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Pumps and Pencil Skirts
What to Wear to Work
By Diannee Whitelocke, Andrrea Clementy
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 Dianne Whitelocke
All rights reserved.
THE BIG FOUR
A knockout suit, great accessories and magnificent shoes. I think all women should look beautiful, chic, and fabulous for work. How do you get there? Start by not making the typical mistakes! There are four big ones.
1. Not Dressing Up
Always dress for where you are going, assuming you have a career plan that includes upward mobility! If you are trying to break into management, dress like a manager! If you are trying to get the key to the executives' lounge, dress like a VP! If you dress like the gum-chomping receptionist, you will have little credibility as the project manager for your firm's ad campaign. Dress by looking upward, not downward. Never justify an outfit by saying "I look fine. Hey, Laura in the mailroom wears capris." Better you take style cues from Karen, the VP in the corner office! Retire your khakis, polos, and sneakers. None of these items present you as a woman with her eye on success. Don't look sloppy or slouchy. Choose dressy pieces with clean lines and structure that give an appearance of order and competence. If you are on the fast track for a promotion, skip business casual; always don business attire. Every morning, ask yourself if your ensemble is presentable for a high-level meeting. If it's not, change.
2. Looking Like the Guys
Trying to break the glass ceiling by being one of the guys? Take charge of your womanhood! Being one of the guys means you are not standing out! If you are the only woman in the room, make that work for you! In a sea of gray and blue pantsuits, wear a strong color to stand out! And if you are going to wear a gray pantsuit, just make sure you don't wear it like the guys do: with loafers and a button-down blue shirt! Wear heels, and let's pick ones with some flair, buckles, rich color, something to make you stand out. Make sure you wear women's shirts; they are cut for the female form and button right to left (I notice everything), in colors the fellas won't typically wear, like red or lavender. Accessorize! Taking care not to be guilty of mistake number 3 below, add earrings and a necklace or a chic belt to make the look more feminine. For those of you thinking that wearing a skirt means you aren't looking like the guys, think again. The white oxford shirt, gray/black/blue skirt, midheeled loafers, and no jewelry are just a sad female version of the standard male outfit. To make it right—and by right I mean "less masculine," pair the neutral skirt with a jewel-toned blouse, add accessories and feminine shoes like pointy-toe slingbacks. Get noticed!
3. Going Over the Top
You want to have a look that gets you noticed but seems effortless. So tone it down! You don't need big hair, blazing makeup, a diamond choker and hoops, and a red suit topped off with red patent leather stilettos to get your point across. Everyone is so busy absorbing your outfit, they don't hear a word you're saying. You want to look like you command your look, not like your look commands you. Don't wear everything at once, have only one focal point for each outfit, and balance strong elements with those that are subdued. There's nothing wrong with a fabulous jacquard skirt, a tie-front blouse in a bold color, and really fierce leopard shoes—just not all at the same time. Having a great style presence means you pay attention to the details. It means you know how to add interest with statement pieces juxtaposed with muted ones. It also means you definitely understand when less is more, because you want to be taken seriously! You want to be noticed, but for the right reason, because you look polished and credible. Don't let your look detract from your greatness!
4. Looking Great, but Not Great for Work
I have seen great date outfits, nightclub outfits, garden party outfits, and even stripper outfits, all at work! Yes, these women did look in the mirror; and yes, they concluded that they looked great. What they should have done was ask themselves this crucial question, "Am I dressed for an impromptu meet-the-client-andpresent-your-proposal meeting?" Remember, you want to look good, but you want to garner respect too. That low-cut sweater and hip-hugging mini just say that you stopped in at the office on your way to happy hour! It begs the question, are you really serious about this job?
Why? The reason we are so likely to make mistakes is that women fall into the quagmire of too many options! Our male counterparts have pants, jackets, shirts, and ties. For accessories, men have brown shoes, black shoes, two belts, and a pair of sneakers. Women have an endless variety of tops and bottoms in a myriad of fabrics, lengths, patterns, colors, and cuts. We have a plethora of shoes varying in heel heights, materials, shapes, and colors. Then we have tons of accessories in the form of bags, scarves, belts, and of course, jewelry. We have so much to choose from, we can easily misstep when pulling things together. I realized that I spend the most time and interact with the most people at work. Armed with that knowledge, I decided to invest the most time, energy, and money into the pieces I wear to work. I also decided to truly separate my work wardrobe from what I now call my play wardrobe. To build my work wardrobe, I needed good basics that go with everything and statement pieces that made outfits memorable. For every purchase, I make the distinction of it being work or play; and once in my closet, the item never crosses that line!
