For many of you, the above title is something of an oxymoron. Many of us feel restricted to drab black, gray, and navy suits and motherly twinsets — that is, if the Chicago Bar Association has anything to say about it. Earlier this month, the Huffington Post reported that the CBA held a “What Not to Wear” panel laying down the law: no exposed skin, no peep-toes, no dark nail polish, no flashy jewelry. If you happen to have a sparkling engagement ring, put that sucker away. Yikes.
Even if you work in such a conservative environment, there are ways of looking chic. My main concern when dressing for work is “softening the look.” Let’s be honest: it’s easy to look frumpy / masculine in a boxy suit. That’s why I love Theory for suiting — the label favors long, lean lines and most separates are cut snugly without looking inappropriate or “tight.” Exhibit A: these Theory “Max C” trousers — unfailingly flattering on any number of body types ($245, Shopbop):
I often try to avoid wearing a straight-up suit, though I know you may feel required to do so in a business formal environment. If this is the case, I’d wear a patterned button-down blouse with some softness and visual interest to it, like this Rebecca Minkoff tie-neck blouse:
The femininity of the blouse should be able to soften a standard black suit, and you can pair it with some enorma-pearls and either nude or jet black pumps. Make sure your blazer is fitted and nipped-in at the waist (the one below is by J. Crew). This is definitely an item you need to have tailored to your proportions.
Huge sunglasses are a plus (these ones are Stella McCartney, $200) and a big, structured handbag would be ideal (I’m in love with the Mulberry Bayswater in the vanilla shade, pictured below — Kate Moss owns the bag in nearly ever shade and looks oh-so-hip).
Alternately, wear a high-waisted black or charcoal skirt suit with an appealingly slim-cut pencil shape — the J. Crew 120s suiting is lovely:
The brand TUCKER has fabulous vintage-looking patterned blouses with dainty blouson sleeves (LOVE that look) that would look uber-chic and Parisian tucked into a high-waisted skirt.
These blouses would look fab with a fabric beaded necklace in a contrasting print pattern. Imagine wearing the print above with this Lanvin necklace:
But back to work-wear — another under-blazer or sans-blazer option to pair with a pencil skirt? This dainty K Karl Lagerfeld concoction ($98, TheOutnet):
Love the neckline. If you can comfortably wear separates in the office, I’m big into Kate Spade-inspired structured blouses — don’t you dig this Harvey Faircloth gathered-neck blouse ($295)? So crisp and nautical:
I envision it with a long, beaded necklace — maybe one of these Amanda Pearl designs?
But before we move away from Harvey Faircloth, if your office dress code permits some room for creativity, I’m kind of head over heels for their whimsical-yet-structured “Cape Wrap” dress ($460, also available in off-white):
If you’re open to dresses in the workplace, there are tons of conservative options — all would look lovely with pumps and a statement necklace (below, from top to bottom — Banana Republic Sheath Dress, $130; Adam ponte knit dress, $345; Asos Linen Tulip Dress, $51; Plein Sud, $775)
Because of the high neckline, you could do either a longer beaded necklace like one of the Amanda Pearls featured above — or something closer to the collar for a 50s throwback kind-of-a-deal. You could go with something super-classic like this KEP Designs pearl necklace (love the clasp — $250, KEPDesigns):
Or this super-cool vintage style piece by Elva Fields (watch out, lots of the items on her site are one-of-a-kind heirloom pieces so they sell quickly):
Finally, this up-and-coming jewelry designer, Meg Galligan (a classmate of my maid of honor’s little sister up at Boston College! — read about her here on Katie Armour’s well-styled blog) has some cool little pieces, like this aqua stone necklace, which would look uber-cheery against an otherwise staid cream/off-white sheath dress:
You can snap yours up at Margaret Elizabeth for a reasonable $158. But before I wander too far afield into jewelry la-la land, let me conclude with a couple of other work-wardrobe thoughts. If you want an easy-on option with built in accessories, test out this Kay Unger beaded neckline dress (available at Neiman’s for $310):
DVF wrap dresses are a MUST in my book. I buy at least one a year at Neiman’s incredible sales (they often hit around a $122-$131 price point if you wait long enough). They come in amazing prints, are unbelievably flattering, and can transition from morning meeting to evening dinner in a cinch:
Plus, I’m just obsessed with Diane Von Furstenburg — great spirit, great influence for the fashion world. If you work in a spot where edgier style is welcome (my boss often wears short dresses, black tights, and platform pumps — and looks killer in it), I have been contemplating clicking the “BUY NOW” button for this Tucker leopard print dress:
You could class it up with some black opaque tights, black heels, and enorma-studs. Die over it. If you’re keen on pants — another trick? Try swapping out the suit jacket that came with your pants with another jacket in a different style. I have a whole collection of cropped, collarless little jackets that I love pairing with jeans on the weekends and skirts/pants in the office. Consider this lovely blush tweed jacket from J. Crew ($325):
Or, for the big spenders, a pearl-accented Moschino jacket (Saks, Net-A-Porter) or a ladylike daisy-buttoned variation by Chloe — both of which were featured in my “Channeling Jackie” post:
Or, for the bolder amongst you, how about the amazing Rebecca Minkoff jacket ($335, RevolveClothing):
Work it, girl!