I need to dress for success, but in the office not at the bar
June 29, 2007 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me get dressed?

First off, I am sorry for another one of these questions. I usually dress myself fine, but my new office is a little more formal and well, I got a little talking to.

We dress buiness casual for the most part, however, my job puts me in the public eye occasionally. I have a bigger chest and more importantly they sit relatively high on my chest so many v-neck or scoop tops look a bit more revealing on me than other people. In addition I have an ass, so sue me. That means I have to wear skirts that brush my knees at least, or once again, I look a little young and immodest. Oh yeah, and I have tatoos, so I have to wear either a longer short sleeve or a 3/4 sleeve top at all time.

So this is hard because I am pretty hip and fun and have never thought much of showing a little leg. I literally wear the same thing to the office as I wear to the bar. I almost always wear a knit top and a kneelength a-line skirt, I mean 7 days a week. I am 5'8 and wear a 10/12, but hoping to be an 8/10 soon enough.

I love dresses and skirts and "girly" details like lace and bows, a genteel victorian look is pretty much up my ally, but as long as my boss doesn't think my boobs are hanging out, pretty much anything would be ok.

I am looking for a place where I could get maybe 3 dresses, 3 skirts, some pretty sweater tops, some cardigans, and then layering tops and be done with the whole thing. ( I don't wear pants, but I am willing to try them).
posted by stormygrey to Work & Money (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Blazers are your friend, particularly if you're bigger up top. I've found that almost any hip/fun outfit can be rendered almost instantly more professional by adding a blazer. It really polishes your look. Plus, blazers can be pretty hip--I'm not think Ann Taylor, more like Gap or H&M. I'd keep the colors of the blazers themselves pretty neutral (white, black, browns, maybe blue), but go a little more adventurous on the fabric (suede, velvet) and keep the pops of color for what you're wearing underneath.

Also, I highly recommend watching What Not To Wear to get a good sense of how to dress for an office if you're curvy. They have a lot of good tips about fit that really helped me out when I was transitioning my college wardrobe to a corporate office environment.

And I'd, uh, stay away from "genteel Victorian." I'm not sure what your job is, but I've definitely (painfully) learned that like it or not, dressing overly-feminine will influence how people in the office (like your boss) view you, and it's generally not a good influence. Skirts are fine, but don't go crazy on lace and frou-frou stuff. There's a huge difference between "my boss won't pull me aside for a conversation about this outfit because my boobs aren't hanging out" and "this outfit makes me look like just the sort of polished, together professional that needs to be promoted." Shoot for the second.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:23 AM on June 29, 2007

Maybe Anthropologie? I tend to think their full price is way over-priced but they do have a more feminine sensibility and though a lot of their stuff is more garden party than sounds suitable for you, there are plenty of sweaters, cardigans, jackets, skirts, and such that you could mix in for a more interesting look than you'll get from Liz Claiborne (RIP). But I agree with iminurmefi, tone down the Victoriana a bit though it's not necessary to become a total office drone.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:32 AM on June 29, 2007

Is banana republic too easy of an answer? That was my favorite place to shop when my job required me to dress nicely. Cute dresses, tops, jackets, cardigans, etc. Their stuff is slightly more girly and cute than a lot of typical business casual clothes.
posted by logic vs love at 10:42 AM on June 29, 2007

Best answer: Wrap dresses are your friend. I have big boobs and a bum and they are very flattering. Try BodenUSA. Wrap dresses are very popular at the moment. I'm seeing them everywhere. I have one from Walmart that is very cute. It's the same polyester jersey that more expensive versions are made from.

I love the Worthington line at JCPenney for work clothing. I especially like their pants. You may want to try them.

I love lace and bows -- on other people. When your're big busted like we are, I think it's best to go with clean and fitted. Ruffles, lace, bows, trinkets, or any other detail seems to put the eye on the bust and add weight. It can give a "cheap" appearance to a big bust.

Check places like Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft for separates. They have plenty of A-line skirts. Something like this would be a great investment.

As far as 3/4-length knit tops and cardigans go, I find them everywhere. From SamsClub to Nordstrom. I would make sure they have some structure to them. Shy away from anything too flimsy in weight.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:45 AM on June 29, 2007

I second Banana Republic. More feminine than J. Crew, but still businesslike.
posted by amro at 10:45 AM on June 29, 2007

I'm also a very tall size 10, and I think Lane Bryant will be cut much too large, as well as... well, probably older than you're going for, if you're used to wearing the same clothes on a Friday night as you do on Monday morning. Professional doesn't have to mean looking dowdy.

