A reader recently (well, at least within the last eight months) asked me to write about how to take a classic work outfit and give it more punch or interest.
I created an outfit last week that fills the classic-with-a-twist bill and I can’t wait to break it down for you! I think there are some tips here that could help you add some spunk to your work outfit so all those tasks get done with a little more buoyancy. Hey, fashion is always here to help!
Creating a modern suit in black and white
For starters, this work outfit focuses on two colors: black and white. What’s more classic than black and white, right? On this particular day Erin and I were scheduled to do some personal shopping for a client who needed work clothes. I like to wear an outfit in the genre of what my clients goals are for the day. Creating and wearing an updated work outfit myself was my way of prepping for our appointment.
Here’s how I see the more classic pieces of my outfit.
My pant. I started with a slim ankle Lafayette 148 pant. Let me give a shout out for pants by Lafayette 148. This is a brand I lean on for my clients who need clothes to wear to the office but also basic pants that can be worked into weekend outfits. Years ago I used to feel the line was a bit fuddy-duddy but not anymore. I’ll nearly always bring one or two pant styles into the dressing room for a client to try just based on how well they fit different body shapes and they’ll be treasures forever.
Back story: My friend Mariam who works at Nordstrom where we often shop with clients had seen this pant on the sale rack and knew it was my kind of thing. This pant is work-ready for me because it has stretch and won’t wrinkle. It easily moves with me at my speed, which is pretty speedy on a shopping trip! There aren’t any more left of this style but there are always more coming in. If you’re interested, here’s a somewhat similar style.
My blouse. Next I decided to wear my new blouse, a black and white gingham check poplin blouse by Halogen (59 bucks). A gingham blouse is pretty classic but there’s a little twist in the sleeve style. I’ve been intrigued by blouses with these decorative sleeves. I’ve even tried a few on but they seemed too flamboyant and impractical for my work life. I round corners quickly and I knew I’d catch billowy sleeves on something sharp and rip it the first time out.
But when I tried this one on it was less exaggerated. I thought if any blouse in this style had a chance of working for me, it might be this one.
This blouse is boxy and I don’t mind that so much but I knew that for this day, I wanted to either belt it or do a thumb tuck and tuck it partway into my pant. The thumb tuck didn’t look right so it was on to finding a belt that would work. The question was how wide? Thin? Thick? I had to experiment.
The million dollar question: does it feel right?
I tried my black patent buckle belt. It was okay but not great. Here’s the thing, part of dressing is visual: how does it look? Do I like how it looks? Do I get pleasure from how it looks?
The other part of dressing is feeling: how does it feel? Do I like how it feels? Does it feel right? Does it give me the mood I want it to give?
This belt lost out when I gave it the feeling test. I tried it on, looked at it in the mirror and it was a downer. My excitement about this outfit, which had been high, took a complete nosedive. I like this belt, I love this belt, it’s served me for years. I was totally not expecting to have this reaction. So I had to keep experimenting to find the belt that felt uplifting instead of deflating.
Here comes the twist to the classic work outfit
You know how I’ve been experimenting with using men’s ties as belts. I’d used one of Russ’ ties as a belt for my jeans earlier in the summer. I wrote about it in turning a man’s tie into a lady’s belt.
When I was in Minnesota in August visiting Dad I knew I wanted to look through his ties and see if he had a couple I could weave into my wardrobe. Besides being a clever alternative in the belt department I knew that wearing something of Dad’s would make me smile. To wear something that has belonged to a loved one adds another layer of pleasure to any outfit.
I didn’t feel too guilty raiding his closet. Without Mother around to help him tie his ties (his shoulders don’t work and he can’t lift his arms any further up than his chest and that’s a struggle), I knew he wouldn’t be wearing this tie or others any time soon. I actually bought this tie for Dad many, many years ago. It was designed by a friend from the neighborhood when I lived in Fairfax. I think it looks so good on him. Isn’t he a handsome devil? I’ll give it back if he asks for it!
It’s already a twist that I’m using Dad’s tie as my belt but mixing patterns together is also a twist. The modern swirl pattern in the tie against the gingham check is playful and lighthearted. It works well blending into the blouse in the same color palette. It’s a softer look than the patent buckle belt. It feels right!
I took precautions and removed the label from the tie. If it flipped around while wearing it I wouldn’t want the label to show. It’s like taking the labels off a scarf. I find it visually clumsy to see a label on any accessory.
