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And the ugly duckling grew up to be just a really ugly duck.
March 2, 2010 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Wait, grownups aren't supposed to wear torn jeans and ironic t-shirts to work?? Why can't I wear uggs/chucks with my "smart pant suit"? How do adults dress?? (long)

I'm 28, little - 5", slim, with olive skin and I look like crap/a baby! I'm not ugly, but I could use some help in the appearance dept. I never wear makeup and am a little afraid to. The most I've ever done is wear the mineral type make-up because I figured it wasn't something that I could screw up. Any mefites out there who wear hard contacts and eye-makeup? I've always felt like my eyes could be accented but I am afraid to try since I have corrective lenses. I had a bad experience with mascara in high school and never looked back.

As far as clothes go.. I used to dress/shop well but then I became a grad student and was dirt poor. Somewhere I forgot what style is and need help figuring out what it is again. I think I'll need a entirely new wardrobe/make-over. There's a lot of lists of basics that I've seen online that make good sense, so I think I might get a couple of things that I can afford now and try to get the other stuff when the checks come in regularly.. but what should I buy first?

I'd love any recommendations, tips, book/blog suggestions.. I don't have any females in my family to ask. My few girlfriends are pretty much all in the same boat. And my father, bless his heart is no help whatsoever. What do you consider essential? I'll be working in health care and need to dress professionally but I'd still like to look feminine.

OH - What about shoes?! I've never been able to figure out shoes for as long as I've been alive! I will always need to wear closed-toe shoes but what's stylish and professional? (I want to avoid merell and keens at all costs - even *I* think that they're ugly. Sorry to the enthusiasts!!) I currently wear a lot of clogs.

Advice? I know, I'm a disaster. I haven't been out of a lab in awhile and I forget how to dress like normal people as well as how to act like normal people. Apologies. Thank you so much! :D
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Grad student you say? Try academichic. Dressing nice on a grad student budget.
posted by k8t at 8:22 AM on March 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


I didn't wear makeup until I was about 27, and now wear it every day (foundation, blush & lipstick only). It makes me look tons better, and I feel better about myself. Don't see the need for eye makeup, but I wear glasses.

As far as clothes, I ear mostly conservative Old Navy type stuff, with some Urban Outfitters thrown in. Lots of dresses in the summer.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:23 AM on March 2, 2010


For makeup, buy a Kevyn Aucoin book. Even if you don't want to chance mascara, some contouring with eye shadow might be nice.

Slingbacks with a closed toe I find to be a good compromise between professional and fun, but beware of noisy ones (just try them on and walk around the room and listen).

It may seem counter-intuitive, but look for 2 or 3 stylish jackets, blazers, or cardigans. Something you can throw on over a neutral base layer of skirt/pants+shell or a dress for a more work-friendly look. Shopstyle lets you search by size, price, and a host of other categories and includes a lot of the standard "young professional" retail outlets.
posted by amber_dale at 8:39 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, with makeup - go to a makeup counter at a department store, salon or Sephoria and they'll do you up (and try to sell you stuff too.)

But you can ask questions too.
posted by k8t at 8:40 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I asked this question a few months ago and got a ton of helpful and specific answers; you might find some useful tips there.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:57 AM on March 2, 2010


For makeup, you can start small and work your way up. Go to Sephora or Ulta and be honest with the employees, that you are starting from the beginning and don't want to buy a lot of stuff.

Tinted moisturizer would be a good way to get used to putting something on your face. It is very easy to blend in.

Pinch your cheeks to get an idea of what kind of color would look good in a blush or stain. You can get a gel/liquid blush that you can smooth on with your fingers.

Mascara is a little scary, but with practice it does not have to be a disaster. Cover Girl makes great mascaras with all different kind of brushes. You might want to start with brown/black to see if that's dark enough for you. Blot the mascara wand on a tissue and slowly sweep it from the bottom of your lashes to the top. Take your time!

A little bit of lip gloss and your set. It shouldn't take longer than 10 minutes to put it on.
posted by lootie777 at 9:13 AM on March 2, 2010


There's no need to wear make-up if you don't want to. I don't wear make-up the vast majority of the time, and I see no reason why I should change that. If make-up makes you uncomfortable, then don't do it --- but learning how to do it for if you ever want to is probably a good thing. I know how to put make up on and I have a small stock for those times I do choose to wear it (special occasions that have nothing to do with work, mostly).

