Sunday, February 04, 2007

Women's fashion: how to build a professional work wardrobe

A Consumer guide to Wardrobes for a Women in the Professional Workforce. Information on suits, skirts, shoes and color advice.

You’ve either landed a new job in the office world, or you’re planning on doing so soon. Either way, you’re trying to beef up your wardrobe that consisted of some jeans and t-shirts, maybe a few clubbing outfits and a dress for special occasions to include attire suitable for the office world. Luckily, the definitions of professional clothing for women have gone through some changes in the past decades: no longer are high heels and pantyhose a necessity, just a possibility.

A good place to start is at the bottom, working your way up. As such, one of the most important parts of any outfit is a good pair of shoes (and this doesn’t change all because you expect to find yourself behind a desk for a good portion of the day). In all likelihood, as an entry level office worker, you’ll be required to make copies, assist walk-ins and maybe perform a few runner duties – otherwise known as getting up, moving around and sitting down throughout the day. You need a pair of shoes that will look nice, but won’t have you desperately seeking out a foot massage at the end of the day.

If you’re not used to heels and don’t feel any particular desire to start wearing them, don’t worry. A simple, flat pair of shoes will do. Regardless of heels or flats, unless you’re vegan or a form of vegetarian that is opposed to wearing animal products, you want to go with a pair of shoes whose upper is made of leather. Leather breathes a lot better than manmade materials and, therefore, helps keep your feet from feeling too cramped in their professional confines.

As for the actual aesthetics of your shoes, there are a few things to watch out for. Suede has a lovely look and feel, but it gets dirty far faster than a pair with a bit of shine to them. As well, unless your personality calls out for bright yellows and pinks when buying shoes, your best bet is to go with something dark. If nothing else, every woman should have a pair of professional, comfortable, black shoes somewhere in their closet. Not only do black shoes go with most every outfit, they take a lot longer to get noticeably dirty.

Another important note about shoes is what to wear with them. You don’t want to be caught walking into your new office with a pair of beautiful dress shoes over white, fluffy exercise socks. Not only would that be a tight fit, but it would look rather silly. However, unless your employer is more liberal or less observant than most, you don’t want to wear your shoes over bare feet. Other than dealing with the struggle of getting on a pair of pantyhose in the morning, you can try nylon knee-highs or thin cotton socks. As with the shoes, darker is generally better. If the darker colors don’t agree with you, choosing nylons that are flesh colored is a safe bet. It’s still noticeable that you’re wearing something, but not so noticeable that you might find yourself not matching the rest of your outfit.

With a few pairs of shoes back home in your closet, your next step is to find some bottoms for your outfit. Again, you don’t want to limit yourself to anything that is going to make normal office duties uncomfortable or, at worst, embarrassing. For that reason, unless you’re used to wearing skirts that go above your knee, wait until you’re used to your office before you show up wearing a miniskirt. For that matter, if you’re a recovering tomboy, don’t even think about skirts at all until you’re willing to wear ones in a more casual setting. While office attire is generally changed out of as soon as a person gets home, you don’t want to be so uncomfortable that you want to change out of it during your lunch hour.

Going back to positive points of the changing standards in professional attire, the best way to beef up your professional wardrobe is to buy some slacks. Not just one pair of slacks, but several. Good color choices include black, navy, pinstriped and, if your office is casual enough for it, khaki. Again, these choices might not be the best if your heart cries out for fuchsia and teal and mauve. However, they are easy to find and even easier to play mix and match with once you’ve gotten the appropriate tops. One thing to pay attention to when buying slacks is how they fit. While wearing pants tight enough that you can see your panty lines might be a good idea when you go clubbing, doing the same at work may line you up for a quick chat with your boss about appropriate attire.

Well, you’ve got your shoes and you’ve got your slacks, now you just need some tops. This is where you’ve got the most leeway in your outfit. Not only is there a wide array of blouses and sweaters that can be considered professional, their exact style and color are more varied and better suited to meet your own personal look. Of course, on both the upside and the downside is the fact that they’re likely to be the first and last thing a person sees when speaking to you. In general, one addresses the top portion of a person rather than the bottom and, therefore, is more likely to remember the pattern on your blouse rather than the color of your slacks or the style of your shoes. Therefore, if your blouse isn’t quite appropriate, it’ll be more likely to cause a stir than if you snuck in wearing tennis shoes.

A few things to look out for while shopping for blouses: as with your slacks, be careful to notice how tight your top is – if you can see the outline of your bra with it on, it’s probably too tight; if your top is so low cut that you’re worried someone might be able to tell the color of your bra if you move in a particular way, it’s probably cut too low; sleeveless tops may or may not be acceptable in your office, double check before you show up to work in one; colored blouses are easier to clean than white ones since they’re less likely to change colors in the wash if you accidentally drop in a red sock.

At this point, with three to four pairs of slacks, about double that in blouses and a couple of pairs of shoes, you have the makings of an excellent professional wardrobe. Once you get better used to the office world, you may end up expanding your choices to include suits and skirts and pantyhose. However, until then, the above hints and tips can at least get you through until your first full paycheck.

As a final note, make sure you look on the tags of anything and everything that you’re going to buy. Unless you plan on spending a large portion of your pay check at the dry cleaners, stay away from pieces that are marked as being “dry clean only” – even items that say they need to be hand washed can usually be done in a washing machine if it includes a delicates cycle.



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