Ask Belle: Conservative Office Attire
Oct 19, 2011
Belle,I recently began my first job out of law school as an associate at a very formal and conservative law firm. Suits are considered to be the appropriate attire for attorneys in our office (even on Fridays) and I am bored out of my mind after just eight weeks. Almost all of my office fashion role models are men and I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to my options. Do you have any suggestions on looking very professional without necessarily wearing a matching pant or skirt and jacket each and every day? Additionally, do you have any thoughts on ways to appropriately accessorize a suit in ways that would make it even slightly less boring?Thanks! Lauren
First off, dresses. I’m sure there are offices where anything without a jacket is considered faux pas, but there are a lot of professional dresses on the market right now that might work for you.
This dress is made of suiting material, it’s fitted and it has a longer sleeve. To pull it into a look, you add a belt at the waist to provide added structure. Throw on some sensible pumps, closed toe, under 3.5″. Keep the jewelry to a minimum, one bracelet, earrings.
I also know a few attorneys around town who wear DvF wrap dresses on Fridays. They avoid the bolder prints, and have them altered or wear camis underneath to keep them from being too revealing, but whether that would be acceptable really depends on your individual office.
I buy all of my suits from one of three places: J.Crew, The Outnet or eBay. The outfit above represents how I like to wear my suits. In fact, I actually own everything in the set above except the laptop bag.
I like a suit that’s different. I like a suit that’s feminine. And I like to wear it with printed, silk or textured blouses. I mostly leave my jackets unbuttoned because I hate being caged, but I’ll fasten them up if I have important meetings.
Now, interesting suits are not easy to find. I check websites regularly, search eBay daily and hit thrift stores as often as I can hoping to find suits that are a bit different. And, when in doubt, I stick to my J.Crew basics.
This would probably be too out there for a very conservative office. But if you wore a black tank that came up a bit higher or a tie-neck blouse in grey or white, maybe you could wear suit like this to work without breaking too many rules. If you wear a blouse, however, I recommend a belt to reinforce the structure.
It’s difficult to make a basic suit look cool, because suits are meant to evoke sameness. They are the uniform of the white collar worker.
As I said above, I like to wear interesting, colored, printed or textured blouses with my suits. Here, I added a teal blouse (it’s sheer so you’d need a cami) to bring a trendy color into the mix. I also added a laser-cut belt, which I would wear high enough that it exposed some of the teal through the cutouts. I’d also wear it under the jacket, not over.
Also, with suits, it’s important to wear statement jewelry. Dainty pieces just get swallowed up by the heft of a suit. So make sure the earrings, bracelets, necklaces and rings have some gravitas.
It’s easy to create a non-suit with separates. You could wear a colored blazer with neutral trousers–say, navy pants with a red jacket. You could wear a printed or striped blazer with a black pencil. You could also wear a patterned skirt with a neutral blazer like in the look above.
This navy and beige printed skirt is a basic shape with a bold pattern. I added a very fitted blazer, so that there was no need for a visible blouse (though I would recommend a nude, sleeveless tank underneath). I added a simple blue pump, a vintage-looking coin bracelet from Rebecca Minkoff ($75!) and a pair of citrine stud earrings.
If the print on this skirt terrifies you, this patterned pencil from Jones of New York is navy and white but more basic. No need to rock the boat too much!
Suits are tough, but what you can wear definitely depends on your office. If yours is a very conservative work environment, try my friend Kat at Corporette, she caters to NYC lawyers who need to be more buttoned up and uniform than the average D.C. woman.