing that we need to start developing our professional wardrobe.
People treat other people differently based on how they dress. Like it or not, it’s true. In practically any interview I see myself doing, I will be significantly more likely to get the job if I wear a blazer than if I wear my uniform of choice: an oversized sweater and leggings with wool socks pulled over them.
I have a strong sense of personal style, and while I am drawn to the idea of looking professional, I rebel against the idea that to do so I need to ‘dress boring’. For a while, I thought dressing professionally meant when I went to an interview or work function, I had to wear my grey dress pants and something with a collar. I am realizing more and more, though, that there are ways to be creative and still put your style stamp on everything you wear – professional or casual. These are my tips:
1. Invest in the basics.
Buy a neutral-coloured blazer in a style most flattering to your body. I’m not going to give you the whole spiel about how if you’re pear-shaped, wear this blazer, but if you’re an athletic build, wear that blazer. I don’t fit any of those typical body types, and I think a lot of women are in the same boat. Just try stuff on and see what you like. Bring a friend along if you need a second opinion.
If you like blazers, consider buying several. Experiment with different cuts – cropped blazers and peplum blazers are trendy right now. Coloured blazers are also a great way to personalize your style. They’re available almost everywhere right now, so it’s not too difficult to find a colour you like. If you want just a touch of colour, try a blazer with colourblocking or a nice coloured lining.
If you hate blazers, you might be more comfortable in a sweater that looks like a blazer. If you choose the pant/skirtsuit route, try a solid colour. A black or solid navy suit tends to be less aging on women than a pinstripe or houndstooth suit.
Buy some good, basic pants/skirts/both. Make sure they are not too tight, too short, or too long. If you are investing in good basics, it’s worth having pants hemmed if they are too long. Dragging, tattered hems look sloppy and ruin the pants.
If you like dresses, consider buying one or two good work dresses. Joan from Mad Men is my icon when it comes to work dresses. Use your own style icons, or share mine.
Joan of Mad Men — Courtesy of What The Frock?
2. Dress simply, but choose one bold item.
Depending on the situation you’re going into, different fashion forays are permissible. If you wear a pantsuit, own it. Pair it with a neon top for a bright kick. If your style du jour is more ultra-feminine, let it show through the materials you choose. Lace, silk, and satin are good to soften up a menswear-inspired suit. More voluminous tops also help to show a feminine style. Consider a top with a print you can’t get enough of.
Strong accessories are the easiest way to let your style shine. A bold necklace, boho earrings, or eclectic bangles punch up the personality of any outfit.
In most work environments, there is a lot of flexibility in the definition of professional workwear. Put on your favourite graphic/band tee with some trousers, throw a blazer on top, and you’re set. Wear a nice blouse with some coloured, not-skintight denim. Try putting opaque tights under neutral-coloured shorts.
3. Balance the volume.
This one is simple. If you wear a fluffy skirt, don’t wear an oversized blouse. If you wear straight-legged or tapered trousers, you can get away with a more voluminous shirt.
4. Use the 1/3 rule.
It’s usually work-appropriate for one third of your body to show. In fact, this ratio is considered the most flattering balance of clothed mystery and bare glory. I’m talking arms, legs, and a little bit of chest here, not midriffs and heaving bosoms. Keeping this rule in mind can help answer the nagging “Is this appropriate?” question, though. If you think your skirt might be borderline, pair it with some leggings or dark-coloured tights.
5. It’s okay to wear what you want.
My creative self squirms against a professional attire for women based solely on the quintessential menswear item: the suit. Women have so many options, so readily available. Why not take advantage of them? Experiment with shape, colour, and items you would never think to wear to work. See what you can do.
Just keep what you wear simple, clean, and ‘you’. Let your creativity sparkle without removing the focus from your beautiful mind and all you have to offer. Break the rules, but do it with flare.
If anyone has tips and tricks, share them in the comments section! I’ll be posting more beauty/fashion articles, so if anyone has ideas or questions, let me know.
Written by Catherine Cross