Yes, I'm a woman in "sensible shoes"
March 12, 2007 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I recently started an office job which requires me to dress somewhat professionally (no jeans, but generally pretty relaxed overall). I am a young woman of 24 who likes to dress comfortably but would like to look a little better. What are some sources for nice-looking, comfortable clothes that won't break the bank, and a few specific pieces?

I mostly wear pants, knit tops, and a pair of decent-looking Camper sneakers which I keep polished and in good repair. It is cold in my office, so I wear a < 3 month old black standard zip-up sweatshirt hoodie on top of everything almost every day. I love my hoodie, but I'm afraid it makes me look sloppy.

I would like a new, more office-appropriate cardigan black hoodie with pockets and a hood. I would also like a few pieces I could wear -- like pants or shoes -- with my existing wardrobe that would be comfy but still kind of polished and still "young."

I am 5"1', 105 pounds, and female.
posted by fiercecupcake to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (36 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Barrie Pace petites
posted by caddis at 8:47 AM on March 12, 2007

Try Victoria's Secret, especially for pants in all different lengths, colors, fabrics and styles. They have an offer right now where you can order pants and not pay shipping if you need to exchange for a different size.

For a better sweater, try Banana Republic. Also, if you end up in Houston, get thee to a Zara. Great cute, inexpensive work clothes, although you may need to hem the pants as they run long.
posted by infinityjinx at 8:54 AM on March 12, 2007

When I upgraded my wardrobe from college wear to a office enviornment I was able to get my staple items (with some searching involved) at Marshalls.
posted by brinkzilla at 8:57 AM on March 12, 2007

To replace your hoodie, I'd recommend a sweater coat. It'll keep you just as warm and doesn't look sloppy. (Don't know if you'd be able to find one with a hood, though.)
posted by Lucinda at 8:58 AM on March 12, 2007

H&M is an awesome source for cheap, stylish work clothes (if you have one near you), though you'll probably need to have their pants hemmed. Target also has a lot of nice pants and blouses. Some women get a lot of good work clothes at Old Navy, but I don't find their clothes as well-fitted as H&M or Target. (YMMV)

My office is cold, and almost every woman here has an "office sweater" that she keeps at her desk and wears over almost everything. Old Navy, GAP, and JCrew are good places to look for the sort of thing you're after. A few examples I've found online: one, two, three, four.
posted by junkbox at 9:02 AM on March 12, 2007

Ann Taylor Loft and Banana Republic both have petites, and carry sophisticated clothes that don't make you look too old. Also, you can usually get pretty good deals when stuff is on sale.

As far as what pieces: a blazer/fitted jacket is hard to beat, it makes you look put together but isn't hard to match things to. Pants: just get a good cut (wider leg, not tapered, lower rise but not "low rise," hemmed to the correct height) and make sure they fit well. Shoes: I personally like ballet flats or kitten heels, they're comfy and easy to walk in yet look polished.

It may sound kind of silly, but watching a few episodes of What Not to Wear if you get TLC will give you some really good pointers, they're all about finding the happy medium between being comfortable and looking professional.
posted by AV at 9:03 AM on March 12, 2007

The british version of What Not To Wear did WONDERS for me! They have written a few books, too.

My nicest/best/most comfortable/most flattering work clothes all came from Banana Republic, I have to say. They really look great, you can be feminine but professional. Nice tailoring. Not cheap enough to fall apart, not expensive enough to break you. Nicely youthful but still mature enough for the workplace. I've found a lot of really good wardrobe investments there. (I know some people who say the same about Anne Taylor but their clothing doesn't work for my body type AT ALL.)
posted by miss lynnster at 9:11 AM on March 12, 2007

Tops with hoods look sloppy.
Tops with pockets that get used look sloppy.

Hoods make clothing look casual. Why do you need your work cardigan to have a hood? If you plan on WEARING THE HOOD UP IN THE OFFICE, then OMG you need serious help. If you don't plan on using the hood as a hood, then you don't need a hood. If it's functional because it provides warmth for your neck and/or back, consider getting a few scarves.

For your new work-appropriate cardigan sweater, I suggest you look... anywhere. Marshalls/TJMaxx can offer up great finds, but your local department store (Macys/Kohl's/JCPenney/Lord&Taylor/Nordstrom) will have perfectly servicable sweaters.

