In reality, working women are expected to look relatively normal during the workweek (“normal” as defined by wearing things that don’t make our bosses want to light themselves on fire). And, since there don’t seem to be nearly enough opportunities in an office to wear a feather mini skirt, women all too often flounder when trying to come up with fabulous professional alternatives.
Take a quick look around your office. If we’re being honest, it probably doesn’t take long to arrive at the harsh realization that in fact, professional women have a serious image problem. We make up roughly 47% of the workforce and are dying for the chance to climb the corporate ladder, but often aren’t willing to look the part.
With no clear-cut female equivalent to men’s suit and tie (“the dude uniform”), women’s professional appearances all too often fall into one of two tragic, career-busting categories: sloppy or slutty.
Since women aren’t restricted to a suit-and-tie uniform, we should revel the opportunity to infuse some serious swank into our professional wardrobes. But instead, women use this creative license to start stretching the boundaries of what’s appropriate and professional (yeah, I'm looking at you, Little Miss Bra Straps).
It’s true, we (myself included!) all too often abandon those pressed black pants and start rationalizing their replacement by black jeans or even (GASP!) leggings. Instead of a sleek sheath dress or flattering blouse, we throw on our favorite over-sized cardigan that’s been our go-to since college. Think long and hard about how that baggy, pilled sweater looks next to a guy in a suit. Or, even if your office isn’t business formal, how do your leggings and mini skirts look next to a guy in a collared shirt and khakis?
Face it. Even the creepy mail guy looks more put together than you do most days.
On days when we don’t look like total slopfests, we still feel bored of the tailored, knee-length pencil skirts and start convincing ourselves that the little black dress we’d like to wear to cocktails that night is passable at the office. And over time, as that hemline gradually creeps up and that neckline gradually creeps down, our reputations as serious professionals gradually (and often irreversibly) disintegrate.
Fashion doesn’t have to be everyone’s “thing” but when it negatively affects your reputation and upward mobility at work, it’s time to step it up a bit. As a professional woman, you’re already going to have to swim upstream to be successful. Looking polished and professional will make a huge difference in your ability to be effective and taken seriously at the office. Because honestly, if you can’t seem to brush your hair and figure out what reasonably fits you, why should you be trusted to comb through the nuances of much more difficult business decisions?
But don’t despair, I’ve got great news for you: You don’t have to dress like a man or your Aunt Ethel to get ahead.
In this blog, I hope to illustrate that you can have a lot of fun with fashion within the confines of professional appropriateness. If you take a look through the blog, you’ll see that those “confines” lie far beyond the grey pencil skirts and bland black suits you might typically associate with professional wear.
However, there's no hard and fast set of rules that apply across all professions (except, of course, for the Top 10 Cubicle Crimes!). It's critical to be really thoughtful in evaluating your own office environment to determine what is appropriate for you. I try to stay cognizant of the fact that it is impossible to offer a "one style fits all" guide when my readers range from school teachers in Florida to tech entrepreneurs in Tel Aviv to lawyers in New York to fashion merchandisers in Paris. As I’ve gotten to know more of you, I've done my best to offer widely varying ensembles that would "work" in a number of different workplaces—from conservative, to casual, to creative. My goal is to reach more than just those women who find themselves in an office environment identical to my own by offering a depth and breadth of office style options and inspiration that span a multitude of professional settings. So regardless of your particular work environment, I hope you can take away some tidbit of inspiration that helps you face off with your own sartorial challenges.
Thanks for following along!
P.S. A special thanks to my mother—a professional woman who set a flawless and impeccably polished example for me to grow up watching. This is my chance to pay it forward…