People take the clothes they wear very personally and understandably so because what one wears, by definition, is personal! Oh, many may hide behind blasé devil-may-care facades of "I don't care what people think," "I wear what's comfortable," "I should be judged by who I am, not what I wear." Truthfully, if someone does not like the way we look, our feelings are hurt. We take it personally! That being said, and now that we know the mistakes, let's set a course to make it right. Let's get dressed for work!
WHERE DO I START?
Know your work environment. My guide is for your typical corporate office. You will have to adjust my tactics if you work in more creative environments like the arts and entertainment. For instance, the day-today look for working in an art gallery, in the performing arts, or in video game design is probably quite noncorporate. However, presenting to that big client or interviewing for the job may quite likely require the guidance of this book. Not sure what your rules or boundaries are? Start with your company's dress code policy. If it is a written policy, read it so you know if flip-flops are acceptable footwear! If it's not written, then your company is probably less formal and is leaving it up to you to dress appropriately. No matter if you have written rules or not, rules only define the boundaries; they don't define style. So read on!
Ask yourself "What's in my closet right now?" Take inventory to know what you have and what is missing. Do you have suits? How many? What about shirts, skirts, dresses, slacks? Do you seem to have a favorite color? Hint: you can tell by seeing one color repeated in most of your pieces. Is that color black? Fear not, I have an entire chapter devoted to discussing the good and bad of the couleur de noir. How old are your clothes? Do you ever have your clothes tailored? Do you know a tailor? How many handbags do you have? How many shoes do you have? What accessories do you own?
Now organize your closet! I know this may seem daunting or even depressing. But a closet makeover is so worth it! If you can afford it, hire a professional! First, toss or donate everything that is worn or damaged beyond a simple repair (like sewing on a button) or that you just do not like! Then separate your clothes for work from your play clothes and further segregate them by shirts, skirts, pants, and suits and then by color. This just makes it easier to put things together, and who has the time to search through an entire closet for that one pin-striped shirt? Categorize your jewelry and lay it out so you aren't opening box after box to find that one perfect necklace. Get a great shoe cabinet, or store your shoes in clear boxes so you can see them all. Do not pile your shoes into a heap on the floor of your closet. They will get scuffed, and you will inevitably leave the house wearing different left and right shoes (typically one black and one navy)! If you can, and if space allows, put everything in one place. You don't want to run downstairs to the mudroom for shoes then back up to the bathroom for your jewelry. The organizing step is important because it gives you a good view of everything you have, which will help you mix and match pieces easily and quickly. You will learn that the ability to coordinate pieces in multiple ways for different looks is key to great style. If pulling together outfits from head to toe is not quick and easy, you will not do it. You will simply fall into a repetitive cycle of easy outfits that are just acceptable rather than fabulous.
Last but certainly not least, buy a full-length mirror and place it in a room with good lighting. You must be able to see your outfits, including handbags and shoes, head to divine stiletto and front to perfect derriére. There is no exception to this rule!
Now as you proceed through the following chapters, keep in mind everything you learned about your wardrobe. Knowing what you own is key to taking your level of style from one that's basic to one that's worthy of the compliments like "polished," "chic," and "fabulous"! In the end, you will be the "it" girl at work, voted best dressed every time, and even mistaken for the boss at the next client meeting! You will no longer say "I have nothing to wear!" You will effortlessly put together perfect outfits to impress your boss and inspire your peers!
SHOES SET THE STAGE
When it comes to fashion, shoes are my first love. Why? Because shoes are the ultimate accessory. As you start putting together every outfit, your first question should be "What shoes will I wear?" They set the tone and are the stage for everything else you put on. Shoes define your gait and posture and set the shape of your overall outfit—i.e., tall, short, narrow, or wide. The wrong shoes can ruin your whole look. The most common error is the wearing of the "comfortable" shoe. This is the excuse for putting on the square-toed, midheeled loafer with any and every outfit. This is not to say that to be stylish, one must be uncomfortable, but rather, be selective and take the time to find shoes that are comfortable and also great looking.
What do you do if you find a great outfit but don't have the right shoes? Don't take the tags off until you find the shoes!
Stay Away from:
* Higher-than-four-inch heels. They can look too much like club-wear and make it hard to walk fast (think keeping up with the guys when you are running late for a meeting).
* Ankle straps. They can look untidy if too loose or too tight and cut off your leg line. They also never look right if you wear hosiery. So if you must have them, wear them without hose and under trousers.
* Flats. Unless under doctor's orders, get at least a kitten heel (the skinnier the better).
* Platforms. Be very selective with a shoe synonymous with pole dancers. Putting that aside, standard platforms are typically too heavy for the clean lines of workwear. So if you must, choose platform shapes that are sleek and colors that are muted; and make sure that if they are not expensive, they at least look expensive. Do not buy a platform shoe that has a very thick heel, is brightly colored, and is cheap looking as it will dash all hopes of your outfit looking sophisticated and professional.