Ann Taylor Loft might be about right--they sell lots of skirts and dresses that are (mostly, though not always) work-appropriate, and almost everything there fits me at 5'11". If they have H&M in Atlanta, that might also work, although if you're having trouble separating your work wardrobe from your going-out wardrobe that might not be the best place for a new look.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:46 AM on June 29, 2007

Is there a store near you that carries Jones NY? You often have to sort through some of the more ill-considered old-lady-ish items, but they also have really nice, simple, classic stuff, I've found (and were definitely on a cardigan kick, with lots of pretty colors, the last time I breezed through Macy's).

Macy's, or another department store, might be a good stop anyway. You'll have more to choose from.
posted by occhiblu at 10:46 AM on June 29, 2007

You know, a nice knit top and knee length skirt can take you far. I'd stick with that look, and maybe just upgrade it somewhat. Make sure the tops and skirts aren't too tight or clingy, and that they are nice quality. Add some blazers, great shoes, and nice jewelry, and you'll be good to go, with lots of options in terms of mixing and matching items.
posted by orange swan at 10:48 AM on June 29, 2007

(if you like wrap dresses, this has some ideas on not showing off too much cleavage.)
posted by logic vs love at 10:48 AM on June 29, 2007

No, the writer is normal height/weight. Try Banana Republic or J Crew. (Not terribly exciting, but very work suitable!) Go to the store, don't order online. If you do watch What Not to Wear I think the key is really a good fit - try on everything - even things you think won't suit you. Try on every skirt that is the appropriate length, and some pants in every fit they offer, and try a size up and size down from what you think you wear. And if you are a 10/12 now but want to be an 8/10, buy the 10/12 - too small will be too fitted and you'll get more talking-to about appropriate office wear. When you get to that smaller size, just have it tailored - an A-line skirt would be easy to tailor.
If you want to be more funky try getting bright jewelry or a scarf, or bright, unique shoes.. You could totally get away with some Victorian inspired footwear (spectators are back in for fall) as long as it's not trashy looking w/super high heels.

Second on a good jacket, too - you could wear any kind of girly, bright shell top or knit to the office and the bar, just put a blazer over top for the office, and you're good to go.
posted by citron at 10:51 AM on June 29, 2007

Oops - apologies - the "no" was in reference to shopping at Lane Bryant!
posted by citron at 10:52 AM on June 29, 2007

You're in Atlanta . . . do you usually go to Macy's? They have a lot of dresses that look cute with cardigans. I also have the "more revealing" issue, and you might try layering a tank/camisole UNDER the top or dress to see if that fixes the problem. I've got two or three things that move totally fixes for "polite" company. As for shirts, I think that this one is cute but is also one of those things that looks good or doesn't with little middle ground. I usually have really good luck at Macy's.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:54 AM on June 29, 2007

you might try layering a tank/camisole UNDER the top or dress

Yes, I meant to mention that you might also want to check out the lingerie dept. at Macy's or Rich's or whichever dept. store floats your boat. Jockey and Calvin Klein make a lot of nice lightweight, fitted camisole tops that work really nicely under dresses without bunching up or looking too bulky.
posted by occhiblu at 10:58 AM on June 29, 2007

i like ann taylor loft for professional clothes. they're just fun enough and conservative enough to fit both your needs.

if you're on a budget, h&m also has some things, but you do have to dig. target's merona line is professional and still fashion-forward.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:58 AM on June 29, 2007

Best answer: -- As a curvy girl in a business casual office, I'm fond of lady-like cardigans like this. Basic colors like black or grey can be worn over colorful tanks and tees, or paired with lacy/frilly/embellished tops. If they fit well, you'll still look feminine and cute (think Reese Withersoon in Pleasantville) but also modest and appropriate. I button just a couple of middle buttons, leaving the top and bottom ones open -- it's a younger, more casual look.

-- I like the tanks and tees from Express because they have more Lycra in them than other brands; they're more "supportive," don't lose shape, hold up well over the long term and come in a variety of colors and necklines. The Lycra also means you can go up a size to maintain office-appropriateness, without the shirts looking baggy.

-- Nothing says sexy, powerful, and business-appropriate like a pencil skirt. The key is to have it hemmed about an inch *above* the widest part of your calf. Too long and you'll look frumpy. Get it right and men will watch you from across the room, despite the fact that you're not showing much skin. (Also, your ass will look amazing. Way more amazing than in an A-line skirt.)

