Dressing for success, special snowflake style
March 5, 2015 11:29 AM   Subscribe

I just started a better job in a new office and it is becoming apparent to me that I need to up my game, wardrobe-wise. Corduroys/chinos and knit shirts aren't doing it anymore. There are a few things about me that make this slightly complicated.

First, I'm really small. A little shy of 5'0", around 95 lbs. But I'm all legs and arms. My torso is really short, so tucked-in shirts don't look good on me. Also, because of scoliosis, my shoulders are very rounded. This makes structured jackets look really awkward. My chest is not a factor in fitting clothing as it is not noticeable except in very tight clothing that would be inappropriate for work anyway.

Second - and very importantly - I do not want to wear anything feminine. Skirts, heels, blouses, are not an option. I really like the dapper/butch styles out there (examples: dapperQ) but suits and vests are overkill for the workplace. I am not specifically trying to pass as male but I don't care if anyone does have that perception. I keep my hair short and don't wear makeup or jewelry. However, because of my size I realize that men's clothes won't fit me. Because I have long arms, boys' long-sleeved shirts usually don't fit me. (I do wear boys' t-shirts and polos, generally size 12 or 14.)

I'm mostly looking for advice on tops; pants are pretty easy for me to find. To give you a sense of the work culture: many of the women here wear skirts and heels, and the ones that don't tend to wear finer fabrics. Most of the men wear dress pants and button down shirts. Sometimes v-neck sweaters with dress shirts underneath. (Almost none of the men wear ties or suits.)

- Looking for shirts/sweaters etc for professional workplace
- Prefer stuff I can layer because I'm always cold in offices
- Women's sizes XS or 0-2, boys' sizes 12 or 14.
- Nothing feminine
- Nothing that emphasizes my short torso or rounded shoulders
- I'm in Milwaukee but I'm fine with going to Chicago for a day
posted by desjardins to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and despite my mention of "butch" in the post, I'd say my desired aesthetic is more "preppy gay dude" than "butch woman."
posted by desjardins at 11:31 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you tried StitchFix? They've done a very good job of putting together stuff I can wear in a professional setting that also fits, strangely, better than stuff i shop for and get in person. And I gave them notes (not this or that, would like it like this style) and they've followed them incredibly well.
posted by discopolo at 11:58 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a different style esthetic than you do, but I am petite (5'2"), short-waisted and long-limbed. I find that tucking does not work because it really emphasizes my short torso (and makes me look like my boobs are sitting right on top of my stomach!).

First of all, be sure that whatever undergarments you wear are well-fitted - this is vital for the short-torsoed. If you wear a bra, the right, well-fitting one can do a lot to make your waist look longer and your clothes fit better.

Tucking in shirts or blouses is usually a bad idea for the short-waisted unless your top and pants blend (a black top and black pants, or medium-blue top and navy pants, for instance). A tucked-in, contrasting top will emphasize your proportions. So look for tops that don't have to be tucked in. Can you wear a shirt that skims - but does not hug - your torso and comes down to your hips? Are there tunic tops you like?
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:00 PM on March 5, 2015

Also, the stylists will look at your Pinterest board and take a look at what you like. Like I said, I was really surprised that they put together skirts and blouses and cardigans and sweaters that somehow I could never and would never have bought because, as much as I love pretty clothes, I want them to be comfy, and I never seemed to fall in love with anything on those excruciating shopping trips.

You can literally link them to dapper site and show them what you're looking for.
posted by discopolo at 12:01 PM on March 5, 2015

How about just modelling your look on the button down layered with v-neck sweater look that the men in your office are doing? You could look for boys' (or small women's) button-down shirts that are shortsleeved, so as to avoid the issue of sleeve length....basically this will be like a polo shirt but with a nicer fabric. I hear you on not liking how tucked in shirts look, but since the tucked part would be hidden by the bottom of the sweater, it seems like this could work. You could also look for sweaters that don't need a shirt underneath -- although some of these styles are pretty feminine, I think you could probably find some that work...basically looking for sweaters in more masculine colors without a bunch of delicate details (perhaps something along this line: http://bananarepublic.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=77996&vid=1&pid=288245022).
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:03 PM on March 5, 2015

Maybe you remember this Ask question that you helped answer.....I got a couple XS Women's Duluth Trading shirts that are GREAT, not femme at all, sleeves are the perfect length, they're warm and built like iron. They're not fitted at all, which is great for disguising my chest but may make them too baggy on you (I'm only a little taller than you, but I'm a little bigger-framed and a lot heavier).

My friend thrifted a women's (I think) Dickies button-up flannel in small for me, and think that one would be a great fit for you. A little thinner fabric, a little more fitted than the Duluth Trading shirts.

To be business-like, either one *should be* tucked in but I hate tucking in shirts so I layer a sweater over to hide the shirt ends.