For shoes, again sometimes Marshalls/TJMaxx have just-the-thing (you might have to go there a few times before the right thing shows up; their stock turns over quickly), but I find that in general I have to do quite a bit of looking around. If you can get to a DSW, they also have a good selection. My go-to shoes are black penny loafers with a thick 1.5" heel - comfortable, practical, go-with-anything. Along the line of this shoe.

An office-wardrobe must-have is a pair of black pants in a lightweight/year-round fabric that fall straight from hip to heel. Again, this can be found anywhere, you'll just have to try on a ton of brands/styles until you find what you like.

Ann Taylor petites are pretty nice, and can be good for accent pieces; Banana Republic is useless to most 'chesty' women; Marshalls/TJMaxx can be a good trip for finding out what brands do/don't fit you; and some Sears have decent selections of petites in their apostrophe, First Issue (Liz Claiborne), or AK2 (Anne Klein) lines.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 9:38 AM on March 12, 2007

Just adding a note: Try to avoid the fitted-through-the-thighs yet very flared slacks -- I see these in junior departments in a thinner, stretchier version of "work clothes" material, but the cut makes them stand out as looking quite juvenile.

I'd advise a cardigan rather than something with a hood. Anything hooded, even a sweater, looks more casual than professional.
posted by desuetude at 9:46 AM on March 12, 2007

Oh, and I wear shoes like this quite a bit for work.
posted by desuetude at 9:52 AM on March 12, 2007

I like Editor Pants from Express. They sell them in a ton of different colors and fabrics. They also have short length, so there's no need to have them hemmed. Once I figured out which size I was, I could pick up a few pairs any time they are on sale without having to try them on.
posted by elvissa at 9:53 AM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm going to ditto Sprout there. I'm 5', so I know what pitfalls there might be. Also, caddis' link is only affordable if you've got a much better office job than I have.

Go with department stores, and maybe some petites stores. Outlets and lofts are fine, too, if you have them available. Do NOT buy online unless you're willing to ship things back or you've tried things on at the store. Petites have fitting problems that go beyond too long sleeves and hemlines - shoulders and chests are difficult, especially if one is chesty.

If you can't find any nice cardigans (sweater sets work great if you can find decent colors), try a jacket instead. They often seem a bit 'younger'. I am always fighting looking old in sweaters. It also classes up one's outfit fast. And then scarves - they're cheaper and can change the look of the jacket so you don't have to buy too many of those.

I cannot help you with pants. I am a skirts-only woman.

As for the shoes, that's a 'keep looking' sort of thing. I'm rocking some shoes that nearly look like loafers and feel like slippers, and I have plain black dress shoes that I snagged from the boys' department that are extremely comfy (I'm a 6.5 or 7 wide, which means I can occasionally find larger sizes in the childrens' departments and save money.)
posted by cobaltnine at 10:08 AM on March 12, 2007

You need to ditch the hoodie. Period.

Even a sporty Lands End or Old Navy fleece pull over (without pockets!) would look more appropriate than the hoodie you're describing. Take it home and love it in the privacy of your own home.

Marshalls, Old Navy, Thrift stores, H&M, Nordstrom Rack.

I heartily agree with the Zappos recommendation for shoes. You can order a bunch, keep what you like and send the rest back for nada. I'm also a fan of Marshalls for shoes and DSW.

J Crew's Summer Weight Chinos rock. But are, perhaps, a bit spendier than you'd prefer. They are having a final sale on their Heritage Chinos now.

Old Navy's Button Top Twill are cheap.

They have a whole Dress Pant section, many of which look pretty decent.

They also have what might be a nice compromise for your current hoodie. Zip, no hood, kind of sporty looking.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:11 AM on March 12, 2007

I agree with the no-hood sweater. My keep-at-the-office sweater is a hip-length sweater jacket with an extra long cuff around the neck - it provides a little extra snugglyness without looking unprofessional.

In addition to Ann Taylor Loft & Express, I recommend checking out Eddie Bauer. They have some really cute stuff for spring that is totally professional & yet comfy, and if you check out their outlet online you can find some amazing deals. Their vashon cut pants are a really flattering cut for most people and they come in a ton of different fabrics.

