Please turn me into a yuppie.
June 20, 2009 1:38 AM   Subscribe

YuppieFilter: I've recently graduated from university and am about to start my first professional job ever. I'm a 25 year-old woman. What the heck do I wear?

I'm going to be teaching this fall, and so far the only thing I know about the dress code is I have to look "professional." No shorts, no jeans, no flip flops, no sleeveless shirts, that sort of thing. Until recently, I was a university student who only worked at jobs that didn't care what I wore as long as I did my work. Right now, I bike to and from my non-professional, wear-what-you-want job, so I typically wear t-shirts and running shorts. In winter, I wear jeans and sweaters with cardigans or hoodies.

This post has a lot of good ideas, but a lot of the suggestions are... well, a little bland to me. I like things that are very girly and classic but not boring, so I think what I'm looking for is more "cute librarian" than "investment banker." So far my top choice is Anthropologie, even though the prices horrify me. Other than that, though, I'm completely stuck.

A little about me: I'm 25, 5'4", and anywhere between a size 6 and a size 10 (US) depending on the brand. I wear plastic cat-eye glasses. My hair is curly and bra-strap length (and no, I won't straighten or cut it; I'm proud of my curls!). I'm shaped like a ruler; there are no curves here. If it matters, I'm white as a ghost with dark blonde/light brown hair, so I look terrible in both white AND black. I have tattoos on both inner arms that need to be covered by sleeves.

Any suggestions? I have no problem shopping online if I have to.

This is my second post, and so far I've only ever asked questions regarding clothes and shoes. I should actually ask something smart next time.
posted by canadia to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I teach, and I find Smoking Lily clothes suit my idea of professional and classroom-appropriate but not boring. I've shopped at one of their brick and mortar locations, but they do have an online store. They've got a lot of sleeveless/short-sleeved stuff right now, but I think that's mostly due to the season. In the fall they'll have more long-sleeved tops. The clothes aren't cheap, but they are not quite Anthropologie prices. They're well-made by local independent designers, so I consider them a good investment, anyway.

I haven't bought clothes from, but I have heard them described as featuring some Anthropologie-ish clothes at less horrifying prices.

I keep my eyes open for well-fitting, well-made, interesting blazers. I have a couple that were kind of expensive but were an excellent investment--cost per wear has ended up very low because I wear them all the time. I find wearing a blazer immediately makes me look more professional and keeps people from mistaking me for a student (it's happening less and less now, but ten years ago when I was your age it happened a lot). If the blazer has an unusual feature--pattern, cut, buttons, fabric--and you're not wearing it with a matchy-matchy bottom, then you won't look like an investment banker.

I also find that wearing a necklace or scarf with an otherwise plain outfit makes me look older and more professional. (Choose wisely with necklaces and scarves though because the wrong ones can make you look dowdy or like a little girl playing dress-up. Ask me how I know.)

For classic work pants, I have the most luck in the Banana Republic petites section, though it is hit and miss from season to season. If I find something basic that fits me, I buy it in a couple of neutral colours (black, brown, grey) because it will not be there the next season and I generally regret it. Mexx is OK but I always need to get Mexx pants hemmed. You might get away without hemming though because you're a couple of inches taller.

Good luck and congratulations on your new teaching job!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:56 AM on June 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

it will not be there the next season and I generally regret it

What I meant was I generally regret it if I *don't* buy it in a few colours.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:58 AM on June 20, 2009

Don't be afraid to get your new clothes altered, either. Find a good tailor/seamstress near you (yelp may be able to help you out). Clothes tailored to your body will make you look more professional and "put together". And it just feels nice!
posted by 6:1 at 3:48 AM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Watch some "What Not to Wear", seriously. That show has been incredibly educational for me, going from jeans-and-tshirts-engineering-student to wow-people-actually-compliment-me-on-fashion. I know I recommend this in practically every women's clothing thread, but honestly it helps you figure out what shapes and colors to look for, and how you can do all this and still keep your own personal touch (so you won't look like an investment banker). I think they post some episodes online still.
posted by olinerd at 5:56 AM on June 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

When I was a teacher, I wore alot of dress pants in various colors - light grey, grey, light brown, tan, brown, black - from places like J. Crew, Express, Banana Republic. Don't have it tight, whatsoever.

