I want to dress in business casual athleisure, if that's a thing
May 14, 2017 10:30 AM   Subscribe

I love the comfort of yoga pants, leggings, long t-shirts, and hoodie tunics, but at the same time I would like to look professional and inspire fear respect as a new-ish manager in the office.

Complicating factors are that as I'm moving into middle age and work a super stressful job, my figure is not what it once was, though I'm still within regular sizes. I looked through past recommendations and brands like Eileen Fisher seem to be very well made and have the simplicity and comfort level I would love, but from experience I know that with my hourglass figure I would look like a wrapped potato in these flowy, boxy items (a cozy and fashionable potato, nevertheless).

On the other hand, casual fitted clothing has the tendency to cling to every lump, which is not a flattering look. I tend to look best in structured but fitted clothes made of thick fabrics, like military-style blazers and straight-leg pants. The thing is, I find most of them constricting and uncomfortable; I would dread going to work even more if I had to dress like that.

Is there such a thing as business casual athleisure? Thicker fabrics, solid colors, structure and cut without being clingy? I remember someone mentioning yoga pants in an office-appropriate style, but can't find it now.

Hope me, MetaFashion, you're the only think that can save me from looking like a pastel see-through sausage in company meetings!
posted by Ender's Friend to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Ponte is your friend! I love Lands End sheath dresses (they come in many patterns and colors). They are super comfortable and very forgiving. If you don't have to wear tights or hose they can be as comfortable as pajamas.
posted by something something at 10:40 AM on May 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

Betabrand is the office yoga pant but they are super clingy and kind of thin and really I have no idea what people are talking about saying they look like formal pants. They look like leggings with pockets drawn on.

I need to wear soft clothing and I also vote for ponte, I have some great Eddie Bauer ponte pants, they come in slim ankle crop and regular leg and are as comfy as yoga pants while not being clingy. And easy care. Lands End makes good ponte pants too as does J Jill. For warmer weather everyone makes nice slim but not tight slightly stretch ankle pants this year from Old Navy (trixie) to Gap to BR to high end styles. They look pretty good on hour glass figures with the right top.
posted by fshgrl at 10:54 AM on May 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Have you looked at Betabrand? They make "dress pant yoga pants" which may work for you. I don't have the right figure for most of their clothes but I know they really work for other professional people.
posted by rednikki at 10:58 AM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I tried the banana republic Ryan fit pants in the stretch fabric the other day and was shocked and how comfy they are - softer and stretchier than my jeans.

Also good are knit blazers. I don't have a recommendation but they're relatively easy to find. And then cashmere sweaters make me feel like I'm wearing a blanket all day long.
posted by umwhat at 11:05 AM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a plus size woman, so larger than you, but I have a classic hourglass shape and boxy fits are no good on me. I wear these Lands End Active Pants to my business casual work once a week (link is to the straight size, I wear the plus size). I get so many compliments every time I wear them. They don't cling, but still look fitted. Obviously, with that waistband, you have to wear a shirt that does not tuck in, and I find that some shoes make the fabric look more athletic (I haven't been able to figure out why).
posted by OrangeDisk at 11:11 AM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have an earlier season's version of this Ninety-Eight brand blazer in black, and it is SO comfortable. Well-made, stylish and tailored, comfortable (stretchy, feels like a cardigan), machine washable (hang dry). Well worth the money, and if you are in the US, the exchange rate is in your favour right now. I found the sizes to be true to their sizing chart.

(I linked to the Shopgirls site for the blazer because they have a better size and colour selection right now than the Ninety-Eight site itself,which is sold out of a lot of options in this item. But you might want to browse through the rest of both sites to see if anything else catches your fancy. They have a decent sale section, too.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:26 PM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

This reallllllly depends on your individual office (where it sounds like you're relatively new?). Most people don't like spending the whole day in more tailored clothing (one of the most stressful jobs I ever had I still feel an occasional pang of nostalgia over because the dress code was 100% casual), but there are many places where "business casual athleisure" really isn't a thing. Do you see many other women, especially in positions senior to your own, dressing this way?

There's nothing morally wrong with underdressing for the office, of course, but there's a certain middle-management position where you're too senior for anyone to address your clothing with you, but they will mentally ding you for it.
posted by praemunire at 12:42 PM on May 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

Inspiring respect while wearing a hoodie is an utter.....improbability. And instead of "long tee shirts" you might mean tunic-length sweaters. J. Jill is chock-a-block loaded with those, in comfortable, stretchy fabrics.

And yoga pants/leggings ONLY if your top garment comes down long enough to cover your crotch/butt.
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:56 PM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is no reason you can't combine a narrow-legged comfy stretch pant with a more structured blazer or tunic. The trick is to:

a) get the blazer/tunic/button down shirt tailored so it also has an hourglass shape This avoids the dreaded potato-with-legs silhouette. Don't be shy about taking the item to an actual tailor and get it fitted for your personal shape, it looks so much better. The best way to get this done is make sure the item fits your shoulders/bust and hips, and then get the tailor to take it in to show off your waist.

b) make sure the top is long enough to go a bit past your hips (this makes it look a bit more formal) There are lots of blazers/tunics/shirts out there made out of stretchy fabric that look great but are also comfy, you just need to get out there and feel that fabrics, and see if they have a bit of give.

then add a pair of shoes or booties that are comfy but cleanly designed, and you're good to go.

