New job, new wardrobe
June 3, 2014 5:22 PM   Subscribe

- About 1/3 of my job will involve meeting with clients in their home environment, which is mostly going to be a shelter, SRO, transitional housing unit, or the street.
- Another 1/3 or so will be located at a hospital and in local clinics, meeting with physicians and social workers, and accompanying clients to appointments.
-The final 3rd or so of my job I will be sitting at a desk in a large, shared office, in a department that expects a business casual dress (although tolerates a diverse range of expression of business casual).
- Also, I'm a butch (masculine) woman.
What should I wear?

Style is boy clothes but somewhat limited by I'm 5'3", roughly a "Small" in mens or "Medium" in women's. Arms are short for men's dress shirts but that's what I mostly wear.

Style is flexible but enjoy a vintagey flavor. Really though, I want something that is tough enough to occasionally hang out under freeway overpasses, not so fancy as to be intimidating to homeless people, but not so casual as to seem disrespectful or shlubby around the office.

I am not rich.

I really prefer to buy used, so if you can suggest types of clothes that might work, or give me online links for used, that's great. But reality being reality, I know I need to buy some new stuff, so if you can point me to specific brands or items, that's also great.

I'm particularly confused about shoes.
posted by latkes to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you a Case Manager? It might be helpful to know what area you're in as acceptable dress can vary a lot regionally. Here in the mid-Atlantic I see most social workers wearing what amounts to 'nice casual' - e.g. dark jeans, shirt and cardigan or jacket. Hospitals and clinics are pretty tolerant of casual dress as long as you're fairly clean and neat. As far as footwear is concerned, I'd get the kind of 'work shoes' you see waiters and other service professionals wearing - black and unobtrusively styled with sturdy soles, something that can pass as dressy while being practical and comfortable.

Congratulations on the new job!
posted by arrmatie at 5:43 PM on June 3, 2014

I'm very similar to a case manager, only I'm a nurse with a slightly different title. It's weird, when I was working on the floors I saw occasional ancillary staff in jeans, but the actual physical office I'm in is mostly admins so think nice pants and shirt but no tie, some ladies in suits.
posted by latkes at 5:48 PM on June 3, 2014

In SF Bay Area, with the weather and dress code that suggests, except maybe a little dressier.
posted by latkes at 5:48 PM on June 3, 2014

Nice dark jeans or cinos/khakis/corduroys/trousers, a shirt with a collar, and maybe a cardigan or pullover and/or a jacket as needed.

Shoes are up to you, but I think shoes are sort of key to dressing up or down this look. It may depend on the client but on field days, sneakers (not necessarily runners, but maybe nicer sneakers or casual shoes) and on office days, actual shoes. I would err on the side of dressy, yet sturdy and comfortable. Oxfords or loafers that you could wear all day are ideal.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:16 PM on June 3, 2014

Chinos and polos. Easy, comfy, unisex. I'd go for style in AMAZING kicks. But loafers will work too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:22 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had a lot of jobs that required me to be on my feet all day, traveling to a variety of strange places, bending and running and whatever, but that also required me to dress "business casual" (sigh). My preferred solution has been hiking shoes in brown or black. My last two pairs have been Keens; these are my current pair. They're not cheap but they last forever (I just bought these, and I bought the last pair in 2006), and they look much nicer than sneakers while being equally practical.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:33 PM on June 3, 2014

I'd feel fine skewing toward more casual since it sounds like 50%+ of your work time will be in the field with clients. A more casual, yet clean and put-together look will help you seem more approachable. No way on suits/heels and the like.

I'd go for dark jeans of a completely uniform wash (no whiskering or off fade marks), black slacks and menswear-styled shirts with vests or light jackets. I really also like scarves to make a casual look appear more put-together. You can go more menswear with those as well with choices that are more neutral and maybe wool rather than silk.

For shoes, I'd pick upscale sneakers in non-flashy colors, Doc Martens or similar if they fit your feet well, Fluevogs, or Dansko clogs. But, any non-flashy, non-high-heeled shoe or boot should be fine. There's more freedom in your shoes than you would think. People appreciate a bit of a funky shoe in my experience.

As long as you're not a wrinkled, stained, threadbare mess, you'll be fine. A good bag, polished shoes, and some accessories of your choice will level-up your look. I'd bet that a lot of your current clothing will also work.
posted by quince at 6:44 PM on June 3, 2014

I do similar work, and have gotten a lot of use out of my driving mocs (similar to these). They're comfortable, good for walking, and dressier than sneakers.

I've found it important to have clothing that I can put through a hot wash and dryer because of occasional exposure to bedbugs in homes. I have these khakis, which are very comfortable and work for both the office and outreach work. I'm also 5'3" and the petite length fits me.
posted by summit at 9:19 PM on June 3, 2014

if you want to make an investment in shoes try the nifty interesting colors in men's cole haan shoes, some of which also have a nike air insole for when you are walking around meeting people at their homes or in public and your feet might get tired. or you can check out the women's oxfords they sell (which have a more masculine style but are easier to find in smaller sizes, i don't know how big your feet are).

seconding the chino + polo uniform, or dark high quality jeans in a plain wash without marks/accents. i tend to favor jcrew sales or the jcrew factory site for jeans because they fit my particular body type well and they always seem to have something in stock that's got a plain wash and a classic look, instead of trendy, regardless of what season it is.
posted by zdravo at 3:17 AM on June 4, 2014

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