Monday, May 18, 2015

Building a Professional Wardrobe Part I: What Doesn't Work

After college, I worked as a nanny, and before too long I was married and at home full time with my own babies.  When I finally got around to starting a career (nineteen years after graduating from college!) I wore scrubs to work every day.  When I left bedside nursing to take an analyst position, I had reached my forties without ever having had to create a work wardrobe. So there I was, entering a professional office environment for the first time in my life, with nothing but my SAHM and student clothes.  Which were awful and inadequate, even for our business casual dress code.

An example item from my SAHM wardrobe.


So I bought some clothes, but I went about it in a stupid way and now I am going to show you some of my silly purchases and explain why they don't work in a professional wardrobe.

J. Crew

What's wrong with this skirt?  For one thing, the stiff fabric and the pleats are unflattering.  This skirt looks terrible with any top that's not tucked in. If I wear it with a sweater, I look like a walking version of the Charlottesville coal tower. It isn't easy to mix and match, and it's only suitable for fall and winter. I wear this skirt, at most, three times a year.  I'm going to keep it, because it has its uses, but it's not practical.

Cville coal tower  or Patience in her brown skirt?


Boden

Friends don't let friends buy clothes from Boden. Seriously,  Boden's clothes are often disappointing. This looked fantastic in the catalog. A skater skirt? What was I thinking?  I wore it to work once, and regretted it the whole day. 

J. Crew
Weird, uncomfortable fabric that is neither warm enough for cold weather, nor cool enough for warm weather.  The back zip, which I thought was a neat style feature, just catches my hair.  Goes well with some of my trousers, so I'm keeping it for now, but I hardly ever wear it.

Zara

Like the plaid skirt, this is a one-off.  The sleeves contrast with the body of the jacket, which looks hokey, and it has blue elbow patches. I can't wear it very often, and in general, blazers are just not my thing and tweed is really not my thing, and tweed is not Zara's thing.  They didn't do it well. Why did I even buy it?  Because I was intoxicated by the low post-holiday prices.  When it's time to get dressed, I always ignore my blazers and go for a cardigan.

Garnet Hill
I swear it looked work-appropriate in the catalog.  In real life, it looks like a nightgown.  That said, it's brilliant for fat days, thus an ideal choice for the first day back at work after Thanksgiving.  I'm keeping it in order to have something to turn to in a "none of my pants fit" emergency.  I would really like a classic print knit wrap dress, but this isn't it.

WHUT


I bought these shoes (Keen) thinking they'd be a good alternative to the Dansko clogs I usually wear.  It IS useful to have a pair of comfortable non-clog walking shoes, but these stumpify my legs and also flayed all the skin off the back of my ankles.

I learned that buying clothes without a plan left me left me in a position of having to buy even more clothes because I owned a closetful of disparate items that didn't work together. In general, clothes that don't work are those that can't be worn through at least three seasons and don't work as mix and match with multiple items. (An exception to the mix and match rule is dresses.  A basic dress that you can throw on and maybe add a scarf or cardigan is invaluable.)

Now you've had a tour of the more shameful items in my closet.  I hope to write again soon about basics that I've bought that have helped me put together a more cohesive work wardrobe.  What about you?  Any mistakes in your work wardrobe?

16 comments:

  1. Just yesterday, as I was telling someone I had a new office job for the first time in several years, they asked, 'does that mean you're wearing office clothes?'. Yes, I suppose it does. Most of them are relics from my last go round - lots of Talbots, lots of linen, lots of black and I'm not convinced all of them are flattering. Thank goodness for cardigans.

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    1. Cardigans are a working girl's best friend!

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  2. I like the SAHM and skater skirts.

    My job involves dirty books, filthy boxes, and crawling around on the floor on occasion so my work wardrobe is classified as "casual slovenly."

    I'll tell you what I don't want to see at the office -- big, hammy arms hanging out of sleeveless tops or dresses. Put a sweater on!

    I've bought a few nicer things for whenever I have a better job, but I think at this point I'm too fat to look good in anything.