As for clothes --- basics, basics, basics, basics and you can't really screw it up. Here's what my work wardrobe is in a nutshell:

-Black pants
-Brown pants
-Grey pants
-Black skirt
-Brown skirt
-Grey skirt
-Solid color, long sleeve tops
-Solid color, short sleeve tops
-Brown shoes
-Black shoes
-White socks
-Brown socks
-Black socks
-Brown nylons
-Black nylons

Now, these are just BASICS. These are things that you keep around that allow you throw together a semi-looking decent outfit in five minutes. You can, of course, add from there as you see fit --- patterned tops, patterned skirts, and so on. Patterned skirts with solid tops can look really good together and professional. But I recommend you build up your basics stash and go from there as you develop your own professional style. Having the basics is just a good starting point for that. If you have the basics, which should give you a combination of about 5 - 10 outfits, you'll get a better feel of how you should and would like to dress. You can get these things anywhere, too. Macy's, Sears, JC Penney's, TJ MAX, wherever. I'm a big fan of the "Apostrophe" line at Sears right now because they have these nice long sleeve stretch tops that are both professional with the right pants, but nice and casual when worn with jeans. Plus the comfort! Oh, comfort!!

I don't need to wear suits in my job, so I only have one suit at the moment. I think most people tend to have one to three suits, unless their jobs particularly require regular suit wearing. So investing in at least one good suit that is tailored to fit properly is also a really good idea.
posted by zizzle at 9:17 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


For petite women, Ann Taylor is a godsend (I'm assuming you are in the US?). Good quality, classic clothes at reasonable prices that fit right. Just walk in there and tell them you need help picking out professional clothes. You can do this in any higher-end clothing or department store. Of course they're going to try and sell you more stuff than you need, but they're not going to sell you stuff that looks bad, and you can always say no. You can also tell them your budget up front. I think this approach works better than asking people on the internet that can't tell which colors work with your skin tone & hair, what fits right, etc. Not that this isn't a good question - you need a starting point - but this is what I'd recommend doing.
posted by desjardins at 9:18 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, instead of getting brown/black/gray everything, I'd suggest picking one color palette (brown/navy or black/gray) and then building off that. Easier to match.
posted by dame at 9:31 AM on March 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


I started work a few months back and invested a bit on my wardrobe, but I think it's been worth it.

Clothes
I built my initial wardrobe on the following and it works well for me. I paid attention to sales and what not, so I ended up with a good basic wardrobe without paying full retail price. These places will also offer petite sizes, which will fit your frame.
3 pencil skirts/pants - Wool, Banana Republic. The Gap company often has 20-25% off sales online, so sign up for the e-newsletters. Wool doesn't wrinkle easily and looks good. However, the sizing is always off so you sure make sure what your size is by trying stuff on at the bricks and mortar store.
2-3 dresses - Wool blend. I bought mine at BR. I like J Crew, but that's still too rich for my blood.
3-4 camisoles - I bought some sleeveless tanks at Anne Taylor for $20 each. I balk normally at paying more than $10, but these work well under suits, jackets, or cardigans.
2 black cardigans
2-3 cardigans of any other colors - I prefer grey, navy, and then some random color/print. J Crew has some nice cardigans, but I only buy those when they're on sale.

To me, accessories help. I will wear a few things again in one work week, but I will mix it up with chunky necklaces. Try Etsy for unique and cute stuff.

Shoes
This is hard! If you have a DSW near you, I suggest going and trying out shoes. Find a black pump with a low heel and a pair of black flats to start. It will be hard, but try to avoid anything cute or quirky; go boring. This will help establish your work shoe selection, adn then you can branch out later. Remember you can always add an insole if the flats are too flat in the arch. LifeStride is a brand at DSW that offers a lot of old lady styles, but I found a pair of flats with a 1" wedge that work really well. The model is called "Meg." It was about $40 and I highly recommend these.

Personally, I went with dark grey shoes first, since I find black shoes easily look cheap if they're inexpensive.

Other brands that are reasonable and comfortable for work are Seychelles and Me Too. I never buy shoes from Target for work, no matter how cute. They get old-looking fast in a few weeks. Piperlime.com seems to have a nicely edited selection and stuff goes on sale relatively quickly.

Makeup
I didn't wear makeup or think about it until I started working in the real world, starting a few months ago.

