Work uniform, difficulty: hormone changes
September 24, 2019 6:13 PM   Subscribe

I love the idea of having an office uniform, and it works for me about 2.5 weeks out of the month - skinny jeans, flats, somewhat tailored button-up shirt. However for the other ~2 weeks of the month, during menstruation and the come-down from menstruation, I have completely different preferences for textures, temperatures and fitted-ness of clothing. Can you help me figure out work uniform substitutes for when my body is feeling super-sensitive?

Basically for 2.5 weeks, I am fine wearing tailored, conventional "casual office" outfits consisting of skinny jeans, bras and button-up shirts. Think J. Crew or Madewell. Then, for 2 weeks, I want to float around while swathed in a gentle bundle of feathers. Think Swan Lake, sans cursed princesses.

When I'm in the menstrual time of the month, my ideal outfit would be soft leggings and a dress. Even wearing a bra feels uncomfortable. However, I work in a male-dominated industry (tech) and I typically don't wear super-feminine outfits to work. (Super-feminine to me means, accentuating cleavage, A-line skirts, floral, bright colors.)

Is there a way to wear soft leggings with an outfit that
* doesn't fit tightly around my belly (I get very bloated when I'm on my period)
* doesn't look like maternity clothes
* doesn't look super feminine?

An outfit that looks tailored and/or professional but is actually really comfortable?

Dresses/tunics that don't read as feminine?

A soft bra that is not flattening like a sports bra but not super structured?

These descriptions are vague but I'm hoping others have experienced this and/or have ideas!
posted by rogerroger to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (29 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Plain dark-colored knit shift dress (black, navy) + gray tights or leggings? Or you could probably go with thigh-high nylons and avoid the waist issue altogether. Gap website is loading oddly atm, but they generally have nice low-key, not-too-feminine shifts.
posted by Bardolph at 6:30 PM on September 24, 2019

how do you feel about something like this? With leggings?
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:32 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

or something like this. This one is a little boxy, but still put together. J Jill has a lot of nicely forgiving clothes in high quality, heavy, well draping knits.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:36 PM on September 24, 2019

I wore these pants with this top today (to be fair: ankle pants on me are a reasonable length) and it was really comfortable but I still feel like I looked professional.

That may be too much for you, but there are decent "jeggings" or other pants-like leggings out there and tunic tops that approximate button-down shirts.
posted by darksong at 6:42 PM on September 24, 2019

I would recommend those yoga pants that look like dress pants, or super comfy/stretchy jeans, paired with a comfy T-shirt and a long cardigan. Nothing is structured and it all moves with you, but the combo looks professional. A necklace or other jewelry can help if that’s too casual. The tops can be a little fitted or more loose, whatever you like, and you can also make them a little fancier than just a t-shirt although it takes some shopping and luck to find comfy ones in my experience. The long cardigan is like a blanket and as a bonus covers your butt in case your pants are more on the leggings side than pants side.

It can read a little older rich artist, reminds me of my piano teacher growing up, which is maybe too feminine for you, but if you go for a little less flowy, and dark or solid colors, I think you can get away from that.

There is a particular store that in my mind carries this kind of look but I’m blanking on it now. I think it is a woman’s name. Boden may be another one.

Edited to add: J. Jill is the other store I was thinking of!
posted by sillysally at 6:43 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think the fabric you want for pants is called "ponte'". It feels like soft stretchy leggings but is heavy enough to look like pants. J Jill will have them. My fave pair came from, I think, Land's End.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:47 PM on September 24, 2019 [9 favorites]

My work uniform (life uniform really) are these Old Navy jersey swing dresses. They are easy, comfy, and come in different sleeve lengths and neck lines with the seasons. They pair well with leggings, are very soft, and don’t cling around the middle at all. This has worked well for me as my weight has fluctuated up-and-down a fair amount in the past several years, and these dresses are very forgiving.

While they are dresses, and therefore read “woman” they are not girly or femme at all. Super utilitarian.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:49 PM on September 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Do you like the COS aesthetic? They have some simple, comfortable dresses that are professional without being too feminine (especially if you stick with the dark solid colors) and look great with tights or leggings.
posted by lomes at 6:51 PM on September 24, 2019 [9 favorites]

I have a few stretchy mini skirts sorta like this that I wear all the time with leggings. Wearing them over leggings negates the mini skirt aspect (nothing is getting shown off) and because they're stretchy there's nothing constricting or uncomfortable about them. It's more like wearing half a pair of leggings over my leggings.