My shirts were more eclectic. I usually paired them with a casual jacket - like a dark denim one from Gap or a black cotton army style one from Target. For tops, just make sure when you bend over, you can't see down (regardless of lacking curves) and when you reach up, your midsection isn't exposed. You'll be doing alot of both as a teacher, like writing on the board or picking up something from the ground. I didn't wear as many skirts and dresses as I thought I would because I spent alot of time sitting on the floor with my students - so if you are teaching elementary, keep that in mind.

Shoes were most important to my outfit - must be comfortable - yet not orthopedic! I wore heels alot (BCBG girls and Naturalizers both didn't hurt my feet) but I was the exception not the rule at my school. Alot of the older women did not dress up at my school. They sometimes just wore the adult version of the students' uniform (maroon polo and navy pants). Good luck!
posted by quodlibet at 6:19 AM on June 20, 2009

Women have considerably more latitude than men in what's acceptable professional dress. You could probably even get away with a T-shirt if, say, it's a not exceptionally bright V-neck, paired with professional pants and maybe a sweater.

For stores, I'd get out TJ Maxx (or Ross, or Marshalls). Look for fitted button-downs, polo shirts, slightly dressier tops. Dress pants in dark colors or khaki. Knee-length or longer plain skirts. You can also check places like Target--I just found a whole bunch of passing-for-professional shirts (hard for me, as I have a big tattoo on my chest that I need to cover up) there recently for three bucks each. You definitely don't need to pay Anthropologie prices.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:25 AM on June 20, 2009

I would highly recommend a browse of Academichic, a blog kept by three humanities Ph.D. students in the Midwest. My fellow female academic friends and I are faithful readers. they post outfits nearly every day, and source all of their clothes - so you can see that while occasionally pieces from Anthropologie make it into the rotation, they more often wear clothes from retailers like Old Navy and Forever 21, using accessories and styling to make them look more than basic.

In particular, you might find their Fashion 101 posts useful - although none of them have quite your body type, you might be able to get some basic ideas from their posts on proportion. They even have a tag for teaching outfits.

in terms of where to look for clothes, I have a similar aesthetic and I swear by the sale section in Anthropologie if you have a brick and mortar store nearby. I mix their stuff up with basics from Uniqlo (Japanese equivalent of the Gap) and Target. And recently I've had good luck with clothes from Tulle. I like a lot of the stuff at ModCloth, mentioned above, but have never bought anything there.
posted by dropkick queen at 6:41 AM on June 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Slacks/dress pants.

You will look beautiful and professional in Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, or Ann Taylor Loft. The prices will be better than Anthropologie, and you'll still maintain style. I second the recommendation for J. Crew and Express.

Caveat. I'm a guy. I have lots of shopping experience with women who dress professional.
posted by beingresourceful at 6:47 AM on June 20, 2009

I shop at Smart Set and R&W. They are cheaper than those mentioned above. It shows in the quality sometimes but if you are just starting out, you may need some clothes fast. I am a librarian and I wear skirts, dress pants, blouses and sweaters. I never feel that dressing professionally prevents me from expressing my personality. I have as much fun with my clothes at work as I do with my weekend clothes.
posted by Gor-ella at 6:58 AM on June 20, 2009

Early in my career, a wise person advised me to 'get my colours done'. That is, get a fashion consultant to analyse the colours of your skin, hair, and eyes to see which palette of colours looks best on you. They categorise your colour by 'season' - 'autumn' is brown and gold, 'winter' is black and white, and so on. It may seem like the height of vanity, but there really is a practical advantage - by knowing which colours look good on you, you never waste money buying clothes that don't.