Basics
I want makeup to make me look natural, and I want to put it on in the morning and forget about it. Granted, I still don't wear it everyday but this is what I do when I do wear some.
Btw, skin care is first and foremost. Gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen go a long way.

Eyes - Eyelids get greasy so I use Urban Decay Eyeshadow Potion Primer. A thin swipe on the eyelids, and then I can use almost any eyeshadow. I tend to do a swipe of something beige and vaguely shimmery. Lasts all day long, which is surprising for me!
Eyelash curler - Shu Uema - and Clinique Curling High Impact mascara (or something like that). This comes off with warm water, and stays on all day as well. This is rare for me, since everything else I've tried flakes off and makes me look like a racoon.
I have also been experimenting with Benefit Eye Bright, which you apply on the inner and outter corners of the eyes. Since I work long hours, this helps make me look less tired. I usually apply an eye cream - the cheapest I can get - before putting this on.

Lips - Korres Poemgranate Lip Butter imparts a hint of color and works as a lip balm. A little sticky going on but it's awesome and subtle. I also like the Cover Girl Lip Stain Markers under some Vaseline.

Face
I have some blotting powder from MAC to hide the shine. I'm interested in a tinted moisturizer to even out the skin tone - Clinique Almost Makeup looks good - but I haven't really gone this route since I'm lazy and my skin looks ok.

BTW, if you really like some of the higher end stuff after trying it, sign up for the Sephora e-newsletter and become a Beauty Insider. They have store-wide sales once in a while, which is when I stock up (and buy Xmas gifts for female relatives).

Also, try looking at Corporette.com. Geared mainly for female lawyers and financiers so the dress code is way conservative, but I've gotten a lot of decent advice from there.
posted by mlo at 9:35 AM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Seconding the academichic recommendation. Already Pretty can also be a useful blog for recommendations in developing a sense of style that works for you, even if you don't share the blog author's tastes.

My skin tone is very different from yours, so I can't give you any specific makeup recommendations. I usually shop at Ulta for my makeup because it's cheaper than Sephora, and I usually wear mineral makeup too because I find it easy to put on, cost-effective, subtle, and it doesn't bother my skin (Bare Escentuals and Pur Minerals are two brands that I would recommend). If you want a bit more dramatic of a look, there are some techniques that you can use with mineral makeup (using an eyeliner brush and a dark shadow works wonders, so does using various different techniques and different-colored shadows for eye makeup -- again, the makeup artists at the counter can show you how and what to use). There are mascaras that are safe for some contacts, but I would ask an optician for a recommendation. But you don't necessarily need mascara to accent your eyes.

Getting your eyebrows waxed can also make a huge difference in the appearance of your eyes and face, giving you a more polished look. Use words like "conservative" and "natural look" and "as little eyebrow removed as possible" when speaking with the waxer, in order to ensure that you end up with a natural-looking browline and not a weird little skinny line of eyebrow. In most areas, it costs about $10-$20 to have your eyebrows waxed. It doesn't hurt as much as you think it will, and you can maintain it at home with tweezers once you have someone experienced remove the hairs that need to be gone.

With both clothes and shoes, I would recommend forming the base of your wardrobe on clothes and shoes that are classic styles (not super-trendy, never really go out of fashion). If you're planning on working as a postdoc, a professor, or anything still related to research and/or teaching, I would buy shoes that are mostly either flats or low-to-mid-heels at the highest. I find that I can always find a footwear choice that works with my outfit if I have a pair of black boots, a pair of brown boots, a pair of comfortable mid-heeled pumps (black, conservatively styled with a toe that isn't super round or sharply pointed, maybe a 2" heel), and a pair each of brown and black flats. I spent maybe $50-$100 on these shoes, because I intend for them to last years. I have a few pairs of cute metallic and/or brightly colored ballet flats, but I usually get those from Target for less than $20. I mostly get my shoes from places like DSW, and I'm a huge fan of clearance sections in general.

In terms of other clothes, you are probably going to want to stick with tailored and relatively slim-fitting silhouettes. Slim, petite women often look like they're getting swallowed up by their clothes if they wear voluminous tops and/or wide-legged pants. Similarly, you might want to avoid a lot of embellishments like ruffles on your clothing -- if you're very petite, it might be too reminiscent of a little girl's clothing and undermine the image you want to project. You will probably also want to avoid enormous-sized prints. And when you shop for cardigans, jackets, and blazers, don't buy anything that is baggy, slouchy, or too long -- it will be more flattering to pair a short jacket with long pants.