I pair this with any kind of top (t shirt generally, with a flannel over it if it's cool out) and a pair of docs. Comfy, non constricting, and about as un-femme as you can get in a skirt.

For bras, search for cotton sports bras. I have some super basic (and cheap) fruit of the loom brand sports bras that I wear all the time. They aren't flattening because they're not made out of tactical sport fabric, just some stretch cotton. Just really comfortable, lightly supportive boob coverings to stay work appropriate. Are they figure flattering? No. But my lazy tits dgaf.
posted by phunniemee at 7:04 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wear joggers under these circumstances, but if you're in a more formal office, these pull on pants may work.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:06 PM on September 24, 2019

Are you ready for Eileen Fisher? At first I was unsure I would wear a shapeless shift in public. But it’s so comfy, and just the right level of On Purpose and Not Frilly/Femme.

(It’s also pricey, but I’m assuming tech is comping you for the misogyny)
posted by politikitty at 7:07 PM on September 24, 2019 [9 favorites]

Re: Bras: I am a menopausal woman who is also dealing with hypothyroidism and the associated weight gain, and I am eagerly awaiting the arrival in the mail of this organic cotton wire-free bra from Love Your Body Wear in Asheville, North Carolina.
Once I get this bra, I'll be glad to report back on whether it's as good as I hope it is.

Awashpanache gave the Reddit A Bra That Fits community the heads up about this bra when she found it on Etsy. She wears a 28H UK, and she says it's good for everything short of running, though she'd order it one band size down if she ordered another one.

I used to wear a 34F UK bra; I now wear a 36F/36FF UK bra. When I was a 34 band, wearing an underwire bra all day didn't really bug me. Now, for some reason, even though I know that I'm wearing a correctly sized bra, l can't even with the underwires some days.
posted by virago at 7:07 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think many of these ponte dresses from Lands End May fit your needs. Also sweater dresses and leggings are pretty fantastic if the weather allows for it
posted by raccoon409 at 7:12 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Uniqlo has very decent non-underwire bras that still hold their shape.
posted by mai at 7:12 PM on September 24, 2019

Yeah, you sound ready for Eileen Fisher. Eileen Fisher meets all of your criteria and is really pretty great (if expensive) in that almost all of it is machine washable and wears like iron.
posted by HotToddy at 7:28 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Maybe a simple dress from Gap or Uniqlo or Muji or Madewell.
posted by pinochiette at 8:02 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was also coming in to suggest the Uniglo Wireless bras, but they don't fit larger cup sizes.

If you don't mind ankle-length pants (although they offer the in "tall" ankle-length which might be full-length on some of us), the Uniglo Ezy pant is an elastic waist that I find nonbinding.

I think Uniqlo's dresses might appeal as well. I think they are quite feminine, but they are rarely closely-fitted, usually have higher necklines and are in muted tones.
posted by crush at 8:03 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Betabrand dress pant yoga pants. The slim leg ones have become my go-to since my hip replacement scar is still too sensitive to wear tight jeans.
posted by matildaben at 9:37 PM on September 24, 2019

Came to say I am also uncomfortable with super feminine clothing AND have similar needs during menstrual times. Swing dresses are the truth and what I’m wearing underneath helps me not feel inescapably gendered. I LOVE tomboy X underwear. They feel like shorts so on the outside I’m “business person that’s coded female” but underneath I’m “genderless superhero with avocados on their ass.”
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 11:03 PM on September 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

For bras that are soft but better than a sports bra, check out the True Body line from True & Co. They are also sold at Nordstrom's, and I generally recommend going up one size to avoid a super tight fit.

Tunics are fantastic. A modest neckline and/or a boxier modern cut can help with the frumpiness without appearing overly feminine.

Long tops (like tunics) are wonderful at hiding a (comfy) elastic waist, allowing you to stay comfortable while still presentable and professional in a casual-leaning office place. Elastic waists for the win. Seriously.

Oversized oxford shirts are in style and function like a tunic while skewing more tailored and professional. Menswear and androgynous-leaning styles (such as oversized oxfords) in general are having a moment. Kotn has a nice oversized oxford shirt right now.

Chunky sweaters. One of my current favorite sweaters is long and oversized, obscuring my mid-section and rear. This can be a cardigan or a pullover style.

