A sartorial challenge for the woman who likes to dress on the sexy side? Looking completely appropriate in her professional life while maintaining a shred or two of her individual style.
It’s not easy mainly because it requires beating back your curves when you’re used to showcasing them.
Sound dismal? Perhaps—but it doesn’t have to be. You can retain your authenticity and look excellent even in the most traditional of workplaces, but it requires stylistic creativity on your part.
Here are tips on how to dress beautifully for the office without smothering your individual sass or feeling like you’re in straight-up drag:
Switch Your Approach
When it comes to work clothes, switch your overall style code from “sexy” to “chic.” Chic is smart, self-aware and current—it’s also damn attractive. In the context of your professional life, looking chic carries a ton of positive traits that sexy does not.
You’ll Need New Tactics
Let’s say you typically express yourself via bold silhouettes, and garments described as skimming, body-conscious, slinky, high-cut, low-cut, thigh-high, bandage dress, bustier-top and so forth get your ears perked up fast and your little hands ready to whip out your wallet.
Start looking for different silhouettes, fabrics and
Move the spotlight away from your figure and towards the following: shoes and jackets. Make these the expressive cornerstones of your professional style and don’t skimp on quality. Better three pairs of exquisite hand-made Italian heels than a closet littered with junky pumps from the mall. When it comes to jackets, focus on fit above all.
Have a Pow-Wow With Yourself
Who do you want to be? Your presentation is elastic–meaning what you communicate to others via your style, grooming and manner is completely up to you. But it must reflect an aspect of your true self. (Otherwise your presentation is a charade, and an exhausting one at that.) Consider what you want to say to others whom you interact with professionally. Get specific. Jot down a few adjectives or a phrase that sums up what you want others to think or feel upon meeting you and working with you. This is your Professional Style Brand. Use it as a compass to direct the items you wear in professional settings.
- A Few Personal Favorites. I know of what I speak in this department, ladies. I bobble between several worlds, all with different dress codes, and in the interest of avoiding style schizophrenia, I’ve found style shortcuts that strategically enable you to bobble with ease between a world where body skimming silhouettes are welcome, and those where they will earn you a quick (and permanent) scarlet letter.
That said, here are a few indispensables that you might find handy when it comes to dressing in a stylistically satisfying and professionally appropriate way:
Love the Non-Iron Shirt
The best non-iron shirt I’ve come across is by Brooks Brothers which is offered in a few very flattering varieties. Great quality with lots of endurance, meaning you can wash and wear this shirt until the cows come home and it will still look great. Not the most inexpensive in the world, but you won’t need to replace them often.
Shirt + Wrap Dresses: Completely Appropriate
Select a quality one that fits you well and you’re golden. This is the type of garment that’s perfect when you need to get dressed quickly and are in no mood to pull together some high-concept work ensemble. The silhouettes are fairly traditional and quite respectable looking, so you can pair yours with a colorful or print heel for some flair. Don’t go higher than an inch above the knee, hemline wise. Look for those in cotton, linen and other crisp fabrics, and steer clear of slinky fabrics like jersey, which has a way of turning up, rather than beating back, the hot.
Back to Shoes for a Moment…
I really like Tod’s for professional shoes. They’re a luxury brand, and deserving of the title because of the perennial elegance of their designs and bullet-proof quality of their workmanship. For You: Look for 2-3 shoe designers or brands that consistently churn out pairs you love, are of excellent quality and comfortable to wear. Hunt for discounted pairs and, again, get in the habit of buying fewer shoes, but better shoes. Take care of your luxury heels and they’ll last forever. Plus, you might like that you rarely cross paths with another gal wearing the same shoes as you.
Let Your Hair Down
Nail down a few hair styles that you can pull together quickly, look good and are consistent with your Professional Style Brand. Think of each hair style as a visual balancing act: In the photo above the model’s bouncy long waves work because the rest of her look is traditional and understated. If you’re going to wear something more edgy, tame your hair accordingly so the overall effect stays within the bounds of good taste for your professional situation.
I actually booked an appointment with my hair stylist, and we came up with three looks that I consistently use to beat back the big hair goodness for different professional scenarios. She showed me the hair accessories I’d need, and walked me through each step so I’d get it right on my own. Voila.