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    1. Having to crawl on the floor would wreck any justification for creating a dressy wardrobe! There are rarely any bare arms in my office because it's so cold.

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  3. I agree about the SAHM and Boden skirts - I really like both of those! In fact, I covet that Boden skirt...too bad I'm probably 8 sizes too big for it or I'd try to take it off your hands :)

    I have sort of settled on skirts and pants in black and gray, and cardigans in black and gray, and some more colorful dresses and shirts (mostly purple and teal because that's just what I gravitate toward, but other colors on occasion). And they all have to be comfortable, because I just do not have time for non-comfy clothes in my life these days. All of my things are pretty excellent for mix-and-match. At least once a year, though, I succumb to the lure of something that looks lovely, and that I can only wear once or twice a year, and I'm always mad at myself about it.

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    1. I hate uncomfortable clothes too, especially shoes, which is why my feet usually look frumpy.

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  4. I have too many things in my closet that didn't work out --especially because I prefer to shop online. I buy these things, thinking it'll be fun to wear them. Then I put them on and hate how they feel or look.

    I always gravitate back toward what I think of as my work "uniform". I have a couple of pairs of the same style pants in different colors (khaki, black, brown), and a bunch of the same style shirt --all unpatterned, in different colors. I have the same shirt in 3/4 length and short sleeves, so it works for winter and summer. I used to worry that my students would laugh at how I wore the same thing all the time, but I've come to realize that my students are so self-absorbed, they don't really notice what I'm wearing :-)

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    1. That's my exact problem too. I think something looks fun to wear, only it isn't, or it makes me feel so self-conscious I can't enjoy it. Much better to stick to a self-made uniform.

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  5. I collect cardigans in varying weights and fabrics. They make me so happy. Whenever I see one I like at the thrift store, I buy it. They get worn over and over.

    I just culled all of the pieces of clothing that don't bring me happiness from my closet. Five bags full. Now I can see all of the clothes I absolutely love and most of them work together. It took me 23 years of being in the work world to figure out fits, types of fabric, colors, etc. Also, I had to 'readjust' the wardrobe a little bit after each bebe.

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    1. I love cardigans too, but for some reason, I have four navy cardigans, one of which is an itchy mohair that I never wear. Time to cull!

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  6. I had a whole long comment but Blogger apparently ate it (unless it just went to moderation) so I won't recreate it. I'll just say this was a great post and gave me an idea to write about my opposite issue--I was a SAHM for 7 years and cobbled together an iffy professional wardrobe as a teacher. Now I'm working for my husband in a cabinet shop, which is MUCH more casual and I have few polished casual outfits.

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    1. Thanks! That would be an interesting dilemma, to have to make your work wardrobe less dressy. I'll look for your post!

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  7. I'm hoping to re-enter the office world in the next few months, but luckily I have a decent base wardrobe to get me started when I do. I did buy a few blazers to help get me through interviews and when I do have an interview, I usually wear a black or navy blue sheath dress (I have two from the same place) and a blazer, which keeps things simple and me from worrying about what I'm wearing.

    Most of my closet matches around black and those things that do not are navy blue. Beyond that, I don't have a lot of color ... except that I have one J. Crew cardigan in 9 or 10 colors. My basic uniform these days is a pair of black or navy chinos, a t-shirt in black, navy, a stripe, or white (I buy them in multiples from only a couple of places, so they're all pretty similar), and a cardigan in whatever color makes me happy that day.

    As for wardrobe fails, I have one tweed/boucle blazer that I am regretting, but since it's a winter piece, I'll wait until next winter to see if it truly was a fail. I also find that blouses don't work well on my body shape and also that I prefer the comfort and ease of knit tops, so I'm eyeing several blouses in my closet that might soon be gone.

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    1. It sounds like you've got the uniform thing down! I'm still working on my own "uniform."

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  8. It's very cathartic to get back in the closset....and clear it out!!

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  9. Oh My Goodness! I JUST tossed my mistake blazers into the thrift shop box! For all the same reasons. I hate how I made those dumb wardrobe purchases and you are absolutely right. If you can't wear it 9 months out of the year and with other stuff, you need to rethink it.

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