I know we all hate them, but American Apparel's kids clothing is just sized-down adult clothing, and includes hella sweaters.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:11 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thinking about some of my favorite non-jacket menswear: additional options for over the button-down shirts: Shawl-necked sweaters? A "professor" cardigan with leather elbow patches?

This gets trickier in the summer without tucking in shirts, though. Would Breton tops be too casual, or look too feminine for you? (It's funny since they're totally gender-neutral, but the bateau neckline does look pretty feminine on me....)
posted by chocotaco at 12:16 PM on March 5, 2015

Sweater vests could be a good option. Women's sweater vests are generally cut differently from men's (deeper v-neck, among other subtle things) so if the ones from the womens department don't feel right to you, the ones from the boys' department might work.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:29 PM on March 5, 2015

Best answer: Also have rounded shoulders and am preppy...hopefully this will help you!

Check out some of the outlets nearby! Pleasant Prairie has Banana Republic, Eddie Bauer, brooks Brothers, GAP, Ann Taylor, Loft, and Jones. All of those will have some good basis, like plain tees or tanks, and solid button-up shirts. Layer those with some nice crewneck sweaters v-neck cardigans in neutral colors (grey, black, maroon, navy) and you're good to go! My husband wears suits to work most days, but when he's having an office day, he tends to wear a v-neck sweater, dress shirt, and khakis or flannel pants.

Also, check out the new Nordstrom Rack near Mayfair. They have a lot of higher-end brands, so the nicer fabrics your co-workers are wearing, but you can get some neutral pieces. As long as you're by Mayfair, stop in at Macy's and Talbot's, both of which have decent petites departments. J.Crew also will have some things for you.

For shoes, again look at Nordstrom Rack for a nice pair of oxfords. I almost purchased a Cole Haan pair that was great. There's a Cole Haan at Pleasant Prairie as well. Make sure your shoes are nicer leather and you'll fit in with your coworkers even if you don't tend to dress as femme as they do.
posted by notjustthefish at 12:36 PM on March 5, 2015

I don't see them on their website anymore, but New York & Company used to sell basic button-down shirts that fit me really well and had rounded hems so they didn't need to be tucked in (these are always thick on the ground at thrift stores, especially in XS), but they do have these popover shirts that are kind of similar, except with pockets and the placket only goes halfway down. I've worn NY&Co-style stuff at dressier jobs and always felt I fit right in, and it was always those kind of basic shirts and solid color pants with flats or oxfords.
posted by jabes at 12:44 PM on March 5, 2015

I, too, dress like a preppy gay man. I've found the best luck having shirts and other clothing made by the likes of St. Harridan, or even cis guy-centric tailors in Chicago. But, failing that, my go to places in Chicago have been H&M, American Apparel, and Top Shop (yawn, I know). Top Shop might be a good one for you, actually, based on your description of your body dimensions. They've got some great button-ups made for scrawny dudes.

Check out this 2013 (so kind of out of date, but not really) article a colleague of mine wrote (and I contributed to!) about finding masculine clothing for women in Chicago.
posted by Lieber Frau at 12:56 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Congrats on the new gig! If suits are overkill and you already have knit tops and chinos, what about adding a knit jacket? I have this Olivia Moon jacket from Nordstrom in charcoal grey and am a big fan - I feel a little dressy wearing it (it's a jacket!) but it's not stuffy at all and it's comfortable. I might buy more of those because I really liked it. And jackets will help you stay warm in the office. If you look for knit jackets, they're not nearly as structured and they're in the women's section but generally not very fem. Here's another from Uniqlo (they called it a cardigan jacket).

Also, I don't know if you're looking for shoes but I dig oxfords and I just got these from Aerosoles. Holy crap, they are lightweight. I keep handing them to people and saying, can you believe how lightweight these are?!
posted by kat518 at 12:59 PM on March 5, 2015

How do you feel about online shopping? ModCloth has some interesting options, especially with their cardigans, and they have a good return policy. A few examples below... they don't have XS, but their small does run pretty small.

posted by CatastropheWaitress at 12:59 PM on March 5, 2015

I've bought a ton of clothes from modcloth in the past year. In my experience their clothes are cut to accommodate an ample bust and curves. Also it is *super* girly. I don't think you'd be happy with anything you get from there.