Adding a short jacket
I knew I could wear the blouse alone once I accessorized it but I did want to add a jacket to the outfit. A jacket makes any outfit look more professional. I tried on a few from my closet. What was I going to find to go over those sleeves?
The outfit goddesses were looking out for me. It dawned on me that a cropped jacket might be great. I reached for this Peter Cohen one from long, long ago. I tried it on and loved the proportion with the blouse. I pushed the sleeves of the jacket up and pulled the blouse sleeves down. It worked! It tamed the sleeves a bit but brought attention to them, like they were almost an accessory on their own.
Adding jewels with sparkle and sentiment
Okay, we’ve talked about wearing bugs or critters in symbols and you know I have a thing for bees. This necklace could be a bee or it could be another type of insect. No matter, I love it. I like that I’m wearing a necklace with my work outfit (oh so classic) but it’s not exactly a string of pearls. I think the necklace style actually keeps this outfit looking more professional. I didn’t want it to get too cute looking. I wanted it to be polished but fun, smart but creative.
I decided to go all out and wear my big sparkly ring that has a leaf shape. I love organic shapes. You may not wear this much sparkle to work. Remember, I’m in the fashion industry so I can get away with it. Knock the scale of the ring down and curb the sparkle and you’d be fine.
Wearing sensible booties to work
The only thing left to mention is what I wore on my feet. My ankle booties are by Lucky Brand. They don’t mess with the hem of the pant at all. Most importantly, they don’t slow me down. On a shopping trip I can be running around a store in all different departments pulling sizes, looking for a different style of Lafayette 148 pant (or other ones of course!) and maybe even going down to the men’s department to see if a might find a tie for a client to wear as a belt. So comfort in shoes is key. I’d love to wear something more wonderful–maybe a sueded Chelsea boot, or a pump with a blocked heel–but for now this is fine.
There you have it! Erin and I had a great work week. It’s such a pleasure serving our clients and helping them feel freedom in their clothes. And it’s awfully special doing it in an outfit I feel great in.
How do you add flair to classic pieces? Your community would love to hear all about it!
spagsSeptember 28, 2017 at 3:17 am
I love what you did with the tie! Not sure I could cope with the sleeves on that blouse, although I do love gingham. (I’m not enjoying what’s happening with sleeves at the moment – I am trying to ignore this trend until it goes away). This is a great black and white outfit and you look super as always. Erin looks great too.
BrendaSeptember 28, 2017 at 5:56 pm
I love your approach–ignoring a trend until it goes away. Sometimes I am surprised which ones actually stay longer than I ever expected they would!
DianeSeptember 28, 2017 at 3:51 am
I agree with Spags, the sleeves are really not practical this season. I still prefer 3/4 sleeves, but you do know how to tame them Brenda. Your look is so put together and beautiful. I would always wear large rings if the feeling strikes and they are not in the way, but that is just my personality. Love, it all from the boots to the necklace. Not sure my husband is ready for me to raid the tie rack.
BrendaSeptember 28, 2017 at 5:57 pm
Yes, 3/4 sleeves are a whole lot easier. But this was quite manageable I must say! Love hearing about your approach to wearing rings. I good policy, I’d say!
Katherine CramerSeptember 28, 2017 at 8:59 am
Black and White is my favorite and you have honored it well with this creation. Tamed yet so spotlighted sleeves feel so fresh to me. Your solution works wonderfully and allows a day with perhaps, no cuff bracelets which is another way to change things up making room for your in-the-Season ring. Inspired! I’m thrilled to have the idea of wearing pieces that are tributes to a Loved One–become a solid daily consideration. Besides being sort of ‘Green’–the practice invites Story and enriches your fashion psyche of timelessness and comfort. Yes, Dad is styling and so handsome. I hope he reads your engaging pieces. Today, he is warmly hugged.
BrendaSeptember 28, 2017 at 6:00 pm
Oh, I savor every word you’ve written. And I love how you’ve capitalized Loved One–as it should be! Also love how that’s a green move. In this outfit with this tie I liked the whole circular evolution of it from my friend in Fairfax and her designing of ties to wanting Dad to have that one to him wearing it the day of Mother’s funeral where memories of the two of them are forever linked, to me wearing it here in California. Yes, a story that weaves fashion and family.
