Let’s face it. Depending on where you work or what you do, personal style is sometimes likely to suffer. But that doesn’t have to always be the case with your workwear.
Before graduating from business school, I couldn’t wait to enter the world full of pencil skirts, blazers and the occasional “power suit.” I guess I chose the right major because I even added a picture of a powerful looking woman standing in a sea of black suits on my college “dream board.” Never did I anticipate that I would have to trade my style when the time came for all “business professional” all the time. In fact, it wasn’t even an option in my mind.
So what’s my trick? I jotted down a few ways to channel personal style while also dressing appropriately for the professional world.
Workwear Doesn’t Have to Sacrifice Style
1) Know your style.
Are you edgy? Feminine? Are you classy? Preppy? Boho? Retro? Are you…something else?
I can’t answer these questions for you. By definition, style is “distinctive” and “particular.” That means it should look different for everyone. Fortunately, if you’ve entered the working world, you’ve had years of discovering what you like and should have a pretty good idea of what you are consistently drawn to.
Maybe you’ve never actually thought about your style. If so, get up right now, grab some paper, open up your closet and thoroughly look over everything you own. Pay closest attention to your favorite items and then write down words that describe those pieces. Now use all those words to define your style in one or two words.
I define my style as “Delicate.” My closet is full of flowy dresses, flirty prints, pretty colors, vintage accessories (OBSESSED with belts) and some lace. Of course, there are edgy and eclectic exceptions to the general consensus of what I wear, but that’s the general feel of my wardrobe.
Once you define YOUR style, let it provide guidance when you shop, but don’t let it prevent you from trying out something new when the going’s good. Simply think of your style as the “flavor” of how you do fashion.
Burberry Trench, Kate Spade Bag, Tahari Black Pumps, Nine West Nude Pumps, Navy A-Line Dress: Lord & Taylor, Shirt Dress: Matches Fashion, Blue Blouse: Madewell, Trouser: House of Fraser, Stella McCartney Blush Blazer, Black Pencil Skirt: Matches Fashion
2) Build up the basics.
As I said, not every piece will speak directly to your style, but every item serves its purpose. You need statement pieces, but perhaps most importantly, you need foundation pieces.
I’ll be the first to admit that I could do better in adequately stocking my wardrobe with true basics (things that you could wear multiple times a week and likely go unnoticed). My problem is that I buy things because of details–fun print, interesting cut, bright color, etc.
But I’d say that every girl needs the following basics on hand to conquer workwear:
– Pencil skirts (black, navy, gray)
– Blazers (black, navy)
– Sheath dress (black, gray or navy)
– A-line dress (black, gray or navy)
– Shirt dress (neutral)
– Proper undergarments (slips, camis, tights/hose–all neutrals)
– Pumps (black, beige)
– Classic trench
* I actually never wear slacks and only have two pairs (navy and white) in my closet.
Basics are your foundation for creating unique looks that show the world who YOU are. That could mean that you pair a blouse in your signature color (mine is mustard) with your black pencil skirt one day and then switch to a fun flowy printed shirt with a blazer later in the week. A few other days you might wear your same black A-line dress–first with a bright or printed blazer and then later alone with a great vintage belt or statement necklace.
Embellished Shift Dress: Nordstrom, Striped DVF Blouse, Turquoise 1960s Beaded Purse: Etsy, Rooster Print Pencil Skirt: Farfetch, Rose/butterfly Bobby Pins: Moonsoon, Mustard Blouse: Boden, Vintage Monogram “S” Brooch: Etsy, Wooden Cuffed Watch: Anthropologie, Statement Necklace: Stella & Dot, Gold Vintage Belt: Etsy, Duo-Tone Blue/Nude Pumps: Anthropologie, Nude Pumps: Urban Outfitters
3) Remember the details.
Every outfit needs to have a “focal point” (that term has stuck with me since Laurie coined it on Trading Spaces). Just the other day, I wore an A-line dress in coral, a navy blazer with coral piping and a vintage “S” brooch (S is for Sarah). The whole outfit had subtle details, but the brooch was obviously what people commented on most.
At other times, I’ve rocked a bold print with a solid blazer and kept the attention on the print. If I’m feeling like an easy look, I might reach for my mod navy shift dress with noticeable boxy pockets that just really make the simple dress standalone.
Recently on a more casual day I wore black high-waisted skinny pants with a cream top, cognac silky blazer and mint-colored statement necklace. In that case, the focal point was the necklace.
Here are a few of my favorite fashion “focal points” to explore that can be appropriately paired with workwear basics:
– Vintage belts
– Statement jewelry
– Strappy shoes
– Prints of all kinds and colors
– Brightly colored blazers, dresses, blouses, etc. (choose one)
– Textured fabric
The options are really endless. Just be careful not to overdo it and risk having TOO much going on!
Be bold. Be you. At the end of the day, remember that you’re at work to do work, and the way you dress shouldn’t distract from or reflect poorly on the job you were hired to do. It should complement the job you have or the job you ultimately want. But have fun!
Sarah currently works on Capitol Hill, but she has always lived and breathed fashion and still occasionally shares her insight at Fashionable Conversation. After college, she interviewed numerous up-and-coming fashion designers and contributed regularly on blogs based in Los Angeles and the United Kingdom.