-- If your chest is large relative to your shoulders, you may have problems with button-up shirts gapping in the front. (In fact, most women larger than a C cup have problems with button-up shirts gapping on them.) If you want to include these in your wardrobe, it's probably worth buying a larger size that accomodates your chest and having the shoulders and waist tailored down to fit your frame.

-- Blazers can also gap or look weird on women with larger chests. This is why I prefer cardigans -- stretchy knits are more forgiving, and less likely to add bulk.

-- Nthing JCrew, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor (and AT Loft) and H&M. Also United Colors of Benneton, Zara, & Club Monoco if they're available to you.
posted by junkbox at 11:34 AM on June 29, 2007 [4 favorites]

Ann Taylor Loft's site has frequent sales, and a thingie where you can sign up for email notifications. At the moment, they're having something like buy one sale item, get another for half off. The clothes are, in my experience, pretty well made, and they fit curvy women nicely and without over-enhancing anything. I stick to the basics -- black, white, grey, in good cuts for my body -- and then make myself "ME" with accessories.
posted by houseofdanie at 12:45 PM on June 29, 2007

i think blazers with a high stance would be good- ones where the two sides cross high on your chest, maybe with 3-4 buttons as opposed to a plunging 1-button blazer. H&M does blazers like this sometimes. buy them to fit your boobs & shoulders, then get them taken in at the waist.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:46 PM on June 29, 2007

I've had this problem. When you're stacked it's hard because you might not be showing anything but other people project their boob issues on you. If you cover them up, it makes you look much heavier than you are, so v-necks are hands down more flattering and slimming. But then it seems tht some people are disturbed by the slightest hint of cleavage, even tasteful. Too much is obviously unprofessional, but I don't like that sometimes there's an implication that it's something you should be ashamed of having at all. Which, is silly.

Here's a great but NSFW guide on how to dress well with big boobs by Trini & Susannah of BBC's version of What Not To Wear. Their advice is usually pretty spot on, I've found.

In my personal experience, clothing from Ann Taylor and Anthropologie are not made for buxom girls. AT ALL. The cut is wrong for a curvy figure, it's more for the Audrey Hepburn body. I have tried on their clothing time & time again and found that it doesn't hug my body in a clean or natural enough way, sometimes it fits in the chest but not at the waist or there's a pull right at the boobs so it looks less than tailored. For career wear that looks nicely tailored on me and is good quality, I have had the most luck HANDS DOWN with Banana Republic. And rarely have I had anything but compliments from employers about any of the outfits I've ever bought there.

YMMV, as usual.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:00 PM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're at work, here's that Trini & Susannah link starting at the second page... from thereon it's totally safe for work. It's just the image on the first page of their guide for dressing girls with "big tits" that a boss might frown upon. 'Cuz it's... duh... a photo of big tits.
Yep, so now every man reading this is going to go check out that guide. So predictable you are.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:07 PM on June 29, 2007

As well as being fantastic for bras, Bravissimo also does a range of blouses, jackets, tops etc all cut for those of us with a little bit more. In fact, they have a range of cuts, depending on how much more you've got. I usually find that regular wrap tops and tops like the far right one here just don't have enough allowance for me. Bravissimo's range solves this.

You got to love them!

So far, I've had jobs where I can get away with being semi-casual, but if I ever make the leap into proper office job, I'll be knocking on their door first. It'll prevent all the gapping shirts and jackets that don't do up and wrap cardigans without enough wrap...
posted by Helga-woo at 5:23 PM on June 29, 2007

I want to ask, why is it necessary to wear the same clothes at work that you wear to a bar? Perhaps you need to examine why that is important to you.

The idea of "genteel Victorian" at work implies that you want to be noticed as a woman. I would like to propose that you save the genteel Victorian for weekends and evenings. During work hours, you do not want to be "noticed as a woman." As iminurmefi noted, "polished and professional" will get you promoted.

You might not like this advice, but work clothes are a disguise. Work clothes hide who you really are, not flaunt it. Think: neutral colors, simple construction, absolutely forgettable. Tailored pants, good quality knit tops, and a cardigan is the perfect combination.

It is critical that the clothes should fit you perfectly. They should not crease or pull, but flow over your body like water. Buy expensive shoes and take good care of them. You will give the impression of a future Director.
posted by ohshenandoah at 10:10 AM on June 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I meant to add... if you didn't read the first page of the link on Trini & Susannah's website, I cannot agree with them enough that a HUGE part of the battle is wearing the right bra. It makes such a ginormous difference on how your figure looks. The wrong bra can make you look tarty no matter what you have on over it.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:37 PM on June 30, 2007

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