And to inspire fear/respect, years ago I did a totally random thing that, from what I heard, some men in the office found daunting. I kept a small barbell on my desk - maybe 10lb? I just used it for stretching and to get a bit of exercise when working long hours at the computer and not get wrist issues; I didn't even use it when anyone was around, but apparently some people found it intimidating just sitting there. so there's that!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:25 PM on May 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Isn't this what Chico's is for?
posted by Toddles at 2:54 PM on May 14, 2017

Old Navy Rockstar Jeans or Jeggings are shockingly comfortable- almost as good as yoga pants, but with the structure and flattering thickness of jeans.

Silky button down shirts from Express or silky V-neck Tshirts from Express are pretty great too. Silky synthetic fabric often doesn't need ironing, feels nice, skims the body, and looks fancy and appropriate without actually being annoying to wear.

FLY London shoes are ridonculously comfortable, especially the ones with soles like this- 2.5 inches high, very soft cushy soles and leather interiors. The style names for the many many designs of sandals, shoes, and booties with this particular sole usually all start with the letter Y. They are almost as comfy as sneakers but look great in a semi-casual work environment.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:00 PM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's hit and miss, but I've had better luck at Dress Barn than at any other single store for finding things that are both flattering and comfortable on my size 12 hourglass self.
posted by metasarah at 3:56 PM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a job where I had to move a lot but still look professional (this was up on Capitol Hill). I ended up getting travel pants. I have some from Royal Robbins and Woolrich brands that look just like dress pants but they repel liquid, are wrinkle resistant, and are stretchy. Some travel pants lean more "outdoorsy" than "officey" though so you will have to sort through them.
posted by shalom at 4:01 PM on May 14, 2017

UNIQLO has awesome jersey blazers that look like a slightly casual blazer, but are made out of sweatshirt material! I hate wearing blazers, but I happily wear theirs. They definitely wouldn't work for a super formal office where everyone needs to wear a tailored suit, but I think they're perfectly fine for a more business-casual office like mine. I wear a 14 on top and their XL fits me well.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:15 PM on May 14, 2017

Inspiring respect while wearing a hoodie is an utter.....improbability.

I only automatically disrespect managers in hoodies if they are 20-40-year-old men whose job description includes "thought leader." women in hoodies are not yet a management cliche so I think there is a lot more freedom and I would seize it.

because! even if you are courting disrespect, which I guess maybe one would be, in the standard old-style office an employee has implicit permission/expectation to dress at or one level down from their manager's level of formality unless they're a receptionist. so every subordinate you have who wants to come to work in a hoodie and knit pants but doesn't yet dare will love you. that's not respect but it's something.

unless! this is the other kind of office where studied disorder is a power move. like the aforementioned grubby thought leaders in their stubble and sneakers. god how I hate them. for them, dressing like that is a status display and is received very differently from the way an identical outfit would be read on a cubicle worker. the reverse pyramid office, where only interns wear ties and suits and skirts, and everybody else decreases formality as their age, confidence and status increase. in that kind of office, wear a hoodie. in fact, as a woman who has to signal harder, wear two at once.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:17 PM on May 14, 2017 [11 favorites]

oooh seconding those fly london shoes/boots, they are fantastic. The boots I had with those soles got me compliments every time I wore them.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:06 PM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm 39, reasonably cool, and a size 10 hourglass person with a management job in a business casual/casual environment. Seconding the Ryan pant from BR, those are great. I also like a jersey dress with leggings (Horny Toad and Hue are my go to brands, respectively.) I totally wear skinny jeans with a tunic shirt on casual Friday, with one of the following: cardigan/scarf/retro-ish down vest for some additional something. I have worn a hoodie in the past but would only do so again if I had a hoodie that had no logo, was cut for my figure, and was reasonably heavy fabric.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:34 PM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also I respectfully disagree about Chico's; I think their clothes somehow make J. Jill look hip and edgy.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:35 PM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, also recommend Karen Kane for basics, though not for patterned or embroidered stuff.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:36 PM on May 14, 2017

I like New York & Co for comfy work wear. The pants have some stretch, and I usually wear a sweater on top. I don't wear jackets a work as I never find one that is cut right for me shoulders and therefore pretty much all I've found feel too restrictive in the shoulders and arms (unless I go up a size in which case they are too loose and unflattering in the waist); If I get really cold I wear scarves and/or a cardigan.

All that to say, it's a comfortable look/feel without being unprofessional.
posted by vignettist at 6:16 PM on May 14, 2017

Half my wardrobe is basically dressy but comfortable clothing (the other half is comfortable clothing that looks comfortable). There's a world of possibility. I'd say the most important thing is to pay attention to your overall silhouette - if it's clean and simple, you'll still look polished even if the individual pieces aren't structured.

Pants made of thicker material with a lot of stretch are comfortable and still look professional. Others above have suggested ponte pants - they're a great option.

For tops, balancing soft with structured items can help avoid that soft, pajama look you're trying to avoid. If you have trouble getting a good fit in the arms and shoulders, I'd recommend focusing on finding a few well-fitting jackets or cardigans in neutral colors, and wearing them over sleeveless shells. This way you can avoid the arm fit issue when buying tops. Ann Taylor & Ann Taylor Loft have a lot of comfortable but still business casual sleeveless tops that will work well under jackets and cardigans.

Finally, I have to echo 5_13_23_42_69_666's suggestion of cleanly designed shoes or booties. Clarks are my recommendation - they are so comfortable while still looking nice.
posted by photoelectric at 10:38 PM on May 14, 2017

Corporette is a great site for finding things - recently the things highlighted in the posts theselves are only kind of meh but the comment section can be *gold*. It skews toward lawyers and those who need to find ways to dress business formal while still being cognizant of budget/comfort/etc but there are plenty of participants who wear other types of clothes to work as well.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:15 AM on May 15, 2017

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