I would suggest buying nice basic wardrobe items, one at a time, from places like J. Crew, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor/Ann Taylor Loft. I usually get pants and stuff like interview suits from J. Crew -- their prices are higher than grad-student me wants to pay, but they are good quality (Ann Taylor has recently been selling a lot of polyester-blend pants and suits, which just don't look or feel as nice as 100% wool; J. Crew has some pretty nice fabrics in a lot of their dress pants). Plus, as long as you're a student or a teacher, you get a 15% discount.

Look at what the other women in your field are wearing, and cue your wardrobe choices to them. You don't need to slavishly copy their styles (that would be creepy and weird), but you can get a good idea of what clothing items are appropriate from looking at your co-workers (e.g. silk shells vs. fitted cotton tees as a base layer, jacket/blazer vs. cardigan). Usually you can start out with a couple pairs of pants and/or skirts, a few different shells and/or fitted tees, and some different-colored cardigans to layer over them.
posted by kataclysm at 9:39 AM on March 2, 2010


When I think about fashion, I find it very helpful to revisit some of the wisdom given by Emily Post in her opus: Etiquette (1922). In that tome, she describes (with some colorful language) the different fashion consumers we see wandering among us every day. The relevant sections are quoted below.
THE SHEEP

Frumps are not very typical of America, vulgarians are somewhat more numerous, but the greatest number of all are the quietly dressed, unnoticeable men and women who make up the representative backbone in every city; who buy good clothes but not more than they need, and whose ambition is merely to be well enough dressed to fit in with their background, whatever their background may be.

Less numerous, but far more conspicuous, are the dressed-to-the-minute women who, like sheep exactly, follow every turn of latest fashion blindly and without the slightest sense of distance or direction. As each new season’s fashion is defined, all the sheep run and dress themselves each in a replica of the other, their own types and personalities have nothing to do with the case. Fashion says: “Wear bolster cases tied at the neck and ankle,” or “A few wisps of gauze held in place with court plaster,” and daughter, mother, grandmother, and all the neighbors wear the same. If emerald green is the fashionable color, all of the yellowest skins will be framed in it. When hobble skirts are the thing, the fattest wabble along, looking for all the world like chandeliers tied up in mosquito netting. If ball dresses are cut to the last limit of daring, the ample billows of the fat will vie blandly with the marvels of anatomy exhibited by the thin. Comfort, convenience, becomingness, adaptability, beauty are of no importance. Fashion is followed to the letter—therefore they fancy, poor sheep, they are the last word in smartness. Those whom the fashion suits are “smart,” but they are seldom, if ever, distinguished, because—they are all precisely alike.

THE WOMAN WHO IS REALLY CHIC

The woman who is chic is always a little different. Not different in being behind fashion, but always slightly apart from it. “Chic” is a borrowed adjective, but there is no English word to take the place of “elegant” which was destroyed utterly by the reporter or practical joker who said “elegant dresses,” and yet there is no synonym that will express the individuality of beautiful taste combined with personal dignity and grace which gives to a perfect costume an inimitable air of distinction. Une dame élégante is all of that! And Mrs. Oldname is just such a person. She follows fashion merely so far as is absolutely necessary. She gets the latest model perhaps, but has it adapted to her own type, so that she has just that distinction of appearance that the sheep lack. She has even clung with slight modifications to the “Worth” ball dress, and her “wrapped” or fitted bodice has continued to look the smartest in every ballroom in spite of the Greek drapery and one-piece meal bag and all the other kaleidoscopic changes of fashion the rest of us have been through.

But the average would-be independent who determines to stand her ground, saying, “These new models are preposterous! I shall wear nothing of the sort!” and keeps her word, soon finds herself not at all an example of dignity but an object of derision.
I think Emily has included in these passages some of the best fashion wisdom every given. First off: you don't have to look like something off of The Sartorialist to look good. You don't have to even own anything that is "this season" in order to be fashionable. To Emily - and to me - the goal is to be chic. And as truly defined, a chic person is one who has developed (often through trial and error!) a personal style which fits them: budget, surrounding, and personality. Do not permit yourself to be blinded or distracted by The Sheep. Do not follow every turn of fashion blindly (in a later edition, Emily refers to this as "at breakneck speed") merely to attempt to stay on top of things. In order to truly develop your own personal brand of "chic," you need to spend some time thinking about what works for you and what doesn't. You've already started this - by noting your complexion and your height, two qualities that will be guaranteed to work into your ultimate personal image.