For shoes, I often wear Merrell brand shoes because they are soooo comfy. But they have office appropriate styles that are secretly comfy, like these & these (I think only the black version of the latter shoe is work-appropriate though).
posted by tastybrains at 10:13 AM on March 12, 2007

Allow me to introduce you to the jjill sale section.
posted by textilephile at 10:20 AM on March 12, 2007

JC penny has a surprisingly good selection of clothes that look work appropriate but are very easy care. I don't buy anything that's not machine washable. Also, all their stuff is pretty plain so that everything goes with everything else.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:43 AM on March 12, 2007

I agree with everyone saying that you should not wear a hoodie in the office regardless of what color or material it. Hoods on sweaters are casual, not professional, not even "business casual".

I would also suggest that if you buy pants at express (I'm a few years older than you, and really like their publisher fit), definitely get the flare taken in. Like someone said, "Extreme Flare" is not a good look for work.

Actually, I think my most important piece of advice to you is to get your clothing tailored to fit correctly. I realize that tailoring is expensive, but the cheapest of pants will look 1000 times better if they fit you properly. It's worth the extra money. This is particularly important for jackets/blazers. I think it looks bad when the girls around here wear blazers that look "slouchy".

As for office staples, I basically live in neutral colored skirts, and sweater tops (cardigans and shells in the summer). I wear boots to the office in the winter (but not anything overly sexy, please!) and pumps or heels in the summer. For professional looking comfy shoes, try naturalizer. Every girl needs a knee length black pencil or A-line skirt, lightweight black pants, a white button down, and black sweater or cardigan. If your clothes are drab and boring, use cool shoes or jewelry to liven things up a bit (for example...I'm all banana republic today in a light grey skirt, black sweater, boots, and a pretty funky colorful beaded necklace). Much cheaper than going out and buying a shirt that will be out of season next year.

Okay, all done, sorry for rambling. Good office clothes are very important for being taken seriously by both your managers and your peers (men and women). Don't think they're not noticed!
posted by echo0720 at 10:48 AM on March 12, 2007

Oh, and just so you don't think I'm some snobby know-it-all, it might help to know that outside of work, I'm super casual and pretty much always in jeans, a tee, and sneakers. I just had this stuff drilled into me when I was younger, and I know that even in my office's business casual environment, I really do look critically upon the girls here who dress too casual or slutty.
posted by echo0720 at 10:55 AM on March 12, 2007

If it is neck warming you're looking for from the hoodie this woman makes cool looking neck warmers (that might be a bit much for office wear), American Apparel has an acrylic neck warmer and I still really like their jersey scarf.

I buy black twill pants at Delias (they come in 28" inseams). They sometimes (though doesn't look like it right now) have smart looking, cheap flats (like quilted flats last year). For shoes maybe stick with Camper? I have these in black and I'm surprised by how often I wear them. They're comfortable (and cheap!) and look great with straight throughout black pants.

Maybe a blazer to replace the hoodie? At least velvet is tactilely appealing. (That you have to give up the hoodie makes me feel sad. I could not give up the hoodies.)
posted by birdie birdington at 10:59 AM on March 12, 2007

Okay -- thanks for the recommendations early in the thread.

No thanks for the snark. I need the hood. It is so cold in my room (I work at a table with four other people, who are always hot) that I wear a sweater, pants, wool socks up to my knees, a scarf, AND I have the damn hood up and my hands in my pockets. I'm tired of asking and complaining about it. It's really a very lax dress code and we are all under-30s. My nose ring is welcome here.

I do know how to dress myself and look professional -- I just can't find what I need at a decent price. And I don't think that a garment having a hood renders it immediately NSFW. I am looking for sources for the things I want, not opinions on how I already dress.

More hipster/Hot Topic, less Petite Sophisticate.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:03 AM on March 12, 2007

I have to disagree about the hoodie not being professional-- I think it's fine. FWIW, I am 33, female, professional, and I've been rocking the (nice, fitted) hoodie for years. I sometimes wear a thin one under a black blazer, which looks cute.

