Fran Lebowitz in skirts
June 21, 2014 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Looking for websites and books for guidance and encouragement, not just techniques, in professional dress. I am entering a field where the top echelon of business casual seems to be the default setting.

I am a woman in my mid-30s and need to present myself more professionally. Dress, grooming, etc. You name it. My two looks of record are (1) modified Fran Lebowitz and (2) modified Conservative Mennonite. No joke, I look good in the men's shirts and good in the small flower prints--I guess it's the farmwife gene pool. (Far from being contradictory, the old-school country women I know, or knew, dead now, are actually pretty butch in their presentation, relative to the modern office.)

I have no ideological problem with hair, makeup, fancy dresses--I love getting dressed up for a wedding or something--but I do not want to do this every day.

My proportions are pretty standard, so I can wear most clothes off the rack.

I know how to do 95% of the stuff I need to do (e.g., pluck my eyebrows). I got a really fun book ($1.99 at Goodwill) from InStyle magazine--Style 101: What Every Stylish Woman Should Know. To my amusement/chagrin, I already knew most of their advice...I just don't want to do it on a daily basis like I know I must.

On the advice of this very website, I have looked at AcademiChic, Fashion for Nerds, and Already Pretty. These are great sites, but they are too girly for me. I cannot relate.

Does anyone have some less froufrou titles/URLs to suggest? A self-help book starting with "today you will put on mascara!" would be my ideal.

Thank you!
posted by 8603 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Maybe somebody like Alterations Needed? She was the first one I thought of when you said those three were too girly for you. She is petite, so her focus is on that, but she's got a great menswear vibe going.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 10:31 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. You probably don't actually look good in men's shirts, unless you are unusually broad-shouldered and flat-chested. However, you're in luck: women's button down shirts are out there, and will probably be a lot more flattering on you.

2. I don't think "fancy dresses" are on order here. Even the most formal business environment typically has a slightly different aesthetic from what you'd see at a cocktail party.

3. Unless you live in a rural area where Western-style clothing is a big part of the local vernacular, I would stay away from calico. Where are you even getting all these small flower printed masculine styled clothes? Are you Temple Grandin or something?

OK, here is what I'd do if I were you:

A. Get yourself to Gap or Banana Republic or maybe J. Crew or Ann Taylor/LOFT. Pickup some trousers like this, and pair with tops like this. I would go with grey, olive, and navy shades for the pants, so that you don't look too much like a retail worker or waiter. You can definitely do menswear-styled broadcloth shirts if you find nice ones that flatter you. Simple professionally styled skirts could also work, but IMO are not necessary if you don't feel comfortable in them. I'd go for a pencil skirt or maybe a very tailored full skirt, if you go this route.

B. In a more "business formal" environment, you'll want to add a jacket and heels. If it's more business casual, flats (either loafers or ballet flats, I think) and a cardigan or maybe a scarf or necklace will tie the whole thing together. Boots work well with skirts in winter.

C. Keep your hair neatly trimmed, your face groomed (I do lip balm and mascara, YMMV for makeup and face hair grooming; just get it to "groomed", IMO, no need for fancy makeup looks or anything). If you go with a skirt, probably do some kind of leg hair removal, unless it's cold enough where you are to get away with tights year round. Pantyhose may be necessary in a "business formal" environment, if you wear a skirt.

Done and done.

Also, re makeup and knowing how to do stuff, I'm a sucker for the makeup tutorials at, even though they're designed for teenagers. Putting on mascara is putting on mascara, and IMO the makeup looks are way too heavy for what any teenager would ever actually need. Much more in line with what a 40 year old woman would want for a formal business environment. You could probably check out those tutorials and only use half the products they use, and still look very professional.
posted by Sara C. at 10:56 AM on June 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: I mostly wear skirts, but have no problem with pants. I am not Temple Grandin, but she's not too far off.
posted by 8603 at 11:45 AM on June 21, 2014

I know the problem very well.
What I do is spend time and money on my hair. Good hair gives a lot towards a professional style. I pluck my eyebrows, and I make sure my skin is good, but I rarely do anything else. Often I ask the hairdresser to do the eyebrows, it makes them easier to maintain.
I only use a little makeup in the worst part of the winter - a light tinted day-cream, eye-shadow or eye-liner, mascara. All from the Bobbi Brown counter. Sometimes also a light powder from Shiseido. Summer: no make-up.
The women bosses in my organization look like they have similar regimes.
For clothes, good cut is everything. Narrow pants, a crisp white shirt and a beautifully cut jacket is great. I guess you could replace the pants with a skirt. Loafers are good and comfortable - again, buy the best quality you can afford.
I find loose dresses very comfortable (If I could get away with always wearing a lab-coat, I would). They are all almost identical - all black (or dark blue), with pockets for the phone and a pen, and a material and cut that stays cool during long days (depending on the time of year, mixes of wool, linen, viscose). I can wear bare legs and sandals at work, otherwise I guess I'd prefer pants during summer.
My favorite ensemble, but they are hard to find, is a fitted knee-length sleeveless dress with a very light knee-length indoor coat with very big pockets. Those I have are worn to bits, but I am thinking of getting a tailor to make me two new sets.
Normally no jewelry, very light perfume. I don't eat garlic on workdays.

For special occasions, I add a colorful scarf and/or a necklace, earrings, heels, and I make sure my hair-appointments are near these dates.
posted by mumimor at 11:57 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I like Capitol Hill Style. It's not as conservative as Corporette and not as bonkers as Already Pretty
posted by vespabelle at 12:32 PM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You Look Fab has a bit more of a menswear vibe.
Tomboy Style literally does.
Wardrobe Oxygen has some useful info on how to figure out your style and play to your strengths, including some "business casual" capsule wardrobes.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:55 PM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

« Older I'm here to buy shoes; I don't need the extended...   |   Nannies/Caregivers/Families: how do you handle car... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.