My advice would be to listen to Liber Frau, who always looks fly as hell.
posted by phunniemee at 1:24 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

My style is really similar though my sizing is different. I've had pretty good luck pairing the best-fitting, plainest women's stuff I can find with an occasional men's piece that can sort of bridge. For me this means button down shirts from Talbot's or Banana Republic (which are totally not my style on average but they often have good quality plain shirts that can be butched up well.) In your size you may want to look for boy's sweater vests. Not super structured, don't need to worry about sleeves, don't need to tuck in.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:33 PM on March 5, 2015

I also dress a bit like a preppy dude. Seconding sweater vests. I am wearing a navy one today I got at Lands' End. They help with the tucking in issue. I also agree on the Eddie Bauer suggestion -- good non-girly stuff can be found there, too.
posted by Lescha at 1:33 PM on March 5, 2015

For the summer, a nice short-sleeved guayabera would be good. They don't need to be tucked in.
posted by Stewriffic at 2:13 PM on March 5, 2015

If you are okay shopping online, you could try Uniqlo - I've heard that they run small and are decent quality. This boy's sweater looks like it would fit your aesthetic, as does the women's oxford shirt.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:15 PM on March 5, 2015

I've heard that they run small and are decent quality.

That used to be true. I am larger than the OP by a bit, and the smallest sizes at Uniqlo are too big for me.

Modcloth's sizing and quality are all over the place. Avoid!

You're just really going to have to shop in the Petites section. Banana Republic and Ann Taylor carry petites in store. JCrew and others are online only. Style-wise, I think JCrew will probably have the most that will work for you. Their button downs are amazing, albeit overpriced.

Oh, and check out Asos. Lots of dresses for da club and other non-work appropriate and not your taste stuff, but it runs small, there's a huge petites section, and you might find a few things that you like.

Maybe Everlane?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:25 PM on March 5, 2015

I know you don't wear jewelry, and I get it, but sometimes it can "formal up" an outfit from weekend-sportswear to business-casual, and a thick chain or wide-banded rings can be pretty butch/dapper.
Also, if you wear a regular dress vest (the vest, buttoned over a shirt, without the jacket, much less formal than full-on suiting) you can add a pocket watch and chain, which is about the preppiest dapperest thing ever.
posted by gingerest at 3:21 PM on March 5, 2015

I bet you would look great in a dress shirt with a vest on top, no jacket, like #4,8, or 12 in this post f rom DapperQ. You'd likely have to tuck in your shirt (although not necessarily) but the vest would visually lengthen your torso. With the right non-fusty shirt that look isn't especially formal, so I don't think it would be overkill for a work environment that's one step above business casual.

My secret to having long arms and not having to have custom shirts made (although that's an option) is the 3/4 sleeve women's button-down. It's supposed to be mid-forearm! For a while my work uniform was a 3/4 sleeve button down from Lands End (everything else from there makes me look like Goody Frump, but I love those shirts) and black 3-season wool trousers from Banana Republic.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 4:40 PM on March 5, 2015

Custom men's shirts in the $40-$60 range made in India and shipped all over the world. They also do suits (and Jeans - it's MakeYourOwnJeans.com again).
posted by amtho at 5:33 PM on March 5, 2015

I have long arms so I prefer to wear shirts with 3/4 length sleeves. You can find a bunch at Land's End. a bunch of them have straight bottom hems so you can wear them un-tucked which would help de-emphasize your short torso. And they have some vests too. I think this is a cute look that with the right pants would be totally work appropriate.
posted by vespabelle at 7:18 PM on March 5, 2015

I have a similar upper frame to yours, and I've had good luck overall with a button-up shirt style at Ann Taylor Loft they refer to as the "softened shirt." They had a lot more color options in the fall than they do now, but there seem to be at least a handful of versions of that shirt every season, and it's usually cut slim with a rounded hem. Every version I own has seams in the back as well as the sides, which makes it easier to tailor if the fit is still too boxy for you.

If long, open cardigans aren't too feminine for you, they take the place of a jacket nicely without overemphasizing shoulders. Since they're popular now, most stores have them in some form--perhaps search for "boyfriend cardigan" or "grandpa cardigan" to weed out the girlier ones?
posted by Owlcat at 8:34 PM on March 5, 2015

I prefer knits for the workplace to wear alone or under jackets since most women's "work" tops are garbage anyway - flimsy, hideous prints, require dry cleaning, poorly fitting, etc. And dress shirts are just too much trouble to iron and care for and keep tucked in properly. Knits you can hand wash or throw in the washer in cold on delicate. So I would just buy some very simple cashmere, merino wool, or cotton cashmere sweaters in v-neck (which always seems like a more masculine style to me) or crew neck, long sleeve, short sleeve, solid colors, and wear those with nice trousers (I'm a huge fan of Theory trousers for work). J Crew cashmere is pretty good but pricey (but if you try on some and figure out your size you can get it cheaper on eBay).. For quite affordable I'd try Uniqlo and go for the cotton-cashmere and extra fine merino, I have one of the merino cardigans and it's surprisingly nice and was cheap. Heather gray, navy, black, off white, any colors you like that aren't too feminine. Also, I love Everlane, they make lovely plain colored sweaters but honestly their sizing runs big because lots of things are cut loosely, I think an XS there would be way too big for you - I buy an XS-S in their tops and I'm a size 6.
posted by citron at 9:04 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

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