KathySeptember 28, 2017 at 7:45 pm
I like the new top Brenda. I would probably wear it with a pair of mustard pants I have and black high heels. I imagine your father would chuckle seeing his tie as a belt!? I would not have thought of removing the label, so glad you did and shared. You look so much like your father! It makes me smile. He must be very proud of you.
BrendaSeptember 29, 2017 at 8:42 am
You’re make me smile, Kathy. Yes, I’d have to say Dad is my biggest champion! Love him so!! Thanks for mentioning him. Makes me all glowy inside.
DeanneSeptember 29, 2017 at 4:46 am
Another wonderful post, Brenda, and the resemblance between you and your dad is another beautiful touch that you are sharing. Love that you are enjoying his tie anf memories of him wearing it.
BrendaSeptember 29, 2017 at 8:43 am
Thanks, Deanne! You’re making me glad I added that picture of him. At first I wasn’t going to but then I had a different thought. Maybe it was Mother nudging me from heaven. She’d love it!
stephanie ashworthSeptember 29, 2017 at 12:04 pm
I love your outfit! I love Mariam’s outfit! I love your cute Daddy in his tie and coat! I am BK’ing it today. That is my term for playing in my closet and making outfits ahead of time instead of rooting around in there in a panic. Not too hard to figure out where the BK came from. Thanks, Brenda Kinsel, for all the advice and love from your blog. It’s wonderful!
BrendaOctober 2, 2017 at 9:29 am
Stephanie, I’m so glad my initials have become a noun. That’s so flattering! I’m grinning, as they say, from ear to ear. Hope you had fun!
stephanie ashworthSeptember 29, 2017 at 12:05 pm
P.S. I love the pic of you and your daughter! Makes me miss mine so much!
BrendaOctober 2, 2017 at 9:30 am
I grew up with three brothers and no sisters. Having two daughters in the family has been a real education! Love them so!
Trinnie qSeptember 29, 2017 at 10:55 pm
Ohh all of this is just lovely! As your wonderful community have said. I too love the taming of the shirt in an inventive way. Your beautiful Dad, your mum smiling down, his tie, same shape or complimentary to the shape of the sleeves, and practical as well! Then the beautiful jewellery. The ring reminds me of lovely stingrays I see over here on the coast , inOz All lovely,so once again thank you and Sending love from Oz
BrendaOctober 2, 2017 at 9:31 am
Ah, thanks for pulling out those great points! Mom and Dad are front and center as you imply. Thanks for all the love from Oz, Dear One!
BetsyOctober 1, 2017 at 9:10 am
Brenda, you are very clever putting outfits together. Love this one! Thank you for sharing yuor thought process.
BrendaOctober 2, 2017 at 9:31 am
You bet, Betsy! I’m happy to!
JustineOctober 1, 2017 at 10:55 pm
Hi Brenda and everyone, Brenda I just love your nature inspired jewellery worn together with your graphic outfit. The contrast is so nice. I also love that your jewellery is pewter coloured and echoes your hair colour and looks soft against the black and white of your clothes. And your red lipstick is the perfect touch. I’m so keen on pattern mixing too and this is so subtle I didn’t even see it at first. It’s nice that you’d bought this tie for your Dad, and now have borrowed it yourself. The other day in your blog I saw you wearing something you’d bought your Mum and now have again. I just can’t remember what it was though! It was an accessory of some kind. I’ll have to re-look. I thought of it when I gave my own Mum a purple merino cardigan wrap the other day, and wondered about the future for a split second.
BrendaOctober 2, 2017 at 9:40 am
That’s so interesting, that split second thought about the future. And it will be there…sometime! I’m trying to think of what it would be as well. It could have been a scarf or a pin. I do wear those things of hers. I like how the pattern mix was subtle. That’s what I loved about it too. It was just a soft accent, blending in. You totally nailed it when you called out how the jewelry blends in with my hair color. It really is a common combo that I reach for for exactly that reason. Good eyes!
Sandra SallinOctober 2, 2017 at 9:45 am
Oh, you always do it. You just pull things together and make magic. I’m so impressed with your knowledge of brands and what and how they work for you. They always bend to your will. It’s always a joy to see you put together. You inspire me to get it together. Always love seeing what you’re getting up to.
BrendaOctober 3, 2017 at 12:53 pm
Thanks, my friend! You inspire me; I inspire you. A win/win! xo