(I took a 1-day class through Learning Annex for less than $50, which was good enough for my purposes. I'm sure there are more expensive and more detailed colour consultants out there.)

Also, The Language of Clothes by Alison Lurie is very insightful about what we "say" when we wear clothes. If nothing else, read the chapters on men's and women's clothes.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:33 AM on June 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

I would advise to hold off on spending a lot of money on new clothing until you get an eyeful of how your coworkers dress. I was told by HR that I had to dress "business professional," which sent me searching AskMe, all "oh my god, do I really have to wear suits? and expensive purses? what?" Then I show up and everyone is wearing black slacks and tops from Wal Mart.

I too, go for the more girly than high-powered professional side of the spectrum, so my daily uniform is dress+cardigan+black tights+ballet flats/heels. Seriously, if you can find 5 versatile dresses you really love to wear, you can change the accessories enough to keep you from dying of boredom.

I try to keep most of my work basics in the De Stijl colors, red, black, and white. Simply because some professional environments frown on bright colors, but those are always kosher. Plus it makes mixing and matching much easier.

The black shirtdress is incredibly versatile. Really comfortable and easy, and it goes with everything. Flourescent yellow! Bright green! Seriously, it's the item in my closet I try not to get dirty so I can wear it more than once between washings, that's how valuable it is to me. BLACK SHIRTDRESS.

Keep an eye out for Liz Claiborne in department stores. I know, it sounds boring, but since Mizrahi took over some of the dresses have been seriously adorable. It's a brand you'll probably be able to find a lot cheaper in stores than online; I think I have a polka dot Liz Claiborne halter dress I got for $20. You've got a few inches on me but if you need petite sizes they have a great line, as well.

If you've got the dosh BCBG is worth a look, as well.

It sounds like Emily of Black Apple's style blog, Some Girls Wander, would be good inspiration for you. She does the soft and girly look with a lot of Anthro and vintage.

Hermspong's wardrobe remix photos are worth a look; she does the cute librarian thing with 99.9% thrifted clothing.

Fashion for Nerds is super cute, too; most "here's what I wore to my office job!" style blogs are boring as hell but this lady is professional while being really quirky and individual. I want to pat her on the head.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:24 AM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding get your colors done. I also did a Learning Annex course, but I've got the books too. Even the one for men, which really has the best color samples, I think.

As Carole Jackson wrote, "the financial benefits [of shopping this way] are dramatic."
posted by jgirl at 8:29 AM on June 20, 2009

I second the idea of taking a good look at your coworkers before you spend a lot of money on clothes.

Also, Nordstorm has a very good career section. They may be expensive, but don't they have a big sale twice a year? Nordstrom Rack is their outlet store. The prices are lower, but you have to spend more time finding the items you like.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:53 AM on June 20, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone! All of these are great ideas. I found a few things from Ann Taylor Loft and J. Crew online that I like, so I may hit the mall in the upcoming weeks. And I love ModCloth!

@Multicellular Exothermic: I've had my colours done before, and I'm an autumn. :)
posted by canadia at 10:26 AM on June 20, 2009

I would also ask your HR dept about any specifics, such as visible tattoos or whatever might apply to you. My agency doesn't permit jeans except on Fridays, but I get to wear them whenever because I do home visits! Sometimes direct questions can save you some embarrassment (I'm not supposed to wear Spandex?!) and also highlight some leeway you might not have known about it.
posted by ShadePlant at 10:32 AM on June 20, 2009

Yes with asking HR. I'd also suggest that you look at what well-regarded women who have been in the job 10 years or longer wear. I don't know what they expect of teachers or where you will be teaching, but you have all my sympathy. I work in a very button-down environment and the female dress code is the bane of my life. (We do not, however, have anything against tattoos or piercings because objecting could be considered discrimination against religion/ethnicity.)

