What to Wear to Work? Banish Boring Office Wear!

In my last style post I urged you all to banish black. But while black certainly is chic and CAN be worn beautifully (just not as a go-to for everyone), today we’re going to talk about a related, but far more ubiquitous style that needs to be eliminated: boring office wear.

I often think that part of the reason I work for myself is because I can wear what suits ME, rather than trying to fit into a corporate office dress code. Denim jacket anyone? And while I can appreciate good tailoring probably better than most, rarely do I see clothing sold as office wear that makes my heart sing. Quite the opposite – more like a sinking feeling of dread. Why does the corporate world seem to insist that women must forgo all the things that make clothing beautiful and individual and instead dress like ‘somewhat’ feminized men? Ugh.

Ugh. At least they're not black, or gray, or brown. Oh, wait, those are the other colors these items come in!
Ugh. At least they're not black, or gray, or brown. Oh, wait, those are the other colors these items come in!

So, if you are indeed in a workplace that requires you to be suited and booted, what can you do to express your individual style and flatter your figure?

Quite a bit! You just need a little imagination, and the chutzpah to carry it off. And once you get started down this track, it will become easier and easier. Pretty soon you’ll have other women in the office asking you how you do it.

The number one, single most important rule for banishing boring office wear?

Get it tailored.

I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but it really makes a difference to how your clothes hang and flatter your figure, whatever its shape. Find the brand names that work for your body and then get to know your tailor. Most every drycleaner has one.

Now for the fun stuff! Details and accessories.

Shop for details that will set you apart.

Not everyone likes a ruffle, so if you prefer a clean line, choose items with texture, or perhaps structural fastenings. I have realized that the pieces I wear most often and feel most like me generally have some sort of detail that differentiates them from the everyday. Sometimes it’s a fabulous color, sometimes it’s a great print, sometimes it’s something that veers into decadence, and sometimes it is indeed a ruffle. The point here? When you are shopping for office wear, don’t rely on the plain navy suit even if it is impeccably tailored and very expensive. Look for pieces that have that little something extra which you can then pair with your very expensive, beautifully tailored pieces. Hint: top level consignment may bring these items into your reach. I've just discovered The Real Real. Takes patience, but let's you get your hands on those more unusual pieces.


Here’s where you really get to show your personality. I attended a presentation this week put on by a financial advisor. She wore a beautifully tailored navy pant suit with a belted jacket (nice detail) and accessorized it with a fall weight patterned scarf. She looked perfectly put together, like someone I could trust to advise me on financial issues, and she had used the scarf to show us a little of her personality. She had successfully set herself apart from the rest of the suit brigade.


Accessories are where you can spend little and yet still have a big impact. My favorite (and most remarked upon) is a feather corsage with a bit of bling. Every time I wear it someone compliments me. And it sends a clear signal that I’m NOT an office wear automaton; I care about my overall appearance, I know something about style, and I’ve considered the appropriateness of my accessories.

I LOVE this knitted collar I found on Etsy. But I'd have it made in a less folksy wool, something with shine and bright colors. Great compliment to a classic suit jacket, no?

Jewelry can do the same thing, but be careful; I find that you can easily take jewelry too far. If what you’ve chosen seems a little too beachy, it probably is. Apparently the statement necklace season is over and we've now moved on to the statement earring. Here are a few examples that would fly even in the most buttoned up corporate office:


They deserve their own category because they are so important. If you simply must wear a classic suit or sheath dress (because some people look fabulous in them!), you can absolutely punch it up with your shoes. Picture a classic navy sheath dress, fitted to your figure of course, with some fabulous red patent shoes. Or magenta for that matter. You get my point. Suddenly you have an outfit.

I’m having some footwear angst myself this fall as I contemplate the booties I need that will work with my pants, skirts and dresses because, really, how many pairs can you have? I live in a small house without a massive walk-in closet for starters. So, I’m searching for that unicorn pair: they can be worn with pants and skirts/dresses, they are suitable for walking at least as far as the Metro, and they somehow convey ‘this woman is stylish’. My initial answer was the Ann Taylor pair I featured in THE Boots for Fall, but they simply didn’t fit my feet. I’ve ordered a couple of pretty basic pairs from Clarks that haven’t yet arrived, but I feel I may need to solve this problem with more than one pair. Some people would find this a wonderful situation to be in, but I’m mourning the break down of my wonderful London blue suede boots!

So, what does this all mean? There is no excuse for boring corporate office wear. Unless you truly are a boring person. Which I doubt. Stop taking yourself so seriously and find a fluffy corsage or a deep red flower to add to your jackets. Or a statement pin that doesn't add 20 years to your look. Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, used hers to communicate her intentions each day. They were certainly of consequence!


So go get some amazing shoes, shooties or boots! There are thousands of them out there. And some scarves/wraps/fur collars. And flowers and brooches. Banish the boring!

I'd love to see what you turn up.