How to dress stylish for work
June 28, 2015 1:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm wanting to look more put-together and stylish for work. I work in a government office, live in a moderately cool climate (daily maximums from 10 to 40 degrees C), am 32 and female. Please help me do better!

I already know more or less what suits my body shape (tall, pear shape, average weight and build) and colouring (warm colours) and the look I want to achieve (classy, elegant with feminine details) but I struggle with:
- knowing which clothes match with which other clothes
- looking 'groomed' (somehow I am never one of those people who looks 'neat' and I can't work out why)
- working out which fabrics will be ok to care for and which are the stubborn ones which crease easily and do not respond to ironing
- knowing in advance which items I will get a lot of wear out of
Thank you!
posted by EatMyHat to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Forgot to mention: re: budget I am not a millionare but am happy to spend a bit to get nice things (say $100-250 AUD for an item would not be unusual) Of course spending less would be great too! Ordering online is fine as long as I know what I am looking for.
posted by EatMyHat at 1:48 AM on June 28, 2015

Being "put together" often comes down to hair, makeup, and accessories, not clothes. Look at the women in your office that you want to emulate. Do they all have nice hairstyles, manicures, and jewelry? Do you?
posted by that's how you get ants at 2:32 AM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

You might find Franish's "Building a Cohesive Wardrobe" series helpful (it's currently in progress): Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. My favorite tip from her is to choose a very limited color palette; hers are whites/tans, blues, red, and grey/black. That makes it easy to mix-and-match your clothes.

A few things that help me feel "groomed": wearing foundation, powder, and a lightly tinted lipstick or lip balm; cleaning up my eyebrows; visiting my hair stylist every six weeks; using shampoo and conditioner that smell nice; filing my nails instead of cutting them; taking care of my cuticles and removing hangnails.
posted by neushoorn at 3:03 AM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I used to work for the Devil Wears Prada: Scientist Edition when I was in my late 20's. During that time I was forced to change from my grad student apparel (jeans/sneakers/t-shirts/denim mini-skirts) to putting in more effort on my appearance. Devil Wears Prada had no problems voicing her opinion that I would never advance in the company or my field if I didn't "get my act together" -- sadly, she was right.

Here's what I learned:

Start with a few classic pieces (e.g., gray suit, navy suit, tan/brown suit) plus two pairs of very nice dark jeans. I was a fan of Banana Republic then and have evolved as I've gotten older into more of a Brooks Brothers person. If you get suits with classic (rather than trendy) lines, they can last forever.

Then you can get some shirts/blouses of varying colors to rotate through. A really good shirt should match with two or three different suit combinations but sill be wearable with jeans.

As convenient as it is to order online, it's very important to try everything on so that you get clothes that really fit. If something gaps at the waist, or has the bust in the wrong place, or you're constantly tugging at it all day, this will add to looking/feeling disheveled. So don't be afraid to return online stuff.
posted by amy27 at 4:01 AM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Coordinated separates are great for building your wardrobe but if you want some easy and effortless, get a couple knit dresses. Easy fit, no wrinkles, no fuss. A good necklace and/or bracelet and a pair of simple pumps and you can go anywhere.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:34 AM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you live near a Nordstrom, I suggest a visit with one of their personal stylists. They can help you pull together a basic wardrobe. I went to a Nordstrom's stylist and came away with a couple of flattering pieces that I never would have thought of on my own. And they will work within a budget and not steer you to the spendy designer racks (unless that is what you want).

I will also make the perennial Ask MeFi suggestion and say, "Get a bra fitting if you haven't done so already." A properly fitted bra makes such a difference in how your clothes fit and look.

My favorite fashion site/blog is You Look Fab - it's been a very helpful fashion guide for me.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:07 AM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I would also agree that hair and accessories go a long way towards making an outfit look more put together.

Do you have a Pinterest account? I didn't until just recently and have found it helps me a TON on figuring out what I like and what I want to look more like.
posted by jillithd at 6:33 AM on June 28, 2015

Fit is king. So if you already know what flattering cuts/silhouettes work for your body, that's a huge leg-up.

As suggested above, looking put-together has a lot to do with accessories and overall grooming. Investing in a flattering haircut and quality pair of shoes will help a lot.

My go-to professional look in cool weather is a sweater dress with opaque tights and ankle boots.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 7:07 AM on June 28, 2015

Best answer: I have spent some time in the last ten years reading fashion blogs like You Look Fab, Corporette, and Not My Age. I also watched a lot of What Not to Wear at one point, until it got obvious how repetitive their advice was. None of those resources are perfect, but the exercised helped a lot in determining what's appropriate for me (bureaucrat in a government office), what looks good on me, what looks good together, and how to assemble an outfit.

It also has definitely helped to get more comfortable with makeup and jewelry, although that's not a requirement if you're not into those things.