Clothes, unfortunately, are expensive. I have to second H&M as key, not sure if they have one in Austin. Urban Outfitters can skew expensive, but their sales often rock.

I really have bought most of my clothes at TJ Maxx, which can be a pain in the ass since sometimes they're like a desert of suck, but it's worth stopping in every couple of weeks, just to see if there's something new.

I also check the post-christmas sales at department store, you can sometimes get incredible deals.

And finally, Target is your friend, especially for staples. A lot of their stuff is slightly hip but not absurdly so. The current designer of the month is Proenza Schoeler (sp?) which has a lot of hip/preppie stuff that would be great to work in.
posted by miss tea at 11:13 AM on March 12, 2007

Marshalls, Ross & TJ Maxx are GODSENDS. Today I wore Ralph Lauren boots, Lucky jeans, a nice belt, cool shirt, button sweater & suede overcoat to work and EVERY ITEM was purchased at one of those places. The boots alone should've been $300 & I got them for $70. Thing is, you can't go into those places looking for anything in particular... you have to just walk in and be open to what good stuff you might discover. I find that going regularly is helpful because I can immediately recognize (and swoop on) the good new stuff.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:44 AM on March 12, 2007

Vintage, baby! I wear a lot of vintage sweaters, blouses and dresses. A lot of the dresses are cut for smaller framed women anyway. Where I live, most women in the 20-30 age group shop at Banana Republic and the Gap, and well, they all sorta look alike. I wear Dansko mary janes with everything from pants to skirts & tights. They are comfortable, yet not old ladyish.
posted by pluckysparrow at 12:18 PM on March 12, 2007

Have you read your question? You referenced sensible shoes. You said that you'd like to look polished and more professional. Your characterization of anything in this thread as snark is a mite defensive.
posted by desuetude at 12:40 PM on March 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

Great advice on here!

A black hoodie is a standard rock-punk-goth-alternative-emo thing, and I know how fashionable they are (everybody under 30 in my city wears them). But they're sort of anti-establishment, even a little aggressive. If you worked at a record store, a black hoodie would be perfect. Otherwise...not so much.

But try some colors for your new job. I saw a girl with measurements like yours in a teal blue hoodie that was fitted and neat-looking. She had her hands in the pockets, and it still looked good. If you 1)tried a color, 2) kept it fitted rather than baggy, and 3) paired it with a nice pair of pants with heels or even a cute skirt, I think you could get away with a hoodie.
posted by frosty_hut at 1:00 PM on March 12, 2007

If there's a Nordstrom Rack near you, that's probably worth checking out. I tend to have better luck there than Marshall's, Ross and TJ Maxx. Also, if you have a good idea of how a particular brand fits you, you could try Ebay.

Thrift stores and consignment shops sometimes have amazing stuff, but you have to be willing to stop by pretty regularly to find them.
posted by amarynth at 1:37 PM on March 12, 2007

Certainly you know best whether the hoodie is too caj: I work at a money manager, a fiduciary business, but people here come in off the waves all the time, no big deal. Austin/Santa Cruz/etc... seem to be on one end of the awesome spectrum in that way.

Anyway, I am 25 y/o sleek gothwear and vintage type; there's no hoodies in my closet but a lot of other clothes I can't wear to work. Like you it seems, I can't manage to wear most Gap/BR/Anne Taylor stuff without feeling a tingle of irony and or fear of identity loss. It's much too boring and uniform much of the time. I do, however feel pretty good in Express, though shopping there is sometimes embarrasing. Their styles are patently clubby, I would say. I prefer their winter collections, with lots of great sweaters to layer in mod styles. Also I got their credit card, and since then they send me at least $25/month in savings cards, which really helps offset my feeling of overpaying by not shopping at a Ross or thrift store.

However, as petite as you are, clearance racks at department stores should really be your friend. A 12 like me is SOL in that area, we're just a growing (ha) demographic. There's always 2s and 4s it seems...
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:05 PM on March 12, 2007

I work in an office with pretty much the same dress policy. If I wore a hoodie to work, I'd wear it backward so that my face would be covered and no one would see my shame.