You might also want to think about pockets and not showing your stomach and what that means to you. Most of the stylish clothes for women don't have actual pockets so if you need to run somewhere really quick but have to take your cell-phone and a swipe card and the keys to unlock what you are going for, you'll have to haul a stupid purse or carry stuff in your hands. When you wear a simple, ordinary, fitted shirt with low-rise pants, then you can't reach up to write on the top line of a dry-erase board without flashing your low-back and belly. Same deal if you have to lean over a conference table to point to something on a blueprint. (Unless you are taller than me and you may well be. But I've seen taller women have this problem. And the looks on some people's faces when it happens - as though she could help it.)

It's so much harder on us. And don't get me started on packing for "dressy casual" when you have stops in, say, Orlando and Boston where men can wear any ol' pants and a shirt and women need two entirely different outfits.

I hope you can find some clothes that are both suitable for your job and things you can wear in real life.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:12 AM on June 20, 2009

I think that knowing what grade level you are teaching is a useful metric for suggestions. A kindergarten teacher may need a different wardrobe than a middle-school or high-school teacher. A kindergarten teacher may need clothes that can withstand mishaps, for example.
posted by bz at 11:16 AM on June 20, 2009

Response by poster: I'm going to be teaching young students, elementary to middle school, but not kindergarten.
posted by canadia at 11:46 AM on June 20, 2009

Think about who you are trying to impress. I presume you have a contact for you to discuss preparing the content of your teaching. Ask them about the dress code -- you probably need to pay attention to their prejudices more than to the official code anyway.

Neither you nor most of the commenters above mention the age of the students -- it makes a difference to how floor-friendly and washable your clothes need to be. When I started teaching an elementary school teacher told me "never buy new clothes for teaching". I guess I have broken that rule with a few chainstore basics, but teaching salaries make it sensible to save the expensive purchases for your own time. That goes double for you as it sounds as though you won't wear your teaching clothes outside work.

There are some sensible suggestions upthread. Separates. Plain hard-wearing mid-range chainstore slacks. Comfortable flat or at least flattish shoes. Express your personality a bit more with your tops, but as quodlibet says watch the unprofessional gape when you lean over a student. I like a blazer or other jacket *with pockets*. You don't need a vast range of alternative outfits, especially not to start with, as Juliet Banana says. Then decide how to play it. (Note that if you are ambitious it makes sense to model your personal style on staff one step up, not on what the ditziest young colleague gets away with.)

I don't see anything upthread about what bag to carry. Maybe start with an existing messenger-type and work out what you need. If you have to carry stuff for any distance, I am all for a backpack.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:03 PM on June 20, 2009

Here are my middle school teaching rules (they are at an age when they are obsessed with their changing bodies and will therefore pay a lot of attention to your body, so):

1. No midriffs or cleavage (raise your arms over your head to make sure things stay put) or skirts above the knee.
2. Sleeves long enough that my armpits don't show
3. I never wear jackets because I get too hot and sweaty - I just wear pants/skirt and a blouse or a dress. I bought some jackets but they just hung in my closet.
4. Comfy shoes - you are on your feet all day. Buy quality or they will wear out in a month.
5. It is worth it to spend a bit more money on pants - they get a lot of wear and you want them to last.
posted by mai at 2:21 PM on June 21, 2009

I forgot to add that natural fabrics are a much better bet than synthetics because I tend to sweat quite a bit when I teach and synthetics hold the smell and don't breath as well.
posted by mai at 2:31 PM on June 21, 2009

I'm a little late to the game but no one else mentioned H&M or Zara so I thought I'd throw that in as a suggestion for youthful, versatile business casual/professional that's pretty cheap. Think updated classics like peter pan-collared button down shirts, A-line skirts, and little fitted blazers. I work at a law office and it's always been appropriate.
posted by mishamashes at 4:38 AM on July 29, 2009

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