Work It: 13 Office-Appropriate Ways to Update Your Professional Wardrobe, Pt. 2
Is your work wardrobe in dire need of some 21st-century updates? You’re not alone. In part 1 of this post, we looked at some quick fixes like statement jewelry, faux-leather pieces, and edgy metallic and animal-print accents. Now we’re getting serious with wool coats, using tights and boots to expand your winter outfit options, and — brace yourself — skinny-leg pants.
It’s A (Wo)man’s World. “Menswear” fabrics like tweed, herringbone and glen plaid are popping up everywhere in women’s departments. However, choose updated takes on these classic fabrics to keep things modern. This could be a moto-style jacket with an asymmetrical zipper in a ladylike herringbone fabric, or a shrunken sportcoat with three-quarter sleeves in a black-and-white shepherd’s check. (And stay away from pinstripes, apparently. Though they are a personal favorite of mine, they don’t seem to be winning any fashion popularity contests these days.)
Coat Check. I wore a North Face synthetic down coat pretty much exclusively for the first couple of years of my practice, and lived to tell about it. But if you want to make an entrance, consider investing in a coat that lives up to the rest of your outfit. Specifically, a coat that works with dresses and skirts (i.e., hits a couple of inches above your knees) and is relatively fitted. I like wool — it looks good and wears well. This winter, Macy’s had a great selection of wool coats, and if you wait long enough, everything in that store goes on sale to the point that they start paying you to take stuff home. Pick something that actually keeps you warm — otherwise you will keep reaching for the coat in your closet that looks like a down comforter.
The Right Tights. Thicker, opaque tights make wearing dresses and skirts during the colder months a more viable option, which dramatically expands your winter-season wardrobe. And they don’t snag and run like nylons. I like to buy Hue Super Opaque tights, which you can get at Nordstrom Rack for about seven dollars. I throw them in the washer and dryer with the rest of my laundry and they don’t fall apart or shrink down to Barbie size. Adding brown and navy to my collection of black tights has given me a lot more options. (No, I cannot mix neutrals. I just can’t.)
Nice Booties. We live in a world that is shod in closed-toe pumps. But when temperatures drop, I have tried to break the mold with booties that hit slightly below the ankle. (Would we call them “shooties” rather than “booties,” due to their relatively low height? I don’t want to.) They provide more support and warmth than regular shoes, and make me appear “hip and cool.” Avoid a platform (too junior) or a chunky heel (too casual). I think a mid-height heel looks the most businesslike, but whenever I go that high I stash a pair of flats in my purse. (No woman should ever have to let a pair of uncomfortable shoes get in the way of a walk to the sandwich shop.)
In Living Color. My favorite TV show, Project Runway, extols the virtues of a “pop of color” in an outfit. An easy way for a lawyer to implement this fashion tip is with shoes in non-neutral colors. Wearing brightly colored shoes with an all-black outfit says, “I may be all business during this arbitration, but my feet are still having a blast under this conference table.” I have a pair of red suede booties that I thought were going to be a ridiculous purchase (and I own a pair of vinyl leggings), but I actually wear them all the time, since a lot of my work wardrobe is drab grey and black.
In the Bag. A structured purse looks professional, but don’t be afraid to get a little whimsical with the materials or design when accompanied with an otherwise staid ensemble. For example, I like metallic purses rather than boring black and brown options, because they stand out against my usually neutral outfits and complement a rainbow of colors. (Budget tip: Real leather holds up better and usually looks more expensive, but if a purse is outside your fashion comfort zone or wouldn’t work with a lot of your wardrobe, play it safe and go with faux.)
Extra Credit: The Skinny Pant. I can’t write about updating and modernizing a work wardrobe without discussing silhouettes — especially with respect to pants. In general, the work-wardrobe pendulum has swung toward more fitted styles. More specifically, pants have become far trimmer between the knee and ankle. This “skinny leg” look terrifies some of us. (Indeed, when I first heard about “skinny jeans” I thought there was a rift in the space-time continuum and we were being hurtled back to the 1980s, during which my stone-washed jeans featured zippers in the back topped by denim bows.) But it can be balanced out by tucking pants into knee-high boots, or by wearing a longer top or a top with more volume. Or simply test the waters with a straight leg.
To sum up: don’t be afraid to try something new, even if it is just in a dressing room with the door bolted shut in a mall in the next town over and you have given an assumed name to the sales associate. No one will judge you… unless your vinyl leggings make the same squeaky sound mine do whenever I move.