If I were you, I would make an adventure of it. I would consider myself a clean slate and begin to imagine an idealized self. Is there any specific cut that you've found particularly flattering? Do you have a favorite color? Is there any reason you've been gravitating toward jeans and ironic tees? (Or is that merely the entropy of graduate school that can be dismissed quickly and easily?) Then I would make a trip out into the world with the absolute express condition that I not buy anything on this trip. I would try everything on. I would test different styles, I would try on different looks - EVEN AND ESPECIALLY ones that I might be ready to reject out of hand. And I would take actual physical notes. "Peasant tops make me feel whimsical. Empire waist makes me look pregnant. Ballet flats not professional enough. Tall necks for formal occasions make me feel like Maleficent. I look sick when I wear yellow. Argyle as a detail, never as a primary pattern. Whoever said orange was the new pink was seriously disturbed." And so on and so on and so on. Just remember that EVERY article of clothing will tell you something when you put it on. And whatever it tells you will help you ultimately develop your own sense of style.

Good luck!
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:40 AM on March 2, 2010 [23 favorites]


makeup - go to Sephora.

i took a friend of mine because she NEVER wore makeup, didn't even own any and was getting married. she is super pale and i knew that if she didn't at least have on mascara for her blond eyelashes, we'd never see her in the pictures!!!

they dolled her up really well and showed her how to do everything, even gave her a handy written directions sheet.

she has very sensitive skin and the makeup person used Tarte on her.
it's all tree-huggy goodness. i ended up getting my makeup done as well and bought a whole bunch of stuff.

it is without a doubt the BEST foundation i have ever used in my life. it doesn't feel heavy or even like i'm wearing anything - doesn't look like it either. i've been a makeup junkie for years and just decided that spending some dough to have the good stuff was better than spending lots of crappy stuff.

i wear makeup like once a month, but i'd rather look good when i do than look like i ransacked my big sister's makeup bag!
posted by sio42 at 9:44 AM on March 2, 2010


I wish I could favorite greekphilosophy's advice multiple times. That is really good advice right there.
posted by kataclysm at 9:46 AM on March 2, 2010


greekphilosophy nailed it. Wear what you're comfortable in. Not in a "sweatpants" sort of way, but in the way that makes you feel like the most awesome, confident version of you. Get creative— wrap a skinny belt around your wrist and voila! A bracelet. Things like that. Have fun!

Here's "me," but maybe you can explore outward from these places:

Make-up:

Foundation: BeneFit Cosmetics' Playsticks. Seriously fool-proof. Just smear the tube's contents all over your face and blend. You could do it in the dark, really.

Cheek color: BeneFit's BeneTint. It's a REALLY red liquid, so it seems scary, but you'll get the hang of it, like putting in contacts for the first time. Just take out the wand/brush and make a big X on the apple of your cheek and pat it in with your middle finger and ring finger. Work quick, though, because it is a stain. Which means it'll last all day. Yay.

Mascara:Maybelline Define-a-Lash. Don't bother with the expensive stuff; there's really no difference. Define-a-Lash, however, is the best I've ever found. It really does make a remarkable difference. The best way I've found to do mascara is to wipe off the very end of the wand and pull it through every.single.follicle. Oh, and it doesn't bother my contacts.

Clothes:

Shoes: I'm a big fan of the classic black flats. You can throw them on with nearly anything, from slim leg jeans to wide sailor slacks or dresses.

Jackets: The one-button is trendy right now, but it's something that will never really "go out of style." I recommend these. Pair it with a nicely cut white button-up and roll up the sleeves to show the lining. Also, trench coats are always awesome.

Pants: I like the wider leg variety. (I live in Williamsburg and am vastly sick of skinny jeans.) However, since you're itty-bitty, proceed to the wide-leg with caution. My petite-er friends swear by leggings and slight boot-cuts.

Tops: Generally, I stick to black, white, grey. Because it's easy. But there's a lot you can do with the details. Some nice, interesting stitching can go a long way.

Actually, for work stuff, I just head over to Club Monaco, shut my eyes and start pointing. It always comes out great.