Sweater dresses! The key to walking the line between frumpy and sexy is to dress in a way that acknowledges a body exists underneath your clothes while avoiding putting the exact dimensions on display. My sweater dress has a turtleneck, so no cleavage issues.

Jumpsuits are very comfortable and fun and can be quite roomy ("relaxed" styles or cuts might be a useful search descriptor for the kind of clothing you are looking for in general). Jumpsuits are popping up in a lot of spaces, such as Everlane, which has an overlapping aesthetic with Madewell and J. Crew.

Fwiw I am a lady working in a tech scene dominated by men. I like to look somewhat stylish but I won't sacrifice comfort. My outfits don't read as overtly feminine. I wear a lot of black, brown/tan, grey, and ivory solid colors with some navy and green.

If any of the above sounds in line with what you're looking for, feel free to memail me if you want more specifics or recommendations. Stylish comfort clothing is one of my favorite topics of discussion!
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 11:13 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think you have some great suggestions above, I only came to add that if you're in the Bay Area for tech, there's an Eileen Fisher company store (outlet) in San Leandro. It's very much worth visiting because they have a large selection and variety while also being considerably lower priced (especially during sales). They do some great basics that read contemporary/clean rather than feminine.
posted by quince at 1:04 AM on September 25, 2019

I am very sensitive/have sensory things and am the same as you when I'm pms'ing.

I do a very soft shell/tank with a very soft open cardigan overtop, and puma sports bras underneath (they give me a tiny bit of uniboob but have removeable pads and don't show bra lines under the tanks). Pants I have some very soft jeans and pull on ponte pants. I look professional enough for my office but am cozy and comfy, I'm interested in the beta brand yoga pants but haven't sprung for them yet.

I got my soft shirts from banana republic but I can't see the exact styles online right now, their fabric wears out sort of quickly but some of it is super soft, and wearing half the time might give you longer usage, their tanks/shells are cut with some give/flow for tummies, gap has a "softspun" line which I can confirm is also very soft, they have some swing tanks that might work.
posted by lafemma at 8:27 AM on September 25, 2019

If you enjoy tailored shirts, some version of a shirt dress might be more comfortable for you, gender-wise. I also think shift dresses and tunics might feel less feminine. Oversized and boxy sweaters might be good too--look for more fashiony stuff to keep from feeling schlumpy. Wearing these with ponte leggings or softer, stretchier jeans would look good. (The softest jeans I've owned were from NYDJ--maybe try that brand?)

Here are some examples of what I mean:
shift with elements of shirt
shift dress
utility shirtdress made of lyocell, which feels good on your skin imo
the aforementioned Eileen Fisher
modern assymetric shirtdress
tunic sweater
boxy cut sweater
shirt/coat dress
shift dress
shawl collar cardigan for layering
an interesting but simple sweater
posted by purple_bird at 9:20 AM on September 25, 2019

I am pretty uncomfortable in any clothing that reads very genuine at all. I do however love shirt dresses. Maybe that might work? Also, please note that there is no need to tie or belt the waist of a shirt dress. They look great loose.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:33 AM on September 25, 2019

Oh, sorry, should have read through all the answers first. I see they've been suggested already.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:34 AM on September 25, 2019

This may or may not work for you, BUT... if nerdiness/techitude+femininity is an option, consider Svaha's line of dresses? Size range is substantial, so you can likely buy up a size if you like. Most are around knee-length, so leggings underneath would be okay. They also have a few shirt designs that might work for you -- no buttons, less fuss.

I hope you find what you need!
posted by humbug at 4:57 PM on September 25, 2019

For soft bras, Aerie bralettes. I have a bunch of this style, and they're great - soft, and just supportive enough.
posted by joycehealy at 6:02 AM on September 26, 2019

Thank you so much, all! Lots of really fabulous suggestions! Due to cost and ease of procurement, I am starting with those Old Navy jersey dresses recommended by ocherdraco. If that type of style works for me I will upgrade to Eileen Fisher since yep, I bet it's about that time!
posted by rogerroger at 6:39 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just ordered some pull-on ponte pants from Lands End. They have a straight leg so I'm hoping for the comfort of leggings with the appearance of work pants.

There's also a slim leg and various leggings. They're all called "starfish" pants.
posted by bunderful at 7:07 PM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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