What I would recommend is that you go through your wardrobe and find one outfit that you love and that you know you look good in. Can you tell why it works for you? Is it the color that sets off your skin and hair? The way the fit accentuates your curves? The way it makes your legs look long? That might give you a good starting point for finding other pieces that work for you and fit with the rest of your wardrobe.
posted by suelac at 8:16 AM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: - looking 'groomed' (somehow I am never one of those people who looks 'neat' and I can't work out why)
- working out which fabrics will be ok to care for and which are the stubborn ones which crease easily and do not respond to ironing
- knowing in advance which items I will get a lot of wear out of

Some of this might be inter-related. Buying well-made, classic, clothing might be the key. Here's an article that covers what I had planned to type about knowing if a garment is well-made. If it is not well-made, it is less likely to look neat since a button might be loose, a thread might hang from the hem, the fabric itself might be off-grain and pull to the side. Taking good care of your clothes will also help them last longer, especially drying delicate knits flat and drying colored fabrics out of the sun. A classic look might help with tidiness. For example, sometimes I see a fashion photo of a suit with a cropped jacket, where the untucked blouse hangs below the jacket. On some people it might look chic, on others, sloppy. Here's a nicely in-depth article about wrinkling of different fabrics. Linen and cotton will wrinkle, but they should respond to ironing at a higher temperature than the synthetics and blends. If you want to get a better press, try ironing from damp to dry, instead of just using your steam iron on dry clothes. (You can store a shirt in a plastic bag in the freezer if you don't have time to iron after washing it). Also, you might consider using a little starch. Possibly the other people you work with get their clothes cleaned and pressed professionally?

People who know me in real life might say on this topic, "those who can't do, teach," so take it with a grain of salt ...
posted by SandiBeech at 11:59 AM on June 28, 2015

I second the suggestion you try building a wardrobe/accessories with a personal shopper. Some ideas as well:

1. Aim for a particular look. For example, dress with a blazer, skirt suits, pants suits, whichever appeals most to you. Then coordinate from there. For example, if your look is dress with blazer, you'll want to shop for dresses that pick up the colors of your blazers, and vice versa. If you opt for suits, then your shirts/tops should pick up the colors of your suits.

2. Buy in a color family. For example, get pieces that work with black shoes OR pieces that work with brown shoes, but at least at the start, pick one or the other. Then your shoes will go with your clothes.

3. LAST, get scarves or jewelry that coordinates with your work wardrobe.

4. Be very groomed. Learn your way around this by getting your hair and nails done professionally.

5. Re fabrics, I learned a long time ago that I like things to go to the dry cleaner, not into my washer or onto my ironing board. Because the washer/ironing board route always means increasingly frazzled looking clothes, while dry cleaning keeps your stuff looking spiffy. (Having said that, go for a dry cleaner that is green.) So I just don't buy things that are machine washable. Even if an item like a shirt could be washed, I take it to the cleaner and let them wash and press it.

P.S. Ruthlessly toss/donate anything you own which doesn't work with your look or make you feel you are anything less than elegant/feminine when you wear it.
posted by bearwife at 2:45 PM on June 28, 2015

Oh, and in terms of what you'll get a lot of wear out of -- always, always, classic cuts and fabrics, and then take care of them, with decent hangers, sufficient space for them in the closet, and (green) dry cleaning.
posted by bearwife at 2:47 PM on June 28, 2015

Best answer: I (32f, work for conservative company with business attire wardrobe) get compliments on looking pulled together all the time. I 1) buy in a color family (jewel tones to pair with black, navy, gray and some brown basics)
2) conservative jewelry (pearls, small diamond studs, small pendant)
3) really nice handbags! They last a decade.
4) decent shoes. Need to be nice but not as nice as the handbags- for women, shoes wear out quicker.
5) google capsule wardrobe. Build your wardrobe with that concept in mind.
6) Blazers, blazers, blazers
7) short, low maintenance hair

Things I don't do:
1). Dry clean. Almost anything except evening gowns. All my nice, including wool, blazers and pants live long enough through a gentle cycle in my front loaders with steam function to make the cost of dry cleaning not worth the slight wear and tear of gentle cycle. Woolite is your friend here, as is a gentle touch with your iron.
2) regular mani-pedis- not needed. Just keep nails short and neat
3) makeup, because the less that is on my face, the happier my skin is. Exception: important meetings call for a touch of concealer and mascara.
4) buy anything that doesn't fit well or make me feel super classy.
posted by slateyness at 2:59 PM on June 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Figuring out which colours go with others is something you can develop through observation. Try to look broader than clothes - art, interiors, magazines, nature are all places where you'll see harmonious colours. If you see a combination that looks great, make a note of it, and try reproducing it with clothes later.

Grooming, alas, is something that take time. Try setting aside half an hour a week to do things like file your nails, book a hair appointment, sew buttons back on, iron shirts, that kind of thing. It's not fun, but it gets stuff done and a lot of grooming is basically chores.
posted by girlgenius at 9:45 PM on June 28, 2015

« Older Genetic testing for Pick's Disease   |   What's the song in this Humans trailer? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.