No, really, unless you're dead sure you can pull this off, I'd really skip that suggestion. A stylish fitted hoodie is a nice item of clothing to have, but nothing says, "I have forsaken the opinion of my professional peers" like a big droopy hood hanging between your shoulderblades.

And repeat after me. "I am better than Target." Sure we all need emergency or nondescript items on occasion. But the day you begin stocking your professional wardrobe from what is basically an overambitious drugstore, you need to rethink whether you are actually as fierce a cupcake as you'd like to be. This is about creating an image of yourself that makes you feel confident and competent. Play with it until you find what works. Lots of good advice in this thread otherwise!
posted by BE ADEQUITE at 2:32 PM on March 12, 2007 [3 favorites]

Sorry but I must disagree with all the anti-hoodie folks. Around these parts, we dress semi-professionally, yet hoodie styles are always in style, thanks to the constant threat of wind!
posted by Lynsey at 2:33 PM on March 12, 2007

And what miss tea said!
posted by Lynsey at 2:35 PM on March 12, 2007

Wow. I had no idea there was such anti-hoodie sentiment out there--it appears a chord has been struck.

Really, though, I'm just chiming in on the petite issue and the affordability issue. I'm 5'1" and whether pants are petite or short or ankle length, they're pretty much always still too long. You probably already know this by now--it's the Petite Plight. But if you can find a relatively cheap tailor who will do a good hem for $10 or so, that will help a lot to build that vaguely professional feeling.

Second, if you can gradually build a work wardrobe instead of having to buy lots of things at once: find a brand of pants (or whatever else) that you like, that fit well and feel good and all that stuff. Then you can set up an ebay favorite search with the right keywords and just pick something up every couple of months that's actually affordable. And shopping for things like sweaters (vintage or otherwise) on ebay got a lot easier for me once I took the measurements of something similar that I already owned as a reference point.

Finally, for shoes: I've had a lot of luck with Gotham City Online. They email good coupons.
posted by paleography at 3:35 PM on March 12, 2007

I'm going to 2nd the Jjill recommendation, especially if you poke around and find the stuff that's a bit more interesting and a bit less earth-mothery. They have a set of work pieces that is quite nice, and not horrifically spendy, all in black. They have petites, which works well for me, and I'm your height. I will say, though, that Jjill runs large-ish, so if you haven't ordered from them before, you might go a size down from your normal choices.
posted by donnagirl at 3:45 PM on March 12, 2007

Agreed on the defensiveness. Based on what you asked I would never have gotten that you wanted Hot Topic-esque suggestions. Then again, I would never characterize anything from Hot Topic as remotely professional. Makes one wonder what it was that you were doing before that makes Hot Topic acceptably "professional".
posted by FlamingBore at 6:46 PM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

If your coworkers are appropriately dressed, ask them where they shop.

Hot Topic is not professional. If you're wearing that style of clothing, but not allowed jeans, your office needs to revisit the dress code.

I worked in an office with 10 men, and was the only woman in my department. They wore tee shirts and shorts, and sandals. Did they look professional? Not usually. I alternated between wearing tees and jeans and wearing nicer clothing like the things posted here, button-ups, slacks, nice shoes. The difference is we were allowed to do that. If your office says no jeans and tees, that also includes anything from Hot Topic. I love that store, but it's not business attire, it's school and hang-out attire. And sometimes bondage-pants.
posted by jesirose at 9:57 PM on March 12, 2007

Try consignment shops like Buffalo Exchange. They're like more upscale, selective thrift stores. I always find something there.
posted by granted at 8:15 PM on March 15, 2007

stretchy pencil skirts made in breathable materials are my favorite comfy but smart looking work staple. they're hard to find though without either a stuffy or slutty style to them...lerner new york used to make awesome black ones, no trashy looking slits, thick enough not to need a slip underneath, and stretchy cotton fabric. i don't know if they still do; when my disintegrates with wear i will cry. i also wear american apparel's, but they're a little more casual seeming (thinner fabric, bright colors). and of course basic fitted oxford shirts in nice colors.

a smart but comfy blazer that fits you just right (the fit is essential...many blazers look silly because they don't fit right in the shoulders and torso) is also a no-brainer and can go with almost anything else, and be dressed up or down.
posted by ifjuly at 8:33 PM on March 16, 2007

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