Back in college, there was a prescribed ‘work attire’ we had to follow whenever we made presentations in class: A dark skirt suit, with a collared button-down blouse underneath the blazer, sheer hosiery, closed black pumps, and understated accessories limited to a watch and pearls. Then I went to work for a bank, and the same office attire was required. Even for job interviews, that was also the standard get-up expected.
Today the rules have changed quite a lot, and we’ve found that office attire can still look polished, sophisticated and professional without necessarily being too rigid. Here are some essential items you can infuse into your wardrobe for better variety rather than the regular librarian look:
- Tailored sleeveless dress– Sleeveless?! In the office?! That would have been unheard of in another time. But now we are spoiled for choice and there are several acceptable options. What is important is to balance the look. If you are wearing a sleeveless dress, make sure the length is on the knee (never above), the cut is tailored and the neckline high (no low V neck or anything cleavage-baring), and the fabric is of high quality. Wear the dress with high heeled closed pumps. Another very chic alternative to the dress is a long sleeveless blazer, worn with cigarette pants. And speaking of…
- Cigarette pants– Who knew pants could look this good on a lady? Upgrade from plain old trousers to flattering, fitted cigarette pants cropped right above the ankle. They make your legs look longer and show off great shoes. If you want to be even more fashion-forward, you can also switch to wide leg pants, also cropped above the ankle. This looks good in a high-waist variety, worn with a top that just skims the waistband. Wow, did you just step out of a Vogue photoshoot?
- Feminine blouses– Gone are the days when you could only wear a blazer or long sleeved polo shirt to work. Blouses are happily welcome at the office, and add a dash of femininity to an otherwise ‘severe’ environment. Try a white or beige butterfly sleeve or drape blouse with a black pencil skirt, or a wraparound blouse with pants. Fabrics can range from chiffon, jersey to silk.
- Introduce color and print– You really don’t need to wear too much black or gray at work. Use different colors and print for a more vibrant look! You can pair a bold color with a neutral, or try white and pastels during the summer. Prints are fun too, except when worn in excess (like leopard print from head to toe will make you look like roadkill). The idea is to stand out instead of blending in with the walls, while not exactly looking like a billboard on Times Square. Get it?
- Bold accessories– A beautiful gold cuff, or a chunky necklace may be just what you need to go from drab to fab at work. If you’re going to use an eye catching accessory though, make sure your clothes are on the understated side (plain colors, no print) so as not to look like a walking Christmas tree. And try to avoid dangling earrings, those are reserved for nights out, not to hypnotize your boss with.
- Day to night outfits– Another practical invention is to go from day to night flawlessly. These days, whatever you wear to the office, as long as it’s chic and stylish, is good enough to wear to dinner or cocktails—except you might just need to switch from a big leather tote to a clutch, or from conservative closed pumps to strappy stilettos. You’ll also just need a quick makeup upgrade (smoky eyes and heavy mascara, some contouring or a bold red lip) suitable for the evening.
- Fabulous footwear– I once had an officemate who received a memo for wearing pink shoes in the office. I’m not kidding! Whereas today, we can take our pick from a plethora of footwear to wear with our chic new office outfits without HR batting an eyelash. So yes, go ahead and wear them stacked heels, the strappy stilettos, the sky high heels, the peeptoes, the open toe booties… they are all fair game. There are, of course, those that are still no-nos, such as sneakers, flat sandals, slip-ons and thongs (focus on shoes, not undies, people!). Loafers are sort of a gray area, it depends how relaxed your office attire policies are. And please, in the Philippines, no boots!
- Bare legs– I have not worn stockings in a very long time and thank Goodness for that! It is now perfectly fine to sport bare legs to the office, as long as they are well groomed. Get waxed every couple of weeks, moisturize so they won’t look dry and flaky, and don’t show off too much of them via thigh high slits or micro mini skirts…unless you want people to think you have a sideline profession.
That said, some classics will never go out of style. The suit is still the most ‘powerful’ office outfit you can wear, the high heeled pumps (in beige or black) will always be the most useful pair of shoes you have in your closet, and a pair of pearl earrings are still the safest and most elegant jewelry you can wear for daytime. Invest in these, add on the rest, and you’ll be good to go for years to come.