For my first 11 years in the workforce, I was in the Research & Development department at my company.
I wore jeans every day. Flip-flops as long as my toenail polish was presentable. No more make-up than it took to cover up the dark circles under my eyes. And I was surrounded by a bunch of engineers whose sense of style made me look high maintenance.
Then I got a job in Marketing.
A-Lines and Cardies and Bangles, Oh My!
In the early days after moving from the R&D building to the one where Marketing sat, I would go into the office and look around at my new co-workers – and feel completely insufficient. Like I wasn’t a real woman.
On bathroom breaks, I’d wash my hands and stare at my make-up-less face and messy ponytail (though not messy in a cute, purposeful way) and choke down an urge to go back to my cube and hide under the desk.
I had to face up to the fact that – as superficial as it is – how you present yourself makes a lasting impression on the people you work with. When you dress well, people pay more attention to what you have to say. Would you take professional advice from someone wearing a tie-dyed Snoopy T-shirt and those weird shoes with the individual toes? Probably not.
But more important than that, I noticed that the women around me walked with their shoulders back and heads held high, and they actually made eye contact with their fellow members of the human race as they passed in the hallway.
Introvert that I am, I found myself wanting to be that sure of myself. And I had an inkling that dressing the part might help me.
I’m Not a Creeper, I Promise
So I started watching the women around me. How they dressed, how they accessorized, even how they arranged their various body parts during a meeting. (Side note: Slouching and crossing your arms across your chest – my signature move – turns out not to be very effective at getting people to listen to you.)
One day while in the cafeteria check-out line, I noticed a colleague wearing a flattering pencil skirt. I had noticed other women in the department complimenting each other’s outfits and hairstyles, so I forced my awkward self to try it out.
“I like your skirt, Leanne.”
She looked up with her eyebrows raised a teensy bit. (I’d never spoken to her before, and she probably didn’t know my name though I was stalker-ish enough to know hers.) “Thanks,” she said with a small smile.
“I could never wear a skirt like that. My stomach is bigger than my ass.”
Which is true (more on that later).
But poor Leanne just stared at me.
While I may not have developed the social skills to match my new wardrobe, I did learn a few things from
going all Edward Cullen on watching the stylish women in my department. After I kicked my sense of style in the ass, I felt better about myself at work, and that confidence spilled over into my interactions with other people. My co-workers looked at me in a new light, and some of them even listened to my ideas for once.
Even if you’re just a work at home mom or the only time you leave the house on weekdays is to drop your kids off at school and pick them up, you might get a nice boost from tweaking your wardrobe a bit. I certainly did.
9 Fashion Tips for You
That said, please take these fashion tips with a grain of salt because I may have stopped wearing jeans and flip-flops to work everyday, but inside I’m still that wide-eyed geek trying to figure out how my cube neighbor Yvette managed to get her eyeliner to go in a straight line.* YMMV.
* I’ve never actually tried to apply eyeliner. It scares me.
1. Remember: Stylish Doesn’t Have to Mean Uncomfortable
I’m a flip-flop addict. So I’m not going to sit here and tell you to stuff your tired tootsies into a pair of stiletto heels to run to the grocery store for a jug of milk.
But you can find stylish pieces that are comfortable too. Before you pick up another cheap, shapeless t-shirt, try a more flattering cut that doesn’t resemble a cardboard box. Or instead of throwing on sweatpants, try a cute pair of yoga pants. (This pair is called the Killer Caboose Pant. Yes, please.)
Also, look for feminine details on a simple piece, like the subtle pattern and the gathered fabric at the neckline of this simple tee.
2. Find a Kick-Ass Pair of Jeans
By the same token, you can rock jeans. But you can’t rock jeans you got for $15 at Walmart or Old Navy. You’ll have to spend a little to get a great pair of jeans that fits you perfectly. But the good news is, they’ll look so great on you that you can wear them every day. (Don’t tell anyone at my office, but that’s pretty much what I do.)
Go to a ‘spensive store like Nordstrom or Anthropologie and try on every pair of designer jeans they carry until you find The One. You’ll know when you find it. My favorite brand happens to be Citizens of Humanity, but other brands that can rock your jeans ass are: Hudson, 7 for All Mankind, Paige, AG, J Brand, Joe’s, Big Star. Splurge on these suckers because you simply don’t have room in your life for frumpy jeans.
