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Work Fashion – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you have already seen the pictures of my new work outfits, but I thought I’d write a blog post about professional/work fashion and hopefully impart a few tips/tricks.

By now, you probably know that for work, I do several presentations and professional meetings with orthopaedic surgeons.  What this means from a fashion standpoint is, I wear A LOT of suits.  I’ve often complained that there are no places (or at least precious few) where one can find women’s suits that actually fit properly.  And, what is up with selling jackets and pants together for women’s suits?  How many women are actually the same size on top and bottom?  Precious few, I would argue.  My husband can go into Joseph A. Bank, and they will fit him perfectly for a suit (pants and jackets separately) or whatever other work wear he desires.  I have yet to find such an awesome place for women, which is really frustrating.  I know that there are places that will make custom suits for women, but they tend to be super expensive ($500+), and I’m not sure that I’m willing to spend that much, since my size tends to fluctuate (a common problem for women).  In my next life, perhaps, I’ll start a company that is basically the Joesph A. Bank for women 🙂

Anyway, in the mean time, I have been able to find some fashionable suits/work fashion at a couple of stores, which makes me pretty happy.  The two places where I shop most frequently are White House Black Market and Chicos.  A not-surprising coincidence is that these two stores are owned by the same company.  What’s great for me about that is that the pants from Chicos tend to fit me better, and I like the suit jackets more from White House Black Market.  Since they are sister stores, they often use the same fabrics.  So, I can cobble together a suit that looks great from two different stores, and no one is the wiser.

Last weekend, my in-laws were here to visit, and one of the main events of their visits is that my mother-in-law and I go for a shopping trip…mainly because she doesn’t have any good shopping where she lives, and she likes Chicos as much as I do 🙂  During our shopping trip, I was able to find some great business clothes, which were perfect for my trip to Dallas where I had to speak in front of a big group (that trip happened this Friday and yesterday).

Here was the result (apologies for the crappy cell phone pics):

photo 1-2A very Jackie O. look.  Top, skirt, and belt from White House Black Market.  Shoes are Sam Edelman, and I got them at Von Maur.  I absolutely love this outfit with every cell of my being.  Each piece can be worn with other things, but as an outfit, it looks so put together and figure-flattering.

photo-2Typical black suit, made fancier with the beautiful lace top and necklace, which are sadly under-represented in this photo.  Jacket and top from White House Black Market (both perfectly cut for me), pants from Chicos (again, no one is the wiser because the fabrics match), shoes are Cole Haan with Nike technology in the sole, which makes them super comfy.  They are patent leather and awesome (also bought at Von Maur).  I felt powerful in this suit, which is good because I wore it the day I was scheduled to present to about 50 people.

When I posted these photos on Facebook, some commented that they needed me to come help them shop (which I would love to do by the way!).  And, I’ve heard from a few others at work that I “always look very put together.”  I am forever indebted to my mother for this trait.  She is ALWAYS put together, even when she’s in casual clothes.  And, I know I picked that up from her.  So, for those who wonder how to gain such a skill, here are a few tips from me for how to look put together at work:

  1. Probably the hardest part, but know your body shape and what looks good on it.  You can hide a multitude of sins just by wearing things that flatter your figure.  For me personally, I am very curvy, and I have a big booty and thunder thighs, but I have a tiny waist.  So, I know that anything that emphasizes my waist will make me look great.  That’s why that A-line skirt in the first outfit works so well (and why I have such trouble finding pencil skirts that look fabulous on me, no matter how much I want them to – I have found a few that work, by the way, and the key is stretchy fabric).  I digress though…another reason why I like the White House Black Market for jackets – they are all cut to define the waist, which is my best asset.  Also, a little trick with jackets and blouses alike: if it fits in the shoulders, it will look amazing…check out the shoulders on that black jacket on me.
  2. Know what colors work on you and what doesn’t.  Generally speaking, if you are attracted to a color, it will look good on you.  It is good to have a friend with you when you’re shopping, or even just ask the sales person…”does this color look ok on me?  Does it make me look to pallid?”  To be honest, I was a little scared I’d be washed out by the first outfit, but it’s a light enough color (off-white), that I actually look like I have color.  Also, adding the pink belt (it came with a tonal fabric belt), adds just a pop of color, which elevates the whole look.
  3. Speaking of pops of color, add a pop of color when you can.  I wear an awful lot of black.  I am forever adding a shock of color wherever I can.  It’s amazing how much this one simple thing can elevate your look.  This can be as simple as wearing a magenta or royal blue shell under a black suit to adding a bright scarf to the neck (P.S. I plan on doing a scarf tutorial at some point this year to show everyone how to tie/wear scarves.  If you don’t have scarves in your life, you are seriously missing out on a simple accessory that makes you look like YOU are a stylist).  If you are afraid of color, then make sure that you have some interesting jewelry or a cool pattern somewhere in your outfit to add flavor.  In that second outfit I showed, I had a fabulous necklace that just made the whole thing a lot less drab.  It’s not shown well in the photo, but trust me, it was the key piece.  And, on top of that, the lace top added some interest.  Because the jacket is closed in the photo, you can’t tell, but this is a peplum style top, with some grosgrain ribbon to define the waist.  It made the whole look very dressy and put together.
  4. Don’t over accessorize.  If you have too many pieces of jewelry, or if your outfit is too matchy-matchy, you look like you’re trying to hard.  For example, when I tried on the first outfit at White House Black Market, the sales girl gave me a very intricate beaded necklace that had some of the coral of the belt as well as coral shoes with gold heels.  It was just TOO MUCH.  I like the idea of a nude shoe with pretty much anything.  And, the simple white gold/yellow gold necklace (that William bought for me forever ago, and I wear with just about everything, by the way) just works.  It makes the whole outfit seem effortless and not fussy.  The necklace/shoes they gave me in the store looked great, but the whole outfit looked overdone.
  5. You should be comfortable.  Where is it written that work clothes need to be uncomfortable?  They shouldn’t be.  Now are they going to be as comfy as jammie pants and a big t-shirt?  Nope, but you shouldn’t be uncomfortable or tugging at anything.  If you are, it doesn’t fit properly.  Any way you slice it, if you are comfortable, you will be much more confident in your outfit, and that confidence is a good thing, especially in a professional environment.  With any presentation, I can tell you, if I’m comfortable in my outfit, the presentation automatically just flows much better.  The good news is that clothing companies have started to figure this out in recent years – they are making suits with stretchy fabrics (i.e. knits instead of wovens), and shoe places are putting arch support and other cushioning in the soles of high heels.  What a concept!

I don’t proclaim to know all of the ins and outs of fashion, but hopefully, these little tips will help you on your next shopping trip 🙂

2 thoughts on “Work Fashion – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

  1. Wow. Thank you for the tips! Anytime you’re in the Milwaukee area (I know, it might not be too often), we need to go shopping. 🙂

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