Hope this helps! :)
posted by functionequalsform at 9:54 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Remember that whatever look you choose will set the bar on what your appearance is expected to be every day. If you start waxing your eyebrows, people will notice when you stop. Don't do that unless you really want to. If people get used to you with a full face of makeup, especially heavy eyeliner, you'll look especially plain any day you do not wear that makeup. So really only do what you are willing to do on a daily basis. Like zizzle, I only wear a noticeable amount of makeup on special occasions. Otherwise I just wear powder to control facial shininess, and occasionally foundation if I've got some blemishes, and perhaps lipstick if I'm feeling saucy.

I'm your height and also went from a rather slovenly work environment to trendy business casual. It's definitely a culture shock, but it is a relief once you get a couple solid weeks of work clothes in your wardrobe, stuff you can mix and match, and shoes you don't mind wearing every day. I was able to get some decent stuff at New York & Company and Ann Taylor, and Ann Taylor Loft. Shoes I got from the comfort shoes department at Macy's.

As for clogs, I think they look terrible on me, but there are some by Dansko that seem to have a relatively professional look, depending on how business casual/formal your workplace is.
posted by wondermouse at 10:18 AM on March 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


The one revelation that has really helped my pull my work clothing scheme together is concentrating on neutrals, with a few colors in particular that I love and that I know look great on me. So my pants/skirts are all gray/brown/black/dark denim, and my tops are pretty much all white, black, brown, gray, coral pink, red, or blue. I have sweaters in all of the aforementioned neutral colors too. This way, I don't have a random yellow shirt that doesn't really look good with anything else (so that I think I need to buy something else to go with the one shirt, which makes no sense). Everything is more or less mix-and-matchable along the lines of color.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:24 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


My cousin and I- two middle-aged women who don't wear makeup- went to Sephora. My cousin needed a bit of something so she wouldn't look totally washed out up on a stage.
She ended up spending $600.+. I'm mentioning this to warn you. Set a dollar limit, and stick to it.
posted by mareli at 10:41 AM on March 2, 2010


I'd actually argue against Sephora. I got into make-up when I was around 16, after years of being a dedicated tomboy. Sephora--and other makeup counters with overeager employees--have always struck me as really, really intimidating.

(and, as mareli says, expensive.)

Instead, I'd suggest that you just go to CVS or another drug store and walk around and pick up a few basics in colors you're excited about. Heck, if you don't even want to do that, you can order NYX makeup online. I'd start with the following:

-Eyeliner in black or brown
-Mascara, ditto
-Three or four lipsticks
-Three or four eyeshadows (get one of those quad packs if you want something easier)
-Face powder (I use a translucent one)

And . . . that's probably it. I haven't worn foundation since I was in the school play when I was a kid. No one has ever commented or noticed.

You might also pick up a few teen magazines. Embarrassing, I know, but they usually contain tutorials on things like putting on make-up correctly.

And be patient with yourself! People aren't born knowing these things.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:16 AM on March 2, 2010


Oh, and just a note about eyeliner: get stick/pencil eyeliner, not the liquid stuff. Can't tell you how many times I've poked myself in the eye with liquid eyeliner brushes.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:17 AM on March 2, 2010


Personally, I don't think foundation is very necessary...I always wear makeup, but it's usually mascara and something on my eyebrows, sometimes concealer. Always, always sunscreen! And yes, Sephora or department store makeup counters can teach you some basics. Then you can go home and wash your face, and pick & choose what you like. Don't let them coerce you into buying everything!

I know you didn't mention hair, but it seems like, for most women, a good haircut can go a long way to making you feel polished. But since I have crazy curly hair, I usually just cut my own and stick with the hair products I know work.

I'm a librarian, a field in which the dress code is a little more forgiving. But closed-toe shoes: flats usually count, and Target and payless have very cute ones. In the winter: boots, boots, boots! I usually get fake leather, flat boots for very cheap prices at TJ Maxx, DSW, or online shoe retailers.

For outfits, I start with something I really love, like a blouse, dress or skirt in a floral pattern, and add plain-colored separates: shirts, cardigans, tights, and/or dress pants (the Gap has semi-affordable trousers for a variety of sizes). I also buy lots of cheap scarves, necklaces, and bracelets to make boring outfits more exciting.

My suggestion is to look at some fashion blogs to get an idea of what style you like! I read:

academichic
clothedmuch
liebemarlenevintage
keikolynn
orchidgrey
somegirlswander
whatiwore

And weardrobe.
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 11:17 AM on March 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Remember that whatever look you choose will set the bar on what your appearance is expected to be every day. If you start waxing your eyebrows, people will notice when you stop. Don't do that unless you really want to. If people get used to you with a full face of makeup, especially heavy eyeliner, you'll look especially plain any day you do not wear that makeup.