* Sandals. Sandals don't bode well with most office environments though they may be well received in the more progressive workplaces like the arts, entertainment, and some retail. When it comes to toe exposure, peep toes are as far as one should probably go. Peep toes are nice with wide-leg trousers and can amp up the basic day suit for a work dinner.
What Should I Look for?
* Skinny heels are fiercer than thick ones.
* Pointy toes look better than rounded or squared-off ones because they make your legs look longer. They don't have to be extreme; they can be tapered and, while being gentler on your feet, have the same effect. If you go high, make them less pointy to avoid the dominatrix look! If you go low, make them more pointy (with a skinny heel) to avoid the school nurse look!
* Leather soles are more comfortable. Really! A leather sole usually means a higher price, and the shoe is likely to be better constructed and thus more comfortable. No guarantees though, you have to try on shoes to determine comfort!
* Interesting details for solid pantsuits add oomph, e.g., cheetah calf-hair pumps with that camel pantsuit or black and white with that black power suit (opt to wear a colored, rather than white, shirt so as not to look too matchy).
Can I Have Too Many Black Shoes?
Make sure you have all the varieties as these will be your staple.
* Stiletto pumps are a must. Make sure to get leather, and preferably patent ones, which go better with those hard-to-match colors like navy, gray, pink, and red.
* Slingbacks I like because they are a little sexier and add interest especially peeking under wide-leg trousers. Get a few styles, e.g., leather, patent, satin (not the kind for evening). Moisterize those heels, please!
* Mary Janes can be fun, and they look great with skirts. Careful though, make sure they are womanly stilettos, or they can look childish.
* Wedges are tricky. You really have to see them with the full outfit to make a decision. Keep the receipt!
* T-straps are my favorite. They add interest and drama to skirts and dresses. Again, a fierce heel is a must; and please, please, don't hide them under trousers!
When Do Black Shoes Not Work? (Hardly Ever.)
* When the outfit is in the brown/chocolate family.
* When the shoes are for evening (satin with rhinestones are too snazzy for the office).
* When the heels are chunky. Chunky-heeled shoes are typically too heavy for work outfits, which are already heavy with three or more pieces. Black chunky heels drop your chic quotient by at least ten points.
Here Is Your Perfect Shoe Wardrobe:
* Two pairs of black leather pumps (different heel heights—high and higher).
* Two pairs of black patent pumps (one plain, one with some detail like croc embossed or satin bow).
* One pair of black patent slingbacks.
* One pair of nude slingbacks.
* One pair of T-straps (pick a handsome color, like burgundy, forest green, or chocolate brown) maybe in suede.
* One pair of red leather pumps with tapered toes and stiletto heels. I prefer a really dark red rather than the flashier fire-engine red. Make sure you invest in a quality pair; cheap red shoes will look cheap! Do not wear red shoes if any other part of your outfit, including handbag or belt, is also solid red. Matching reds will make you look dated; and since you will never get the reds to really match, you will look mismatched anyway!
* One pair of black-and-white (preferably with more black than white) pumps or slingbacks.
* Two pairs of boots, one black and one brown. The black pair should not be both sky-high and pointy—too vampire! Make certain boots fit snugly for a sleek look.
* Several pairs of interest. Look for tweeds, animal prints, suedes, embellishments, two-toned, or jewel tones! You'll know them when you see them, chances are when you're not even shoe shopping! Remember, keep the evening shoes (metallics, rhinestones, sequins) for evening. But be adventurous; if the shoe seems too edgy, you can opt to wear them under pants! I will also state, something all modern girls should know, that your shoes should not match your bag and belt unless all of the above are black. Word to the fabulous: "Don't match the fabric or pattern of statement footwear to anything in your outfit." That tweed suit should not be paired with those tweed fabric oxfords, even if you miraculously found a pair that match perfectly, and those leopard calf-hair pumps should not match your bag, belt, scarf, or blouse; such fierce shoes should stand alone!
If your top is light or bright, do not match your shoes to your top. With a black skirt and a pink shirt, do not wear pink shoes! The matching colors are too far apart. As the eye travels from head to toe, it sees pink, then black, then pink again. Your overall outfit appears chopped up.
Do not dye shoes to match your clothes. This looks bad enough on bridesmaids; no need to see this in our work lives too!
Shoes make women happy. Being happy makes women look good. That's why women love shoes!
Excerpted from Pumps and Pencil Skirts by Diannee Whitelocke, Andrrea Clementy. Copyright © 2013 Dianne Whitelocke. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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