If you’re on a super strict budget, find your dream pair of jeans in a full-price store, then start trolling Craigslist and eBay for a similar pair.
3. Layer the Bejeezus out of Yourself
This is why layering is awesome: Instead of having to find one truly amazing dress or shirt or whatever, you can find 3-4 really good pieces and put them together, giving the illusion that you had the shopping prowess to find one perfect outfit.
In the outfit to the right, no one piece is extraordinary, but together they’re gorgeous. Also, I guess it doesn’t hurt to look like Blake Lively.
Keep an eye out for cardigans, belts, scarves, tights, and jewelry. When you layer and accessorize, you look approximately 500% more put together.
4. Flaunt What You Got
Take a few minutes and think about what your best feature is – great boobs, a small waist, eyes that could melt the iciest of hearts. Now show it off. As my co-worker Leanne knows, my behind doesn’t quite stick out as far as my belly. Pencil skirts and shift dresses don’t work for me AT ALL. But my torso is slender, and my chest is decent enough. So I look for slim-fitting shirts with an interesting neckline to play that up.
5. Don’t Be Too Matchy-Match
Trying too hard to match all your pieces can look like you raided your grandma’s closet. When you’re out shopping, don’t buy the matching jacket and skirt. Or if you do, don’t wear them together. Also, your purse doesn’t have to match your shoes – or anything else really.
Let’s say you’re wearing a yellow cardigan with a striped tee and jeans. Instead of going for yellow accessories and shoes, try another complementary color like brown, navy, or gray. Check out the cute necklace this style blogger added to her outfit – not a drop of yellow!
6. Be Adventurous
I am not a great shopper. I don’t have the patience to scour the clearance racks, nor do I have the vision to look at a piece in my hand and know in an instant whether it will look good on me. After you figure out what you want to flaunt, walk into a store, find a salesperson, and ask for help. For example: “I’m looking for an outfit for work that will show off my curvy hips without making me look like a slut.”
Then try on whatever the nice lady brings you. I don’t care if you don’t like the looks of it, just try it on. This will get you out of your comfort zone, and you will likely find a new style or new pattern or new color that you like on yourself.
7. Bribe a Consultant
Do you have a friend who’s pretty stylish? Ask her to come over and look through your closet with you. She might see fresh new combinations using what you already have, or she might have ideas for pieces you could pick up to stretch your wardrobe further. Bribe her with wine and brownie bites.
8. Heed This Warning on Jeggings
I have a friend at work named Alex who swears by jeggings. She’s super fashionable, so I trust her, though I haven’t ventured into the world of jeggings myself quite yet.
If you go down the jeggings path, or even if you’re a fan of regular ol’ leggings, please, for the love of all that is holy, COVER YOUR BUTT. A short dress or a tunic-style shirt will do the trick. Look, even Blake follows this rule.
Unless of course your ass is absolutely divine. Then you may disregard that rule.
9. When in Doubt, Swap
That shirt that you only wore once because it shows a little too much of the girls? The pants that you keep hoping you’ll fit into but it’s been 5 years, and you’ve gone up and not down? There’s no shame in trading in the pieces that don’t fit you now for something that does. Love your current self, not the imaginary self you’ll be one day. And to love your current self, you need to invest in pieces that fit you right. But we don’t all have $1000 lying around to get a newer and better fitting wardrobe.
So here’s what you do: Get together with a group of friends or co-workers and organize a clothing swap. Someone in my department organized these a few times, and I loved them. Everyone raids their closet for the things they haven’t worn for more than a year. Then pick someone to host the swap. You all show up with your underappreciated clothes, organize them by type (skirts, pants, shirts) and/or size, and let the shopping begin! It costs you nothing, plus you get to try on new stuff with a bunch of friends right there to give their opinions. (See that? That’s #6 and 7 at the SAME TIME.)
For cute maternity clothes, check out 6 Cheap Ways to Style Your Bump. If you’re a new mom, you’ll like 7 Tips for Postpartum Clothes That Won’t Make You Look Pregnant.
For more girly tips and tricks, follow my Pinterest board How to Be a Girl.
Finally, here are a few tips from other folks:
- Comfortable and Stylish Clothing: What to Wear When You Work at Home
- Fashion Tips for New Moms: How to MacGyver Your Way Into Being Publicly Presentable
- Simple Rules for a Small and Stylish Wardrobe
How do you stay stylish when living in a world of spit-up and jelly stains? Share your best tip in a comment below!