This. Unless you enjoy people asking you if you're sick when you really just slept in and didn't do your face.

One thing to keep in mind: well fitting pants for shorties can be hard to find. Do the thing where you try on eighty gajillion pieces of clothing, but when you find Your Pants, the ones that make you look professional but are still cute and well-fitted ... buy like at least two extra pairs. Different colors, same color, whatever. Because they may quit making Your Pants (looking at you, J. Crew) and then you're stuck looking for the new Your Pants, and most of them time your pants are just a neutral base for a fun top, so nobody's going to care if they're the same relatively unremarkable style.

And buy wool where possible. You don't have to get wool slacks or sweaters dry cleaned nearly as much as you think, but polyester blends hold sweaty odors and will, perversely, need more cleaning.
posted by amber_dale at 11:50 AM on March 2, 2010


For some long term advice (because you will get a LOT if you ask for specifics):

1. Start looking at magazines. They can be store magazines to fashion magazines. Just look at the styles presented, how they put their clothes together. Look at them critically. The more you do this the more you will realize what "goes together" and what you like.

2. Look at other women. If you see a woman on the street and think "wow, she looks so professional!" take mental notes on what she is wearing, how her hair is, what shoes she is wearing, what accessories. Remember this and next time you see it in a store, buy it.

3. Build your wardrobe slowly. To start off, if you are completely lost, I'd say pick one or two stores with styles you admire and then buy what they sell. If you are considering the myriad of clothing options and styles out there you will never even get started.

4. Re makeup, I agree to start small. My order of progression was foundation (because bad teenage skin creates an obvious need!), eyebrows (threading/waxing and then darkening with pencil), light blush (because its nice to look younger rather than a ghost). I would say the most minor thing that makes the most impact is - eyebrows. Get them professionally done. Looking professional = being groomed well. This means clean, short nails, well-maintained hair, groomed eyebrows.

5. TAKE RISKS. I cannot emphasize this enough. In order to get off the ground, you must start getting comfortable with seeing yourself as you have never looked before. Wear what people are wearing - you will find yourself looking weird or feeling uncomfortable, but more than likely, no one else will. And eventually you will grow accustomed to your new, beautiful self, and develop a greater sense of aesthetic and style. :) It is a process. good luck!!
posted by pinksoftsoap at 12:06 PM on March 2, 2010


Go visit Sephora, explain that you would like to try a very light use of makeup, and that you will not be buying any product until you've tried a few different looks. Don't get bullied into buying cleanser, toner, lotion, and another 75 worth of stuff. Visit a coupe of times, see what you like, and see what your friends say. What you want is for them to say "You look nice today, did you just get back from a vacation??" when it's really the subtle makeup.

Look at the people around you and when you see somebody who looks great, try to replicate 1 outfit at a time. Like others, I wear gray, black and olive, with the occasional bright tshirt, or great scarf. But you might look good in colors, so try stuff on; see what looks good to you.
posted by theora55 at 12:31 PM on March 2, 2010


If people get used to you with a full face of makeup, especially heavy eyeliner, you'll look especially plain any day you do not wear that makeup. So really only do what you are willing to do on a daily basis. Like zizzle, I only wear a noticeable amount of makeup on special occasions. Otherwise I just wear powder to control facial shininess, and occasionally foundation if I've got some blemishes, and perhaps lipstick if I'm feeling saucy.

I cannot second this enough. I have friends that have developed real complexes about going outside without makeup, they won't even go to the 7-11 without their makeup on, and I think that is a really limiting way to live your life. You do not need mascara, blush, eyeliner, lipstick, concealer, etc, in your day to day life unless you absolutely want to. I loovee to wear ridiculous full metal makeup when I go out, and that is a really fun thing to learn how to do, but it is much different than wearing a lot of makeup every day for work.
I would bet if you asked every woman to name the two things she would prefer to be wearing above all else, you would get foundation/tinted moisturizer from almost everyone, and then something random: for me, it is eyebrow gel because my natural eyebrow color is slightly too dark for my hair. For many it is mascara. For some it would be lipstick. Pick your battles wisely, it's one thing to look "chic", it's another thing to spend two hours getting ready in the morning.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:54 PM on March 2, 2010


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