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!